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,
My husband hated the rat race so when our child was a toddler, he quit regular full-time work to become a stay-at-home parent, whereas I (female) stayed in the workforce to be the breadwinner because I enjoy my career. Now he has a job where he works from home full-time, doing contract work on whatever schedule he wants, meaning he can work four or 40 hours a week at whatever time or day he chooses. Our child is now in elementary school and goes to after-school care full-time. A few weeks ago, my husband billed two hours in one week while I worked 55 hours in the same week.
The problem comes in how we each define what a SAHP does. My husband ONLY does domestic work for our child: pick up, meals, laundry, homework, and playing. I still do the scheduling, health care appointments, deep house cleaning, yard work, and cooking for myself. He refuses to do anything I need during the week like picking up dry cleaning or prescriptions (unless he has to go to the pharmacy for himself or our child) or general errands I need. His explanation is that he quit his full-time job to take care of our child, which doesn’t include me, whereas I thought of it like a typical SAHP situation where the person at home can do tasks during the day for ALL members of the household who are away from the house during the weekday. My husband also reminds me that I’m an adult who should be taking care of myself, and he’s entitled to his time.
That means on nights and weekends, my focus is elsewhere and I’m too tired to do anything else, and my husband doesn’t like it. He pointed out that my co-workers with SAHPs don’t spend their downtime like that to which I responded by saying, “That’s because their SAHPs take care of EVERYONE in the household, not just the kids. No one is doing my laundry but me!” This exchange erupted into a fight where my husband told me I needed better time management skills and more appreciation for what he does around the house and that my job isn’t the most important one. Where do I go from here? Sometimes I think a divorce is easier because I’d still be doing all the same things I do now but without resenting my husband for playing Xbox all day some days.
—Taking the P in SAHP Literally
I’m sorry, this sounds incredibly difficult. Your husband needs to decide if he’s actually in a partnership and family, or if he’s just a dad and not interested in the rest. That’s what it boils down to. I don’t care what amount or type of work anyone is doing; families aren’t supposed to be “every man for themselves.” The fact that he doesn’t make you a plate when he’s making food for the rest of the family feels especially petty, if not downright cruel and exclusionary. That doesn’t sound like a partnership to me; it sounds like two people who broke up but can’t afford to break their lease. I’m concerned about what other ways he might be dismissing you, and I worry about what example it may be setting for your kid.
I am not necessarily telling you to file for divorce. But I think you both need marriage counseling, urgently. And you need to tell him as much. I’d also point you toward the book The Two-Income Trap by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi—though focused on economics, it nonetheless describes well how single-income families used to function, and might give you some extra context to use before and during counseling. I also discussed some similar themes in last week’s column in case you want to look that over.
Bottom line: You’re supposed to be working together on behalf of the family unit. If he is going to benefit from your hard-earned income, you should be benefiting from his free calendar. I hate putting it in such transactional terms, but there it is.
Want Advice From Care and Feeding?
Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a sweet, smart 3-and-a-half-year-old, Mary. For the past month or two, Mary has started “lying” all the time. It’s never to get out of being in trouble or get something. She is just constantly fabricating parts of her day. For example, I will pick her up from preschool and ask her what she had for a snack (which I already know the answer to) and she will say something along the lines of, “Cake, pretzels, and chocolate milk.” Never in the history of preschool has she had a snack like that. I’ll ask if they played in the gym because of the rain (again, I know they did) and she will say, “No, I was too busy. Everyone else went up to the gym but I had to work.” These little stories never cause problems and are often very funny, but she will insist on them even if pressed with evidence, and it’s multiple times a day. I never make her feel like she is in trouble for it and may tell her something like, “Oh, your teacher told me…” but often I just keep asking her more questions and “play along.” My older son never did this. Is this normal development that I can continue “playing along with” or do I need to be handling it differently?
—Fully in Fantasyland
I handle it exactly the same way with my 4-year-old. The way I see it, I’m engaging in the conversation with him not because I need to know the information, but rather to bond, establish a connection after a day apart, and to help him practice communication skills. So, I don’t sweat it when he shares something I know isn’t true; I just go along for the ride. This is also important to remember if he ever tells me about a conflict with another student or teacher; I’ll listen and provide sympathy and advice, but I don’t fully assume its veracity until I talk to the adults about it. (Often, I find that the story is true, but several weeks old!)
Similar to you, my oldest didn’t do this as much. I’ve always chalked it up to differences in their personalities; one is a rather practical and literal child, and the other is a bit more dramatic. But when you think about it, telling tales like this is actually a really cool way to see your kid’s brain at work—she’s not just reporting on the day; she has enough data, stories, images, etc. in her mind to be able to construct a mini-fantasy. That’s pretty amazing at three years of existence! As long as the content isn’t problematic, I think this is just one of those times in parenthood when you get to be playful and see the world through a toddler’s eyes—full of possibility.
Catch Up on Care and Feeding
• If you missed Friday’s column, read it here.
• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!
Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife and I have three kids. Our oldest two got into a sleep routine pretty quickly, and aside from a sick night or a nightmare, they have slept great. Our youngest is a different story. She is almost 4 and for the past six months has been getting up multiple times a night. She needs a snuggle, has an itch, asks if it’s the weekend—any reason under the sun. The bigger problem is that anytime I get up to tuck her back in, she starts screaming nonstop for my wife which ultimately wakes the entire house. She does not do this throughout the day at all when it comes to needing something. My wife is exhausted, I am exhausted and our household is out of sync.
—Exhausted for Xmas
She’s probably exhausted, too, which is why she’s reacting so extremely. I would try to do a few practical things to get the guardrails back on. First off, see if you can set a limit for out-of-bed spells and devise some way to visually count them. Maybe two hooks on the wall, with 3 plastic rings on the hook. Every time she gets out of bed, a ring moves from the right hook to the left. When she’s “spent” all the rings, she has to stay in bed. It’s sort of a count-down version of an OK-to-Wake clock. I’d start with a number of rings equal to her average number of interruptions, and then you can gradually work it down to a number you’re OK with (whether that’s zero or not is your call).
The other thing I would suggest is having an object that denotes which parent is on “duty” that night. Maybe it’s a stuffed animal on your bedside table. Whoever is on duty is the one who does the tuck-ins. Explain that system, and remind her when taking her back to her room: “I’m tucking you in because it’s my turn to have the [green bear].” It’s not a guarantee, but very possible that once there is a system or rule assigning the tuck-in duties (rather than your wife arbitrarily abandoning her) her protestations will calm down. And if she gets wise and starts only getting out of bed on your wife’s nights, then you know something else might be afoot in terms of needing more mom time…and you can simultaneously assign yourself more nights “on duty” to help extinguish her wake-ups.
There’s no guarantee these two ideas will work, but nothing with toddlers ever is a guarantee. Whatever method you try, make sure you stick with it for a few weeks before giving up. Changing habits is hard, but with patience and persistence, it’s possible. Good luck!
Dear Care and Feeding,
My oldest child, “Becky,” is in her freshman year at an out-of-state college. She’s really enjoying it and is doing well academically and socially. She recently confided in me that she’s dating “Samantha,” someone she met during orientation and quickly became close with. The issue is that Becky skipped a grade during elementary school, meaning that she doesn’t turn 18 until next year, and Samantha had to repeat a grade. This means that Samantha is a full two years older than Becky, but they are in the same year of college. Samantha seems like a great kid and has a lot of the same aspirations, goals, and interests as Becky. I’m glad that Becky is happy, but isn’t 17 and 19 a bit big of an age gap?
—She’s Too Old for You
Dear Too Old,
I don’t agree. Two years seems like the outside edge of “perfectly normal” age gaps for college years. In these circumstances, I’d be more curious about how differences in dating experience, length of time being out, and other social factors might impact their early relationship. One positive is that, despite their chronological ages, both kids have been with the same peer group for the past several years, and thus may have more similar frames of reference and emotional maturity when it comes to dating.
I think the better question to ask is whether Becky has the maturity to enter into a relationship (emotionally or physically), and how you can coach her, if needed, when she is living independently. And of course, you and/or Becky should get familiar with sex laws in their current state of residence to make sure that Samantha is protected from any legal trouble.
More Advice From Slate
My spouse and I each own our own businesses. One of our businesses is a pretty traditional professional services firm (think: accountant, architect, or lawyer), and the other one is a more creative business (think: artist, musician, or writer). We both love our jobs, but one of us makes more than $400,000 and one of us makes around $40,000. To do our jobs well, they both require about the same amount of time.