Baby Care

My village never showed up to help me raise my kids.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Before my son was born, I felt like we were in a great place in terms of family support. My parents live a 7-hour drive away, but my husband’s parents and brother are only 30 minutes away. My MIL in particular was so adamant that I could always ask them if I needed anything, and she was very excited to look after the baby (so she said). Well, the one thing I asked them to help with during the birth was to take care of our dog. BIL had promised to dog-sit for us and promptly disappeared on a ski trip while I was in the hospital. MIL and FIL refused to step up in his place, so my husband spent over an hour every day traveling between our house and the hospital to take care of her instead of spending the time with me and the baby. The end result was a grumpy, under-exercised dog, a stressed-out me, and a pretty terrible first meeting between doggo and baby (thankfully since rectified), which really put a damper on my homecoming. To add insult to this, the first thing BIL did after returning from his trip was get a new dog of his own.

Since then, my parents have made the trip down twice. They have helped and supported us financially, physically, and emotionally. My mom sends parcels frequently, and when they’re here, they help out around the house and take the baby off our hands so we can attend to everything else that needs doing. My in-laws have been around about as frequently despite the comparative lack of distance, and they never help with anything. They haven’t even changed a single diaper. I’ve tried to make them feel as included as possible, but every time I’ve invited them to do (fun!) things with the baby, they’ve acted like it’s a massive imposition to come out and visit. I really feel like we’ve had the rug pulled out from under us by the withdrawal of family support from my in-laws. I have to return to work soon and was counting on my MIL to look after the baby for at least one morning a week, but she has promptly gotten a new job with far more hours and will no longer be available. I have no idea what we’ll do if I can’t get enough spaces at daycare. My husband seems totally clueless about the whole thing, and I have no idea how to tell him to ask his parents to either step up their game or at least be up front with us about what they’re willing and able to actually do before we make plans with them in mind!

—Where Did My Village Go

Dear Village,

It would be really nice if you had gotten all the help you’d expected from your in-laws, and I agree that people shouldn’t offer assistance they aren’t prepared to follow through on. I don’t blame you for being stressed about childcare—it’s unfortunate that your mother-in-law isn’t available for that one day a week you wanted her to baby-sit. But I’m guessing that she didn’t take the new job to inconvenience you, but because she needs a job and thought it would be a better work situation for her. (While we’re at it: I understand being annoyed that your brother-in-law backed out of dog-sitting, but his decision to get a dog of his own really doesn’t have anything to do with you?)

Some people are very excited to spend time with babies and confident in taking care of them; others far less so. Some are more adept at domestic labor, or better able to understand and anticipate new parents’ needs. Most people in your life, even your close relatives, won’t necessarily be able to base work decisions on your family’s needs or organize their own lives around helping with the baby. If you want more assistance from your in-laws, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask them to hold the baby, or change a diaper, or babysit once in a while, and you can go ahead and feel a way if they consistently refuse. But I doubt that any vague exhortations to “step up” will do much—the reality is that while you and your husband can make specific asks and let them know their help would be appreciated, you can’t compel them to do more than they’re willing or able to do.

I wouldn’t necessarily expect a ton of practical help from your husband’s family going forward, just consider it a nice bonus if or when they provide any. That doesn’t mean they don’t love your child, or that you can’t wish that things were different, or that you have to reconcile yourself to not having a “village” at all. Again, it’s fine to feel disappointed! But I think it makes sense to adjust your future expectations where your in-laws are concerned, if only to save yourself inconvenience or trouble, and refrain from making hard and fast plans based on what you’d like them to provide.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

How important are maintaining friendships in motherhood? I’ve got a toddler, and while I do try to make time to connect with my friends once every few months (they too have kids), I always leave these hangouts feeling, well, not particularly invigorated. There definitely was a point in time when I enjoyed seeing my friends, but now I feel like I want nothing more than to hole up in a coffee shop for a few hours with a good book with my precious free time. However, I also hear a lot of online discourse about the importance of friends, building your village, etc. so my question is this: Should I just let my friendships lapse and invest my free time where it serves me, or should I try to maintain these social connections because I will need them some point down the road?

—Perks of Being a Wallflower?

Dear Perks,

I noticed your letter was mostly focused on whether these friendships are still worth it to you—will you actually need these people down the road? But of course, friendship isn’t just about what we need, or what we think we will get from it, now or in the future; it’s also about being there for people we genuinely care about. If that’s not something you want or feel able to do with or for these particular people right now, it could be that the friendship(s) have already lapsed, at least on your end.

I do think it’s worth considering whether you still feel a real connection with some or all of the people you call friends. If not, do you want to try to restore some or all of those relationships? Would it make sense to prioritize preserving some friendships but not others, if you have less time than you once did? If group get-togethers have felt overwhelming lately, would it be better to try catching up with some people 1:1? With whom and under what circumstances, if any, would you want to keep some level of friendship?

There’s no “right” number of friends for a person (parent or not) to have, no minimum or maximum number of hours you have to spend in the company of friends. You do need time and space to yourself sometimes—I also love having time to read or write or just rest and do nothing much at all. But I think before discarding all your friendships, you should think about why you’ve maintained them up to now, and whether there’s anyone left who you feel genuinely close to. Even if you’ve grown apart from some of your friends, perhaps there are others you’d still like to maintain ties with. See if you can find a balance between meeting your own “alone time” needs and still being part of some of your friends’ lives—it’s not a zero-sum game.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

· Missed earlier columns this week? Read them here.
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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have hit an impasse over something our 15-year-old son “Robert” did. We live on an old farm, and raise some geese and chickens. It’s very much a side hustle—my husband and I both have other jobs—but it brings in some extra money and it’s something that gets us all outside. Almost two weeks ago, I was doing some laundry when I heard a loud bang right near the front door. I ran over to see what happened and there was Robert, standing outside with his father’s Remington 870. He had spotted a fox aiming for the chicken coop, so he got the gun, loaded the ammo (which is kept in a separate room), and blasted the animal.

I think that the risk of Robert accidentally hurting himself or someone else far outweighs the risk of anything a fox attack could do. Even if it somehow wiped out all of the birds, we’d get by. My inclination is to either disassemble the gun or take all the ammunition away so this can’t happen again. But my husband is actually proud of our son, mentioned that he’d shot foxes with the very same gun by the time he was Robert’s age, and thinks he acted in a perfectly admirable way. He’s been all congratulatory and “attaboy” about the whole incident. We’ve been arguing more and more over this. How can we patch this up and come to some kind of agreement?

—Farming Problems

Dear Farming Problems,

When your son is an adult, it’s his decision whether to have or shoot a rifle. Right now, that’s a decision you, his parents, are primarily responsible for. You don’t want him having access to the rifle, and I don’t think a minor should have access to a loaded gun over the strong objections of one of their parents. I really don’t see this as an “agree to disagree” parenting matter, or something you simply have no choice but to accept because your family lives on a “side hustle” farm—if a 15-year-old is going to be allowed to handle and fire a weapon, their parents should be in agreement about that decision, as well as under what circumstances and supervision, etc., they’re permitted to do so.

Your son got the gun, loaded it, and fired it completely unsupervised. (From the sound of it, at least, he was on his own until you heard the shot and came running.) He didn’t ask you or your husband for permission to get the rifle, or tell you what he was going to do. Neither parent was with him, making sure he was safe. You seem not just shaken, but also surprised by his actions, as if you didn’t know he could use the gun at all.

The fact that Robert was able to grab and fire your husband’s rifle without your knowledge—and with no parental oversight or involvement whatsoever—is something you should find concerning, no matter how you and/or your spouse feel about guns. And if your position is that your son shouldn’t use the rifle at all, then he shouldn’t have had such easy access to it or the ammo. Nor should you have been in the dark about his learning how to shoot it. I’m not sure why you weren’t aware of all this before the fox—whether it was something your son kept from both you and your husband, or something your son and your husband kept from you—but I think it points to an urgent need for a larger talk about firearm responsibility.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a solo parent to my two boys, ages 3 and 4, about 70 percent of the time. My husband is a commercial fisherman (think along the lines of Deadliest Catch), so depending on the season, he’s typically gone 8-10 weeks at a time. My husband and I met and fell in love in Alaska, though we’re both from the lower 48. After we got married, due to my job, I’ve remained on the West Coast working and living close to both of our families. The plan is for the boys and I to move north in a few years when looking after two kids isn’t as challenging—toddlers are hard enough, never mind doing it somewhere cold and remote. My issue is with the constant commentary on our situation: How I’m a superwoman for doing it all alone, managing a successful career (I’m the youngest female director to ever be hired at my company), raising solid kids, etc. I appreciate being seen since I work my butt off to manage our lives, but lately the comments directed at my husband are starting to piss me off more than usual—lots of unsolicited advice on how boys need a father figure (uh, they have one?), that my husband isn’t a good dad for prioritizing his work, etc. Certain people (coworkers, unpleasant family members) refuse to let it go despite me saying, multiple times, “Our situation works for us, let’s talk about something else.”

I’m crazy proud of my husband, we talk every single day via FaceTime, and when he’s with us he’s the most engaged, present dad I’ve ever seen. The boys spend plenty of time with my dad and brother, who are wonderful with them and great influences, so they’re not lacking for male interaction. Lots of these people work nice safe desk jobs, so why they feel like they can comment negatively on my husband’s work when it’s dangerous and vital is beyond me. Short of telling them to stuff their opinions of my marriage where the sun don’t shine (or moving 2,000 miles away), I’m out of ideas on how to get people to stop commenting on my life.

—Proud Fisherman’s Wife

Dear Proud Fisherman’s Wife,

Yeah, I definitely get why you’re annoyed. It’s not an excuse, just a fact that many people cannot imagine something that wouldn’t work for them being fine or even great for someone else.
It sounds like you’ve already done nearly as much as you can to shut these comments down with a polite “It works for us” and a subject change. If someone is being really stubborn and refusing to take your gentle cues, I think you can draw a firmer line and tell them that this is none of their business and you won’t discuss it with them anymore. Be ready to walk away if that’s the only way to end the conversation.


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