Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have two kids. I went back to work fulltime about four months ago after staying home since the first was born. My husband travels for work three-to-four times a year for three-to-five days at a time. He recently had his first trip since I returned to work, and it’s definitely a different experience taking care of everyone for five days while also going to work all day every day. Just after he got back, we were talking about my upcoming birthday. I told him I’d like to get a hotel room with a jacuzzi tub for a night one of the weekends around my birthday and just relax by myself. Go get a pedicure and manicure in the afternoon, order every kind of food I want and eat it all while watching whatever movie I want, sleep all night until whatever time I want, then come back recharged. He laughed in what I thought was an amused way because, as a very social person, going somewhere to be alone is most definitely not what he would ever choose to relax. I asked him if one weekend worked better for him than the other and he said “oh, you’re serious?” Yup. I said I don’t travel for work and I spend the great majority of my time outside of work taking care of the kids, I could use a little break. He said he’d check with his mother and see which weekend she was available to come over and help and let me know.
I’m so annoyed right now. He certainly didn’t need to check with his mother (or mine) to see when he could travel for work. I have no issue with him having some help around, but I don’t think my ability to take a true break should depend on his mother’s availability. How do I approach the conversation with my husband that I’m concerned that he doesn’t think he can take care of our kids himself for 24 hours? And that he doesn’t seem to think I deserve time away for myself?
—Just Want One Night Away
Dear One Night,
I get why you’re annoyed, but I wouldn’t necessarily interpret your husband’s surprise as him thinking you don’t deserve time to yourself? He could have been reacting with surprise because, as you mentioned, he’s an extrovert and time by himself wouldn’t feel like a treat to him. He didn’t try to talk you out of it, and he didn’t say that you didn’t deserve it. He seems to be going along with it—as he should!
Do I think the idea of him calling in reinforcements for one night alone with the kids is a bit much? For sure. And I think it’s fine to let him know that you feel there’s something of a double-standard at work here: You didn’t have anyone’s help while he was on his work trip. If by some chance your mother-in-law isn’t available to come and help either weekend, you should still get a night off if that’s what you want for your birthday, no question; your time away shouldn’t depend on her availability.
Instead of assuming how your husband feels about his parenting capacity or that he’s judging your request to have your birthday off, you could try asking him: Does he understand that you’ve been feeling exhausted and burned out, and that you really need this birthday time alone? Is he comfortable with the idea of caring for the kids on his own for a short time? Does he get that it’s important for both of you to know that he can do that? Again, I get why you’re irritated, and I’m not saying that you should brush your concerns under the rug. But I think this can be a conversation and not a conflict, if you can both approach it that way.
A larger issue you seem to be hinting at is the overall division of domestic labor—it sounds as though it might be uneven at the best of times, when you’re both at home. If so, that is probably making the whole birthday weekend conversation more fraught than it would be otherwise. You’re a couple of years into parenting now, and I realize the routines you have in place may already feel fixed. But the division of labor is something the two of you can definitely still address, as is the need for you to have time to yourself beyond your birthday (which you should!). Yes, you’re going to be exhausted sometimes, but you can talk and figure out how you’re going to take care of your kids and take care of each other, and make sure you both get a break every now and then.
Want Advice on Parenting, Kids, or Family Life?
Submit your questions to Care and Feeding here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)
Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I have a 14-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. They’re very different kids, and we try to meet them where they’re at. He’s an adventurous eater and a strangely easy kid and always has been. My daughter was an enthusiastic toddler eater but meals have been downhill since then. We’ve had her evaluated for sensitivities, allergies, stomach problems, and neurodivergences that could be behind this, but nothing came up. Right now, the compromise is that she drinks a pediatric support shake at every meal and tries two bites of food on the plate. She’s underweight but not dangerously so, and we continue to have her monitored by the pediatrician.
The current parenting problem is that even as we’ve worked to increase the amount she eats, she has big hunger meltdowns. They are infuriating as someone who spent years coaxing her to eat. My approach is to neutrally remind her she can have anything from the snack shelf and she needs to keep her body and her words safe and kind, and that I will be back when she can do that. She gets my attention back when she’s able to get it together. If we’re away from home, I’ll modify it but always make food available and give us both space to cool down. But they break my usually patient husband in a way that toddler tantrums or teen sulks never have: He reminds her that if she ate she wouldn’t be having this problem, tells her if she feels bad it’s her own fault because she’s not eating enough, and generally gets the most angry I’ve seen him with our kids. She doesn’t react much to it, but I think it’s too much on her, and it upsets our son, too. Obviously my husband and I disagree on this. What do we do?
Dear Hunger Strike,
This sounds difficult and scary, and I’m glad that your daughter’s pediatrician is closely monitoring her health. I get that you and your husband are both frustrated. I imagine that some of his reaction could be chalked up to fear coming out sideways. It’s not wrong to let your daughter know that you both care about her health and safety, you worry when she refuses to eat, and you know she’d probably feel better if she ate something. But blowing up at her and blaming her for her struggles obviously won’t help—it could make her feel attacked, it could harm her relationship with her father, and it could make her food issues even worse. Your husband has a right to feel angry, but that doesn’t mean that every way he expresses it is okay.
Ideally, you and he would be able to bring those hard feelings to each other, talk about how you’re doing, and deal with these challenges and frustrations together. You may already be doing that, of course. I think it can also help to talk with other people about our parenting struggles—I know I’m incredibly grateful for my friends (not all of them fellow parents) who listen with compassion and without judgment when I’m worried or need to vent. If your husband doesn’t have enough of a support system to help him face or process his understandable emotions and anxiety about your child’s health—or even if he does!—perhaps talking to a professional about these things could also be helpful. The bottom line is that he can’t be directing that anger at your daughter, or punishing her for whatever this dynamic is; he needs to find other ways to acknowledge his fear and frustration.
I noticed that mental health wasn’t on the list of evaluations you’d gotten for your child. Maybe her doctor is already on it. But I wanted to mention just in case she might also benefit from more support in that area, either because of her current eating issues, or because the stressful family dynamics around them are starting to affect her, too.
Catch Up on Care and Feeding
· Missed earlier columns this week? Read them here.
· Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!
Dear Care and Feeding,
My dear friend, who does not have much experience with toddlers, has offered to fly to my town and spend the night so my partner and I can have a babymoon. I love my friend and the sentiment but feel like this is a bad idea. My 2.5-year-old has been left overnight a couple of times, once with her grandmother who knows her well and once with her old nanny. She now will not hang out with her old nanny because she thinks we are going to leave her overnight (she’s in daycare so it’s not a big deal). I don’t think anything bad happened, I just think it was hard on my daughter. When we have the baby, we plan on having grandparents here to stay with her. Should I leave my kid with my friend for the night? Am I being too high-strung or is this a bad idea?
—Too High Strung?
Dear Too High Strung,
I don’t know your daughter or your friend, or how motivated you are to have this babymoon, so it’s kind of tough to tell you what to do here. You know your friend: Would you trust her to care for and keep your child safe, with the instructions and emergency info you’d leave for her? And do you really want or need a night away? If your answer to both questions is yes, then I think probably the very worst-case scenario is that your child would miss you. (Keep in mind that if it’s going really badly, you can always come home early.) Even if your friend isn’t exactly the Toddler Whisperer, I don’t think anything super terrible would happen so long as she’s kind and responsible and you trust her.
But I don’t think something has to be “a bad idea” or result in something awful for you to decide you just don’t want to bother with it. If the idea causes you too much stress or you just don’t want to force your kid to deal with a new situation right now, that’s okay (the time away might not be all that enjoyable for you anyway if you’re this worried). Maybe that means you’re a little more anxious about leaving your 2.5-year-old than someone else would be—but who cares? You’re her parent. It’s your call and this isn’t make-or-break. She can stay overnight with her grandparents when you have the baby, which you already know she can handle, and sleepovers with other caregivers can come at a later time if that’s your decision.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I am looking for an objective third party to weigh in because my partner and I deal with our 1-year-old being sick very differently. We’ve had a couple conversations about it and are having trouble finding a middle ground. On a recent Monday morning, our daughter woke up with a fever that ended up lasting for five days. The fever started high (102-103) and as the week progressed, it gradually got lower, but didn’t finally break and stay normal until Saturday. As the fever lowered, it was clear that she was feeling better and wasn’t experiencing much in the way of other symptoms. I wanted to mostly keep her home until her fever went away, but my partner got antsier as the days went on because he felt that she was well enough for us to go out and do things.
This led to a lot of tension between us. My partner’s stance is that if she has a fever but isn’t exhibiting any other symptoms and is acting normal, we should be able to go out and do things. If she takes a turn for the worse, we head home. I think he is wrong and this is a situation where I’m admittedly struggling to be flexible. I believe that as her parents, we are responsible for making sure that we don’t knowingly put her in a situation where she has the potential of over-exerting herself when she has an active fever. Sure, it sucks when we have to cancel plans because she’s sick; it happens quite a bit because she’s in daycare and she’s sick at least once a month. But I would rather cancel plans than worry about her health.
I know I tend to be an anxious person and parent. For that reason, I take anxiety medication and just recently concluded three years of therapy and a lot of work on myself. I do try really hard not to be a helicopter parent and I think I’m mostly pretty good at it. I can admit when I’m wrong and apologize. Am I just being too anxious here? Do I need to let go a bit and cut him some slack?
Dear Too Anxious,
I am not a doctor, but my own rule, which I got from our pediatrician, is that you should generally keep a child home from school and activities with other children when they have a fever (100.4 degrees or higher). It’s not really about anxiety. It’s also not only about your daughter’s need to rest, or how she’s feeling—it’s about protecting others, and not letting your kid shed germs everywhere you go and make other people ill. So if your daughter has been sick and symptomatic and still has a fever, I’d try to keep her away from others, especially those more vulnerable to things like the flu, until the fever is gone.
(A bunch of people are going to point out that a fever doesn’t always mean a kid is contagious—they might have some infection, like an ear infection or UTI, that wouldn’t spread to others. But I think you’re talking about common, daycare-loving viruses, the kind that definitely spread. When in doubt, you can always ask your pediatrician when your daughter can resume normal activities in public.)
I get that it sucks to be stuck at home with a sick kid! No one enjoys it. But this is life with a small child. Taking your still-feverish toddler out on the town because you’re bored is not great for her and really inconsiderate to others. You and your partner can take turns getting out of the house while she’s still contagious, and maybe he can find some more indoor hobbies.
More Advice From Slate
Our daughter “Amanda” lives in another state and has been married to “Jacob” for several years. Theirs is an open relationship, and I have always known that. My husband, however has kept his head in the sand regarding this. My daughter has a boyfriend, “Tom,” whom Jacob knows about and has a great friendship with. They are all planning to come to our home this Christmas. My opinion is that they are all consenting adults, there are no children involved, and always behave appropriately in public. But my husband insists that Tom (who has visited us previously) is not welcome. Do I tell our daughter, son-in-law, and daughter’s boyfriend to make other holiday plans?