Stay-at-Home Parenting Is Completely Overwhelming Me – Slate

A running child and her exhausted mother

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Milkos/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Photodisc/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email [email protected] or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is 2, and so smart, funny, sweet, active, and wildly challenging. I’m a stay-at-home parent, and I find parenting so relentless. I consider myself capable, and I read books and articles and wise parenting advice columns, and yet I can’t seem to find solace or perspective in this perpetual feeling of being overwhelmed. I feel like I’m doing the right things to help myself: He’s in a wonderful day care three mornings a week so I can get stuff done, my husband and I have regular date nights, and yet. And yet. Even knowing that whatever challenging tantrum or hitting phase we might be in now will pass doesn’t really bring me comfort, because while there are many fun and positive aspects of this wonderful being’s development, each step in growth also presents a whole new challenge to face.

I have a fear built around these difficult aspects of parenting, especially because I have a particularly spirited child, and I need help letting them go.

—It’s Just a LOT

Dear Lot,

It’s so hard, right? I always hated when people (always strangers) would deliver that old chestnut, “Cherish this moment! They grow up so fast!” Buddy, “this moment” is the kid melting down at the DMV, so you do not need to be told that because someday your darling child will leave you, you have some kind of obligation to love every second you spend parenting. (You do not.)

You may not actually want to be a stay-at-home parent. I don’t know your finances or your family situation in any detail, but I just want to float this idea: Lots of parents find being at home with the kids (close to) full time draining and impossible. If that’s you, it might be time to make a change.

You don’t have to cherish everything. Just cherish the good times.

If you do want to continue staying home with your son, minus his day care mornings, please know that you are right in the hardest part. Sometimes parenting a small child feels like playing whack-a-mole, with new issues popping up the minute you’ve “solved” the previous ones. But as your son gains the communication skills he desperately wants and needs, you’re going to see a huge reduction in the particular kinds of frustration behaviors that result from not being able to adequately explain himself to you.

My final piece of advice to you during this phase is the same thing I tell friends with puppies: Tire him out more. Letting him spin out a bit outside can do wonders in creating the kind of tiredness that results in a good appetite and readiness for sleep. It’s qualitatively different from the kind of tiredness that comes from an afternoon of set-tos and whining when you and your kid are stuck in a room together. Do less, and encourage him to do more.

It gets better. I know it’s hard to imagine, really, but it’s the truth. Spirited toddlers do not necessarily become difficult middle schoolers and then wretched teens; don’t feel like you’ve bought a ticket for a lifetime of particularly demanding parenting. One day you will be cuddled on the couch reading a book together, and these stressful noisy days will fade into a blur. You don’t have to cherish everything. Just cherish the good times, and hang in there.

Dear Care and Feeding,

About three weeks ago, we converted my 2-year-old’s crib to a toddler bed. For potty training (which began 10 days ago), we’re using a method that requires you to throw out the diapers and switch to underwear all the time, including at night. He’s doing really well with it, and we haven’t had any accidents in three days.

Here’s the issue. He is waking up at night at least three times (or four or six) to come get me so I can take him to the toilet. He can’t pull his own underwear down. He goes almost every time. One time, he went to the bathroom himself but peed all over the floor as he couldn’t pull his undies down.

It’s killing my sleep and it’s killing his sleep, obviously. We’ve tried letting him sleep naked. (He just wet the bed twice, although we only tried this one night.) We also tried putting him in pull-ups, but now that he knows he’s not supposed to pee or poo in his underwear, he doesn’t do it—he still comes to get us.

So what do we do? Put him in the pull-ups, reassemble the crib, and let him shout that he needs to go until he pees himself? That seems like a step backward. Muscle through and hope that eventually he stops having to get up so much at night? (But when will that be?!)

I was hoping the pull-ups would solve the issue but obviously it didn’t. My husband is at the end of his rope; I think I could do this for maybe another week but AHHH! (I’m also 16 weeks pregnant, so I need my sleep!)

—The Night Pee-er

Dear TNP,

This kid is consuming way too much fluid in the evenings. Your 2-year-old should not be needing to get up three times a night to pee, let alone six times! Figure out how much he’s currently drinking after 5 p.m., and scale it way the heck back. Obviously, make sure he’s generally hydrated and gets lots of fluids during the day, but within shouting distance of bedtime I wouldn’t give him more than the bare minimum in response to active requests for water.

The other thing I would like you to do is set out a potty on the floor very near his bed (on top of a waterproof sheet or crib protector, depending on your carpeting situation). There’s nothing wrong with nighttime pull-ups, and if you can convince him to pull them down and sit down on a potty, ideally he will not continue coming to find you.

Your job is to make it easy for him to succeed, so let’s start with these two fixes and go from there.

If you missed Wednesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My father recently discussed his will with me. He is leaving me about one-third and leaving my brother two-thirds of his property. My father says this is because my brother and his wife are not capable people.

Some background: I am the older one. I paid for my own education abroad using scholarships and I paid for my own marriage. My brother insisted on studying abroad and my parents paid for his education. He got married and my parents paid for his marriage. He got divorced and my parents paid for his second marriage. He and his wife live in my parents’ house rent-free, and they don’t contribute to expenses. My mother takes care of cooking, cleaning, and all household maintenance. My brother is a lawyer and makes a good salary. His wife was a teacher but stopped working when they had their first child since she said she couldn’t juggle working and parenting.

My husband and I live in a different city. We both work and have two kids, and our days are basically a mad rush from 6:40 a.m. to 11 p.m. I left a high-paying job in France to move back to India because my parents insisted that they need me in India as they age. My parents have offered me monetary gifts over the years and I have always refused, since I didn’t feel it was right to take monetary gifts from a retired couple. My brother periodically wants to upgrade his car or phone and will pay for it partly with monetary gifts from my parents and partly with interest-free loans from my parents. My brother likes nice things and a good life. His wife likes to spend on photo shoots and clothes. My husband and I are frugal and don’t really have the time, the interest, or the means to indulge in luxuries.

I have very little respect for my brother or his wife and I think they are a pair of lazy spoiled brats. I feel it is incredibly unfair that my parents are underwriting my brother’s lifestyle now and plan to continue to do this even after their deaths by leaving the bulk of their wealth to my brother because he is “less capable.” I feel foolish for being the responsible one who has worked like a dog throughout my life—my brother, by taking the easy way, will end up being much better off than me because of his inheritance.

I also feel that maybe the real reason my father has made this decision is simply because he doesn’t like me. I work really hard and sometimes I have to admit that I am stressed and not as much fun or as easygoing as my brother. Also, I am older and I remember the things my father (who was an alcoholic for the majority of my teen years) did. I faced the brunt of the alcoholism and have confronted my father about these memories.

Overall, the discussion of the will has left me feeling lost, adrift, and questioning all my choices and values. I feel rejected and treated unfairly. Am I wrong to feel this way? After all, it is his money to use as he wishes. I am trying to accept that I am sad, and move on. But I also feel intense anger at odd times. I remember how, when we first moved abroad, I wore the same two pairs of jeans for a year because I was so concerned about making ends meet in a foreign country. (It didn’t even occur to me to ask my parents for money.) I should just have taken the easy way and been happier, with more time to rest and enjoy. Perhaps the people around me would have preferred this too.

—Please Help

Dear PH,

The cheap and easy way to answer questions like yours is “You can’t spend anyone else’s money for them!” But it does no earthly good to pretend that we haven’t spent all of civilization mixing up ideas of money and love and responsibility. Your question was in the Bible, that’s how close to the bone it is. You were the good and prudent child, and now you’re glumly getting ready for the fatted calf to be slaughtered for your useless brother. You even get to toss gender into the mix! A tale as old and painful as time.

There’s nothing that’s going to fix this. You’re not the sort of person who could have behaved like your brother did and been content with being a colossal mooch, so there’s little point in pretending you should have behaved differently. Your father could change his will tomorrow, and you would still have the memory of the active alcoholic parent and those two pairs of jeans. You could develop an entire meditation practice around “Money isn’t love” and it wouldn’t change your feelings. It will also not comfort you to know that in 10 years, you’ll have more of your inheritance left than your brother will.

What do we do, then? Well, take a minute and recognize the accidental blessings of your bad and unequal upbringing: You’re smart and you’re strong. Your father knows that, just as he knows that your brother is a sinkhole into which he will be pouring money even after death.

I think you can decide if you want to spend the rest of your father’s life genuinely working on that relationship (there’s a lot of pain in your letter; if you were done with the man, it would read differently), or if you’d like to clear space to focus on how you feel about your own life. As frugal as you may be, a good therapist can help with that.

This is just a crummy situation, largely the result of crummy parenting, and what I want you to focus on is your own emotional health and the health of the family you and your husband are building. In time, I hope your feelings around this will become more manageable. You will be in my thoughts.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is obsessed with Brexit. (We are Americans with no particular connection to the United Kingdom, which I feel obliged to mention upfront.) He is 11 and mildly neuro-atypical, but very successfully mainstreamed and thriving at school and home. We’re familiar with his extreme interests and the vigor he brings to them, but this one is pushing the limits of our patience. Brexit has been going on for SO LONG, and I just don’t know how much longer I can listen to daily 40-minute monologues about the latest nondevelopments.

—About to Mail Him to Downing Street

Dear AtMHtDS,

This is truly delightful. He and my father could entertain each other!

Look, a very important part of parenting a kid with … intense … interests is to remember that you do not always have to participate in them. It’s vital for his ability to live and operate in this world that you help him by saying, “I’m done talking about Theresa May now, so let’s discuss a new topic.”

Honesty is a great gift you can offer your son. He needs to develop the skill of knowing when people are getting bored by him, and you can help him develop that skill by talking about conversation flow, about the ways in which people nonverbally indicate they’re ready to move on. You can help him become a bit more aware of monologuing versus true conversation.

But I still urge you to please help him revel in the joy of having intense interests. It’s a great thing! It adds spice to life. So, while you’re working on conversational skills, encourage him to keep Brexiting it up in his own way and on his own time. He sounds like a delightful young man.

—Nicole

Ask a Teacher

My older son had a fourth-grade teacher whom we all really disliked. I really, really do not want her teaching my younger son. I don’t want to appear like a difficult parent, especially when this teacher may not even have a classroom next year. Should I speak up at the end of this year?

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