My Husband Was Accused of Trying to “Abduct” Our Daughter. Now He’s Afraid to Be Alone With Her.

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

Dear Care and Feeding,

Last year, my husband “Barry” took our then-4-year-old daughter “Kayla” to the park. Kayla apparently threw a tantrum over not wanting to wear her mittens, and when my husband tried to calm her down, someone took notice, decided he was trying to abduct her, and called the police. That led to him being detained and separate questioning of both Kayla and Barry before the police decided that no, actually nothing was wrong and let him go.

Since then, Barry has refused to take Kayla anywhere if he’s not accompanied by me or some other relative. I have to do all of the driving whenever we need to take her to a doctor, attend some school function, take her out anywhere she wants to go, etc. I shouldn’t judge him for this, but it’s really hampered his ability to parent, and I’m struggling under the load of all the outside the house parenting work alone. He has been in therapy since shortly after the incident, but as far as I can tell it hasn’t made much of a difference. He’ll be noticeably anxious when outside the home with Kayla and still refuses to be with her without some other relative along. I need some kind of support here, and my husband can’t provide it. What can I do to get out of this mess?

—Can’t Do This Alone

Dear Can’t Do This Alone,

I hope both your daughter and your husband are able to acknowledge and talk about how they’ve been feeling since the incident, which sounds like it was not only scary but potentially traumatizing. And I also think there’s room for you to be nonjudgmental but honest with Barry about how this specific symptom of avoidance—refusing to take your daughter anywhere in public—is affecting all of you. Even if his anxiety is understandable to some extent, it’s interfering with his daily life, his parenting, and activities that I assume he actually wants to be able to do with Kayla. You’re being forced to plan and rearrange your life around it. And so, while you can be a good and supportive partner by listening to him and letting him know his feelings aren’t the enemy, I also think it’s fair to want him to work on this. (I don’t know if having you join one of his sessions could help by allowing the two of you to discuss this with more support, but if so, that’s something else to consider.)

In the meantime, I know it’s hard to manage all the transportation and in-public parenting (if that’s the right term) on your own. You mentioned other relatives—are there family members and/or family friends who you and/or Barry could confide in? Could any of them help share some of this day-to-day labor with you on a temporary basis while your husband works on his issues? Or could the two of you look for a paid caregiver who could do some of it? I know it feels strange to hire someone to help with driving Kayla places, but it’s a real need your family has right now, and it’s important.

I get that you feel frustrated and isolated. None of this is fair, including what happened to your daughter and your husband. It might not feel like it as you drive Kayla everywhere by yourself, but you and Barry can still find ways to support one another and be a team—he can listen to your concerns and try to work on his issues; you can encourage him to overcome this hangup (for his own benefit as much as yours and Kayla’s) without dismissing how he feels. I hope this situation is temporary and he’s soon able to move past the avoidance, if not the anxiety.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m not a parent, but I do work in a daycare, so I’m hoping this is still eligible. I work for one of the many daycare centers in my city, and my pod is for 6 months to 15 months, so I see a lot of babies. One of the children in my care, “Alan,” is precocious. He’s 10 months old and he’s talking. And I don’t just mean the occasional word here and there; that’s not common this young, but I’ve seen it before. While he’s not a riveting conversationalist, he’s capable of putting simple sentences together, things like “I liked that song, play it again” or once telling me to leave him alone because his teeth were coming in and it hurt. I haven’t been keeping specific track, but he’s got a vocabulary of about 150 words, I’d say. Sometimes it’s a little hard to understand him as all of his teeth aren’t in yet and he has trouble with certain sounds, especially anything with the letter T, but he definitely knows what the words should sound like.

Now, we keep track of certain developmental milestones, and at least verbally, he’s already at what our cards say is a 3ish year old level. He’s also ahead of his age in a few other milestones, but nothing so pronounced. The problem is his parents. I’ve tried to tell his mother and father when they drop him off or pick him up that their kid is enormously advanced and that they should probably be looking to get some kind of specialized enrichment that we can’t provide, and they blow me off. As long as he’s not sick or causing problems, they don’t seem to care at all. And maybe this is a “not my circus, not my monkeys” sort of thing, but it just feels like there is something I should be doing for this child, or at least some way to break through to these parents how special their kid is. What can I do here?

—Outsider

Dear Outsider,

So long as you help them learn and treat them well while they’re in your care, I think you’re already doing right by this child. Being advanced in the areas of expressive and receptive language doesn’t necessarily mean that he needs to be introduced to a classical instrument, calculus, or the collective works of Shakespeare at the age of 10 months. Probably the most valuable things you can do to help him keep developing at this stage is to talk with and read to him, two things I imagine you’re already doing.

His parents have to be aware of his advanced language abilities, and may have already discussed them with their pediatrician. You don’t know what sort of activities or learning opportunities they might be pursuing at home. Whatever the case may be, I don’t think they’re being negligent by sending their son to a regular daycare with his peers. Nor are you doing anything wrong—you aren’t ignoring or squashing his potential just because you aren’t offering specialized education to a language-gifted 10-month-old.

If you try to listen and respond to this child, read and sing songs with him, etc., then you are already helping him learn and think about his world and communicate every single day. Pay attention to what he’s curious about, support the development of his social skills, and be ready to help him explore his interests as he gets older—all important things you’d do for any child in your care.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife—we’re both women, FWIW—recently told me that she had turned down a huge work opportunity because it “wouldn’t have been possible” given our family life (it required six weeks of out-of-state training). I told her that it definitely would have been possible. I’m already the primary parent, since my job is part-time. The kids and I would have managed, and if it got hairy I could have hired a sitter or flown in grandparents. She insisted that she couldn’t accept the opportunity because you “can’t do things like that when you have kids.” Her manner was despondent but resolute. It would have been one thing if she’d said, “I don’t want to miss two months of our kids’ lives; it’s not worth it to me.” But the implication was definitely more, “being a parent means that my career must suffer and I have to watch opportunities pass me by.” I’m so sad that she feels our family is such a drag, and I’m frankly frustrated that we’re being blamed for her not being able to do something that I would bend over backwards to help her do. Where do we go from here?

—Not the Ball and Chain

Dear Not the Ball and Chain,

I understand that you don’t want to be blamed—nor do you want your kids to be blamed—for your wife missing out on a great opportunity. But truthfully, whether or not you agree with her decision or the reasons behind it, it sounds as though she made the decision she thought was right for her and your family at this particular time. And I don’t think you need to interpret any disappointment or complicated feelings on her part as “blame”—she hasn’t said that, nor has she said that she considers your family a drag. It’s okay for her to be disappointed, or wish it had felt more possible to seize that opportunity. It would be wrong if she took those feelings out on you or the children, but from your letter, it doesn’t seem like that’s happening? There are plenty of decisions, both major and inconsequential, that people make based on the fact that they are parents. That doesn’t mean that they blame their children or regret their lives with them.

It seems like you’re frustrated because your wife didn’t have a conversation with you about the opportunity before she decided against it. I totally get that—in your place, I’d have preferred to talk about it, too. You can tell her that you really want her to be able to go after the things she wants, and that you’d have done whatever you could to help her pursue that opportunity if she’d so chosen. You can also let her know that next time (if there is one), you’d really prefer to have a discussion while she considers her options, because you two are a team and you want to support her career. I think it’s great to try to help her see that having a family doesn’t mean she can’t do other things that are important to her, something a lot of parents can lose sight of—I hope she keeps it in mind going forward.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My father-in-law has anger issues and throws violent tantrums. His ex-wife has a restraining order on him, and my husband is the only one of his four kids who is even vaguely in contact with him. He lives several states away, which I’ve always considered a blessing. But right now, he needs a major surgery, which will require months of rehab afterward. He’s on a waiting list for home health aides, but he can’t afford the amount of care he would need. The alternative is one of two subpar nursing facilities that are willing to take him in his area. My husband has been pushing for family caretaking, but we both work paycheck to paycheck as it is, and if he left his job to go down there I don’t know how we’d take care of our kids. But I absolutely do not want my FIL in our home with our children, or with me. Ideally, I wish he’d be far away from my husband too.

We’re fighting a lot about this, because there aren’t a lot of options and my husband wants to go take care of him. His dad doesn’t have a church community or anyone we can really call on. It feels like a choice between providing for our kids and caring for someone who never cared back. Both of us work in-person jobs, and neither of us can afford unpaid leave like this. His siblings have said their dad can die on the surgical table for all they care, so there’s no help coming from family. What should I do? A bad nursing home is really bad, but we have a disabled kid and bills to pay.

—Bad DIL

Dear Bad DIL,

Even in families with less baggage, it’s often a struggle for people with young kids to balance parenting and elder care. You’re not a bad daughter-in-law, any more than your husband is a bad spouse—this is just a really tough situation that has unfortunately become a fight.

Maybe his father doesn’t deserve his care or loyalty, but your husband clearly feels some sense of obligation to him—and he has a right to feel that way. Instead of focusing on the fact that his dad is a jerk or saying that he doesn’t deserve your help, try to be as sympathetic as you can be to the position your spouse is in and how torn he feels, while also being realistic about your own family situation. It really sounds like you wouldn’t be able to manage or cover the bills with your husband away and not working, and that’s something he needs to hear and understand.

With our broken healthcare system and inadequate safety net, many of us don’t have the resources we need when we or our family members are facing medical emergencies. There’s often a gap between what we wish we could do for our loved ones and what is actually possible. It’s not really about what someone “deserves,” unfortunately; often, it’s about what we can do, and what we can’t. And that is what I’d try to tell your husband: As much as he may wish to be, he can’t be in two places at once. Your family, your children, won’t have what they need if he takes unpaid leave and stays with his father for weeks or months. It’s okay if he has hard feelings about that; you shouldn’t try to talk him out of however he feels. But his first obligation is to make sure your children have what they need.

Maybe it’s possible for your husband to go and help his dad for a shorter period of time, which would mean at least a little less time in a nursing facility? It’s also possible that his father’s healthcare providers or a hospital social worker could help connect him with local support or resources. In any case, I hope that both you and your husband are able to remember that it’s not you against him, or you against his father, but the two of you, together, trying to face and meet your shared responsibilities in a really challenging situation.

—Nicole

I love my tiny demon child so much, but I’m sick of nursing. She’s 16-months-old, and everyone from my mom to her pediatrician assured me that she’d naturally wean herself by now, but alas. She wants to nurse ALL THE TIME. We were down to two feeds a day before her molars started coming in, but now that they’re here … she just wants to nurse all the time. Not long sessions except for when we first get home from work/day care, but a sip here, a sip there, a drink and then a nurse maybe every 20 minutes some days!