Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I need help finding a way to explain the emotional load that mothers carry to my husband. He’s a wonderful dad and takes care of our two preschool-aged children three days a week (they are in daycare the other two days). He’s super present and does lots of wonderful activities with them during the week, which I’m grateful for. I work a high-stress, high-profile job, usually 50-60 hours a week. I’m our breadwinner but I also carry most of the household tasks. My husband’s usual line is, “How can I be present for the boys if I’m doing dishes?” And yet, I somehow manage it every single weekend!
I do 90 percent of our household tasks, in addition to my job and carrying the mental load. I asked my husband the other day what size shoes the boys wore. He had no idea. Location of passports and social security cards? No clue. Bank account to pay our bills from? Nope. I do all the meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking as well, in addition to doctor’s appointments, taxes, etc. It also means I can’t be present for the kids because I’m too busy trying to keep some semblance of cleanliness—after all, if I don’t do laundry, I’ll end up going to work naked. As you can imagine, I’m BURNT OUT. But every time I try to explain to him, he argues that being present is more important than a clean house.
—Beg to Differ
To me, nothing sums it up better than the comic strip “You Should Have Asked” by Emma Clit. It not only explains what the mental load is, but how it came to be and how it manifests in a household—it even draws comparisons to the business world, all of which make for a pretty compelling five-minute read. Additionally, I have heard good things about Fair Play by Eve Rodsky, which you can find in both book and card deck form. These resources walk couples through the process of redistributing household responsibilities so that they are more equitably divided, and there is a deliberate inclusion of those invisible tasks that create the mental load.
Here’s the other half of the coin, though. If you’re going to ask your husband to take on a larger share of the mental and physical load (since you mention both), you can’t expect him to be able to automatically jump in. You may have to literally teach him what you do so that he can take over, and that might mean an investment of time, energy, patience, and empathy on your part. You are also going to have to accept the possibility that things you outsource may get done differently (or worse, at least in your opinion) than if you’d done them. You’ll need to remember that it’s not about meeting your standards, and that can sometimes be difficult—especially if, like me, you’re the kind of person who prides themselves on their competence and efficiency. Of course, there is always a third option if you have the financial means, which is to outsource things that neither of you particularly want to do, and/or abandon them altogether.
Throughout all of this, keep your North Star in mind. This isn’t a competition about who does more, or whose way is the right way to manage a household or raise a child. It’s also not about getting to an even 50/50 split. This is about you working as a team, creating a home where you both feel fulfilled and present—at least, as much as you can in this hard period of parenting. Good luck!
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’ve gotten myself into a pickle with my 8- and 5-year-old daughters (who are in 3rd grade and kindergarten, respectively). Each girl gets an allowance equal to their age, with 30 percent automatically siphoned into savings and giving categories (we use an app for this). They know that Mom and Dad don’t buy treats or toys outside of holidays, and they can use their allowance for anything they want to buy. Separately, I strive to keep treats very neutral, which isn’t too hard because we don’t keep a ton in the house. If they want a cookie, I say sure, and then serve it with an apple and a glass of milk.
Well, we just moved, and the kids started a new school in a new country with an, ahem, favorable exchange rate. The school has a snack shop by the buses. The snacks cost pennies to the dollar. Their allowance now enables them to buy fistfuls of cookies and candy bars practically every day. I try to stay very neutral about this, occasionally ask how their tummies feel after eating so much sugar (apparently, they feel amazing, *eye roll*), and offer a big fruit-and-veg smoothie as an afternoon snack at home to compensate. I thought if I stayed neutral, the novelty would wear off.
Well, it’s been two months. Now I’m battling with trying not to make treats taboo while also allowing the kids the chance to learn how to manage their money. I’d love it if the school stopped stocking these kinds of snacks, but that’s honestly not a war I’m interested in fighting—this is a short-term tour for my husband’s job, and we’ll be moving again in two and a half years. I have enough going on between unpacking and teleworking to also take on school nutrition in a foreign country. Do I limit their allowance? Start enforcing rules about treats? Or start a separate savings account for the eventual dentist fees?
I think you have a couple of options. First, it’s perfectly reasonable, in my opinion, to keep the allowance amount but change the percentages so that you are retaining more than 30 percent for saving and giving. It can be an opportunity to talk about exchange rates and how living in a cheaper place or with fewer expenses can enable someone to save more. If this is something you and your husband have done with your own income—or could—it would bolster the lesson even more.
Your second option is to keep the cash the same but reign in how “free” their free choice spending is. You can limit them to one snack a day, ask them to create a spending plan, or have them show you receipts to keep them on track. I understand it might feel like you’re changing the rules, but parents are allowed to adjust things when it turns out the old systems aren’t working. It doesn’t have to be punitive, especially if you’re transparent about it.
If you’re uncomfortable with either option because it feels more authoritarian than you’re striving to be, involve your daughters in coming up with a solution. Talk about how the dollars go farther here than at home. Explain what you’ve noticed about their spending and why you’re concerned, but then ask them how they feel about it. They might feel elated at having so much spending power, or they might just be hungry after school and happy to be able to do something about it. Work as a team to determine what might be a way forward to suit everyone’s interests. This might be beyond the ability of your 5-year-old, but your oldest daughter can certainly help you find a compromise, and at the very least, you’ll be modeling a way to deal with disagreements and change in the future.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My mom and I have had an ongoing argument for a while now, and I need to know if I am being reasonable or not. For context, I’m a teenager. I’m admittedly pretty quiet and don’t speak very loudly, which annoys my mom; I always forget to speak louder because I feel like I’m talking at a normal volume. When I say something quietly that my mom can’t hear, she’ll mimic me by mumbling. I told her that I don’t like it when she does this because it feels rude and passive-aggressive, and she could simply ask me to repeat myself louder. I’ve told her many times to stop but my mom says she’s not making fun of me and claims to “forget” the same way she says that I forget to pick up my socks. I told her that’s obviously not the same thing, but she told me that if I find it hurtful, I’ll learn better. I get that my speaking quietly might irritate her, but am I being unreasonable when I ask her to stop?
—Unreasonable or Not
Dear Unreasonable or Not,
No, you’re not being unreasonable. If you’re describing the dynamics faithfully, then what your mom is doing could be considered emotional bullying. You’ve told her that her teasing and mocking behavior hurts, and she continues to do it. Even if she does truly forget in the moment—her emotions take over and she falls into old patterns—it’s her responsibility as the parent to interrupt herself as soon as she notices what she is doing and own and apologize for it. Telling you to change your behavior so that she doesn’t hurt you is an incredibly problematic thing for her to suggest.
You may need to put her behavior in this context, with the bullying label, for her to fully understand how her actions are impacting you. Talk to your school social worker or another trusted adult who can help you strategize a conversation with your mom. Then, find a time not in the heat of the moment when you can discuss how her actions make you feel and what you want her to change.
I am going to give your mom the benefit of the doubt for a moment: It can feel frustrating as a parent to ask the same thing of a child over and over again and feel like nothing changes. For me, poor communication and time management are the two hot-button triggers guaranteed to get my frustration up. So I get it, to a degree. But parenting is about guiding our kids toward being the most successful versions of themselves they can be, not punishing them when they seem to fall short of our desires. The line between those two functions can sometimes be hard to find and easy to cross, which makes it really important that we listen to our kids when they tell us we have hurt them. Hopefully, your mom can hear your feedback, recognize she’s veered off-course, and recalibrate her approach.
If, on the other hand, she doubles down on her methods, you need to lean on your other support networks. Surround yourself with people who want to build you up rather than strongarm you into behaving differently. You’re worth it.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My daughter is very stubborn and refuses to do anything anyone asks of her. This is a very recent development, within the last two months. There’s been no major life changes recently. She’s in 8th grade. She tells me everything about her life, including things at school. She’s always been a pretty responsible rule-following kid, up until now.
She’s doing stuff like refusing to wear a winter jacket, preferring a light fall windbreaker (it’s starting to get down to the mid-30s, and while she takes the school bus, she has many moments throughout the day where she needs to be outside for up to five minutes). She takes off her glasses when she gets to school and keeps them off (she has a high prescription and really can’t see a few inches without them), and then complains when her grades, which she really cares about, start slipping. Those are the two examples I’m the most concerned about because of their impact on her health, though there are others.
I’ve told her so many times that she needs to wear her winter jacket and wear her glasses all day. She’ll complain about being cold or having a headache when she comes home from school, and then look at me and give me a mischievous smile. She complains about how a particular friend of hers, who she has confided she has a crush on, will express his concerns about her behavior to her. She knows what she’s doing is harmful and will not stop. I know in the grand scheme of things this is a very mild teenage rebellion, and I am glad she isn’t out doing drugs or that sort of thing. But given that just a few months ago she was a mature, rule-following kid, this is worrying me. How do I get her to stop making choices that only injure herself?
—Offsetting Obstinate Offspring
Have you asked her why she’s making these decisions? One theory, based on these two examples you shared, is that she might want to change something about her appearance, like get contacts or a cooler winter coat or wardrobe. But since you mention there are other examples, I wonder whether there is something more general and harder to articulate going on. Since she’s still confiding in you and is still concerned about grades, my guess is that she’s not necessarily trying to rebel, but trying to carve out spaces where she can exert some autonomy.
Have a conversation about why she’s making the decisions she is. State from the start that you’re not going to debate or boss her, you genuinely just want to understand more about her decisions. Ask a lot of questions and be open to the very real possibility that she doesn’t know why she’s being obstinate, except that it gives her a sense of being in control, which she likes. It might not make sense to you, but it’s a pretty natural thing for a kid her age. If the conversation is productive, you can ask her to work with you on compromises, or a kind of “minimum operating standards” for things that impact her health and safety (like agreeing to wear a coat below a certain temperature, but otherwise staying out of it).
Whenever I think of my tween years, I’m reminded of a vacation to England that I took with my family. At the time, I was mortified to be traveling with my family (even though obviously a 13-year-old wouldn’t be traipsing about the country on their own) and I would walk apart from them and pretend I was solo. None of it makes sense, and I cheated myself out of some fun experiences, but I literally couldn’t bring myself to behave differently. And there was no way I would have volunteered that information to my parents. But I might have been able to articulate it if one of them had brought it up in a curious, non-judgmental way. (They had the grace to just roll their eyes and ignore me, God bless them, and now the story has become family lore.) All that to say, tweens are confusing, tricky, and full of traps you are going to unwittingly spring, so sometimes your role is going to be just accepting that fact. So long as her actions are not escalating to truly destructive behavior, I think you can probably chalk it up to tween idiosyncrasies.
More Advice From Slate
I found out that my 11-year-old child was pressured into riding in a car being driven by one of her friends, “Maria.” Apparently, Maria’s mother was not only aware of this but sent these two sixth graders in the car by themselves to run an errand for her while she was watching TV. I found all this out when I saw Maria driving down the road with my 10-year-old neighbor in the passenger seat, and my daughter confessed.