Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a potential job offer that will take me out of state for training, if all goes according to plan. This would be for about four weeks’ time and would be the first time I have left my children for so long. I have largely functioned as a stay-at-home mom, although I am a licensed realtor and try to take clients here and there. We have three boys: a teen from a previous relationship, a third grader, and a toddler.
During this time away, my partner had planned to take leave to hold down the fort until I returned. I had been looking forward to him getting a taste of what full-time parenting is like, but he just told me he spoke with his mother to take time off from her job so she can help with the kids and cook. This made me upset for numerous reasons. One, I feel he should have told me first. Two, I have some boundary issues with her where I feel she hasn’t respected my rules for my children. (Backstory: I told her not to take nude photos/videos of the middle child as an infant and that was disregarded.) Three, I feel he can cook well enough and it should be his turn to do this parenting thing full-time.
His job requires him to leave for extended periods, and I thought this would be a way for him to really understand what my daily life is like. He says I’m just trying to make things harder for him out of spite, because if he has the extra help why not use it? He has never had the children on his own for more than a few hours on very few occasions. I feel as if he’s taking the easy way out and I don’t necessarily trust his mother alone with the children. I don’t question her ethics or intentions, but if it comes to light that she crosses a boundary with my toddler I told him I’d never allow her to babysit again. Thoughts?
It seems to me that there are two issues here. The first is your resentment that your husband isn’t getting a window into your world for these four weeks. I can understand your disappointment; being a stay-at-home mom is invisible, devalued hard work. I imagine most SAHMs would fantasize about coming home after a month away, to their husband saying to them, “Wow, I don’t know how you do it!” I would have had that same fantasy. But the reality, of course, is that even if he were holding down the fort, he might have let certain things go that you wouldn’t have, he might have made the kids carry more weight than you, or any number of possibilities—it simply might not have been the comeuppance that you have been imagining. So, I think the first step is to let go of that fantasy, because it was tenuous at best. Additionally, when you first made the plans, did you express your hope that he’d get a glimpse into your life during this month? If you didn’t, it’s not fair to be mad at him that he found a workaround solution.
The second issue is your vexation about your mother-in-law’s conduct. Does your husband know that your frustration about the photos was grave enough that you would blacklist her from helping during a tough month? Again, if he knew and asked her anyway, that’s an issue; but if he didn’t know, you can’t be mad at him for not reading your mind. Explain your reservations and find ways that you and he can put some parameters in place that you both feel comfortable with—including consequences if she disregards your instructions while you’re away. I think the cat is already out of the bag on the arrangements, so to speak, so you need to work together to find a way that you can be at peace with the situation.
Overall, your letter reads like someone who feels taken for granted—who maybe doesn’t feel like she and her husband are operating as a team. I think this month away might be shining a light on some more systematic challenges within your relationship. Working on your partnership and communication with a marriage counselor can help you find your way back to a better equilibrium. I hope you’ll consider it.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband’s brother-in-law died about a year ago, so my husband and I have been helping with his sister’s kids—Matt (9) and Sarah (7)—while his sister goes to work. Currently, the kids stay with us for two hours after school for three days a week. Our daughter is 8 years old and gets along swimmingly with all the cousins, especially Sarah, who’s partially Deaf. My sister’s new position requires more travel; she needs to spend around four days a month in Seattle (we live in the Northeast). Her first trip is coming up soon. She’ll be away for four nights. This is the first time she’s been away from the kids for more than maybe 10 hours since their dad died. Both kids are very nervous about the upcoming trip, especially Sarah.
Her biggest fear is that we won’t know how to take care of her disability. We’ve looked after her plenty of times before, just not overnight, but it’s not like she has a special overnight routine or anything—she just needs to charge her hearing aids. She can hear with her hearing aids well enough to carry on a conversation; if she isn’t using her hearing aids she likes to use ASL, which Matt and I both know. My guess is that she’s generally nervous and doesn’t know why so she’s attributing it to her disability. She’s also just generally worried about missing her mom and that if something happens (like she has a nightmare or otherwise gets very scared/sad) it might be difficult to get in touch with her mom. Matt hasn’t been as vocal about being uncomfortable about his mom’s trip but has also said he doesn’t want her to go.
How can we help the kids get ready? I know once their mom leaves and the kids are with us, it’ll be fine. The trip is during the week, so their day won’t change for the most part. They’ll just stay at our house instead of going to their home after school. My sister-in-law is really busy at work and isn’t being very helpful in dealing with the kids’ anxiety about her trip, and neither my husband nor I have much experience in this sort of thing since our daughter loves new experiences and doesn’t have much anxiety about staying with other people she knows.
Your niece and nephew’s reactions don’t really surprise me. Their father’s death is still pretty recent, and I would imagine that, even if they aren’t fully aware of it, the idea of mom being out of sight—and thus unaccounted for at all the normal moments—could be the source of some of their discomfort.
Another thing to note is that even if Sarah doesn’t have explicit needs related to her disability, a change in her routine could still make her uncomfortable. As I wrote in a previous column, kids with disabilities often get accommodations from their family members that even those relatives might not be fully aware of. When put in an unfamiliar situation, like an overnight visit, these “under the radar” accommodations will be absent, putting Sarah in a position to have to ask for things that were previously automatically available, and that can be uncomfortable. Or, they may catch her unaware. So, even though your home and family are familiar, the situation isn’t, and that can be complicated when you live with a disability.
Make a plan with the kids, listing the things that concern them and a correlating response or solution. Wake up from a nightmare? We’ll call Mom’s hotel room phone so she’s sure to wake up. Missing mom? Let’s plan a phone date each night, or keep a journal of how the week went to share with her when she returns. Making a plan can make the kids feel more in control of the situation, especially if they help craft the plan. If there is time between now and the first trip, you can also have a one-night sleepover as a trial run and get some unknowns out of the way beforehand.
You’re right that this will likely get better after the first day and with each passing trip. I hope you all can enjoy this special time of being together as an extended family. I’m sure it will be something the kids (yours included) will appreciate even into adulthood.
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband is from Kyrgyzstan, and for as far back as any of them can remember, the family has been involved in horse ranching. In fact, there was a significant argument between my husband and his father when he wanted to get a desk job in the city and not be outside raising livestock.
We’re considering having a child, and my husband threw a cultural curveball at me. He’s very keen on our child’s first meal being mare’s milk. It’s apparently a cultural tradition that spans back centuries. At least according to some of the reading I’ve done, that is not the best of ideas; even for adults with fully developed digestive systems, it can cause diarrhea and other digestive issues. I’m quite frankly not interested, and either breastfeeding with human milk or formula is definitely the way I’d want to go. But he’s very serious about this, about how it establishes some kind of mystical bond between people and horses and it’s important for his people. I do want to be culturally sensitive, but this is a bridge too far. How do I deal with this irreconcilable divide? It seems such a petty, silly little thing too. I’d hate to blow up an otherwise great relationship over something that is so minor.
Is this an irreconcilable divide? One meal seems reconcilable in the grand scheme of things parents disagree on, at least to me.
Full disclosure, I did a quick Google search and I didn’t immediately see anything about feeding mare’s milk to babies, or a cultural tradition about that. But I did learn that mare’s milk is allegedly very similar to cow’s and can be a substitute for cow’s milk for kids.
The first step is obviously to talk to a pediatrician—specifically, one who has familiarity with and respect for integrating traditional practices into modern life. If the pediatrician can tell you that a one-time ingestion of mare’s milk will have no lasting impacts on your baby, then it seems like a rather innocuous concession for you to make. If, on the other hand, the doctor suggests it’s not a good idea for a newborn, perhaps introducing it when the baby is more developed can be a compromise you and your husband can agree to.
If the doctor says either of those scenarios is fine, but it is still a no-fly zone for you, then you and your husband are going to have to have a serious talk about whether you both want to figure out a different practice to substitute for the first meal (mare’s milk bath? A horse talisman?). I would just make sure that you discuss your perspectives as simply your opinions without making blanket statements that invalidate the whole idea (such as “That’s gross”). In general, it’s really special when we can honor and retain cultural practices that have been passed through generations, so any effort you can make in that direction, within reason, feels like a loving and respectful way to proceed.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My older child Jessica started kindergarten a few days ago. She did preschool previously and always has been a social kid with friends. She didn’t know anyone in her kindergarten class and told me that she made “friends” with some other girls who knew each other from before. However, it sounds like they are not that nice to her and say things like, “Don’t talk to us.” I recognize that it’s only been a few days, but I generally don’t know what to do with these sorts of situations. Tell her that everyone has an off day but if people are rude over and over to move on to new people? Encourage her to try to meet the other kids in the class? I told her she can always talk to us about anything, but I remember being a kid and having my feelings hurt by other kids, and I don’t want that for her. I am wondering how to navigate these kinds of social situations and stop projecting my own insecurities onto her.
Dear Sad Mom,
Yes, that’s what you should tell her. People are allowed to play with whoever they want, and although we ideally want everyone to be inclusive, it can also be OK to tell someone no. We just want it to be said in a kind way. I would have a conversation along the lines that you laid out. Talk about the difference between feeling disappointed and having your feelings hurt—not only might this help her navigate her new relationships, but it also builds her socioemotional vocabulary, which is a really good practice at this age.
Storybooks can help provide a way to explore these concepts together. This list has some really great books about friendship on it; The Not So Friendly Friend and The Recess Queen might also be good options to check out.
Finally, drop a quick email to the kindergarten teacher about what you’re hearing and ask her to keep an ear out. She may be able to help facilitate more appropriate interactions between the girls or help your daughter meet other kids in the classroom.
More Advice From Slate
We recently held an early birthday party for our toddler. We are quiet people and typically avoid throwing big parties, but my partner is leaving for the next year for work and we wanted an opportunity to visit with friends and family before their departure. I was blunt on the invitation: no gifts. We have a variety of reasons for this request.