“I’d Rather Watch British Period Dramas Than Watch My Husband’s Granddaughter”

Illustration by Andrew Condell

I’m 49 and my husband is 57. We’ve been married for four years, and we get along well. I have no kids, but he has a grown daughter from his first marriage who now has a 3-year-old child. She’s a single mom as the dad disappeared. She and her child live about an hour away.

I also got along well with his daughter, “Brenda,” until recently. She likes to drop off my husband’s granddaughter for occasional weekends. This gives her a break and allows some bonding time between granddad and granddaughter. This is fine with me. I spend the weekend golfing, shopping, and rollerblading with my girlfriends, and I even enjoy binge-watching some British period dramas during those weekends.

I’m not into kids really and don’t know how to deal with the very young ones. From what I’ve seen, a 3-year-old requires constant eyes-on attention or something tragic could happen. I’m inattentive and need time on the weekend to unwind from my demanding job. She is an adorable child and I’m happy that my husband takes time to be with her. However, I noticed that if I am in the house, he will tune into football, take a nap, etc. So, I opt to be mostly busy on those weekends, forcing him to fully take on the role he voluntarily chose.

The problem is that next weekend is his agreed-upon weekend and my DIL has a cruise scheduled. My husband is under the gun for a work deadline. As I discussed (and we agreed) from the beginning, that I would not be doing childcare, he thinks I should just be more flexible. So now both he and my DIL are angry with me. Honestly, my heart races at the thought of taking care of a toddler even just for one weekend. Plus, I can see this boundary being pushed more often in the future. I suggested he hire a sitter, or better yet, get her grandma to watch her, but they have objections to these suggestions.

I’m standing firm but it’s awfully chilly. Any advice? — Reluctant to Babysit

As I was reading along, I thought, “Hire a sitter!” And “Is there a grandmother in the picture? Ask the grandmother to watch the toddler!” But if those suggestions are out, you’re going to have to work with your husband to figure a solution here, and the stance you’ve taken is not going to serve you well going forward, no matter how much more fun a weekend of British period dramas might sound over watching a toddler all weekend (especially when you’d like to unwind after a demanding week at work).

Before I get into my advice for you, let me say that I am not unsympathetic to your position. I’ve raised two three-year-olds myself, and I know they’re a handful! Most parents of a toddler can only dream of a weekend break, let alone multiple weekends, so it’s wonderful that your husband has been able to provide such a gift to his daughter. I would imagine those breaks are extra meaningful for a single mother who is doing everything herself during the week, and I hope she’s equally generous with her gratitude as your husband is with his time and support.

All that said, I see your husband’s point that you could be more flexible. Sure, it’s his choice to babysit his granddaughter, and you could certainly argue that he doesn’t need to babysit her so frequently, but that would be asking for flexibility from him. He’s asking for flexibility from you, and you’re not interested. But flexibility is something we strive for in healthy marriages. Making sacrifices and compromises and stepping outside our comfort zones are things we do on occasion in healthy marriages. It’s one of the ways we show support and love. It’s part of the investment that one would hope would be returned in kind.

I want you to consider a hypothetical situation for a minute. Let’s pretend you have an elderly mother who is a widow and you’re her only child. Let’s say she lives three hours away and you go visit her once a month for a weekend to provide some companionship and help with some household chores and running errands for her. Maybe those weekends are both rewarding as well as emotionally and physically draining for you and it would be nice sometimes to have your husband along to support you – to keep you company on the drive, to be an additional person for your mother to visit with, and to lend a hand in any of the chores that might be a lot for one person to handle.

Wouldn’t it be a little weird if, instead of occasionally accompanying you on these visits, your husband said he would never go with you and that helping your mom is a CHOICE you’ve made and, therefore, you shouldn’t expect him to help ease any of the burden? Doesn’t that seem a little… selfish? A bit unloving? Kind of… sad? It would make me sad, anyway, if my husband said that to me. One of the reasons I married him is because I wanted a partner – someone to be by my side, through thick and thin. I imagine this is why most people get married these days. Probably even you.

There’s an expectation in marriage that our spouses will support us – not just through the things that happen against our will, but through the things we willfully choose. But rather than support your husband – rather than find a space in these weekends when his granddaughter is visiting to get to know her and to witness your husband in his role as a grandfather – you disappear. Is there not a happy medium here? Can you not bend even a little and spend some time with the two of them in a way that doesn’t completely blow up your boundaries? I think you can. I think there’s a way!

What if, instead of disappearing all weekend, you put in two hours with your husband’s granddaughter? Or, if two hours sounds too unbearable, how about starting with one hour and you spend it alongside your husband and not in place of your husband? What if the two of you took his granddaughter out for ice cream and then to a playground where you pushed her on a swing for a few minutes before heading home, where you then binge-watched your British period dramas or headed out for golf or shopping with your friends?

One hour in a weekend isn’t going to deprive you from the activities you love and the re-charging you need, and it will serve multiple purposes. It will help you build a relationship with your husband’s granddaughter, who is going to be a part of your life forever so you might as well get to know her a little bit; it will show your husband support, which is an investment in your marriage; and I think it will help build a deeper bond with your husband in much the same way his accompanying you to your hypothetical widowed mother’s house one or two weekends a year likely would.

You can still hold firm boundaries, but maybe the boundaries can be re-drawn to make space for one hour of time with the granddaughter. Your husband may argue that this won’t be enough for his granddaughter’s upcoming visit when he’ll be under the gun with a work deadline, but you can argue that you ARE, in fact, being flexible. You’d be giving an hour (and this doesn’t even have to be an hour where you go to the playground—-it can be an hour of watching Daniel Tiger together while your husband works in another room). But you need to explain to him what you’ve said here: You feel incapable around a toddler, and you don’t trust yourself to be as attentive as she needs. But you can probably handle an hour. As you spend time with her, and as she grows and matures, I think your fear of her will begin to dissipate. (Also, side note: It would be worth exploring this fear of children with a therapist since it seems pretty debilitating and is affecting your marriage.)

If you can offer something instead of absolutely nothing, I suspect that would go a long way. And it would give you some negotiating power to ask your husband to consider re-drawing his own boundaries. If you’re willing to give an hour (or maybe two??) of your time each weekend that his granddaughter visits, you can ask if he would be willing to make these visits a little less frequent (or shorter – like one day instead of two). Boundaries are important to have, but when they’re so rigid or unreasonable that they don’t leave space for true partnership, you risk losing the most important and meaningful relationships in your life. If you want to avoid that – if you want to stay married to your husband – you need to practice more flexibility here.


  1. WWS. Someday the LW might be the elderly widow who needs help, and it could be her husband’s daughter or granddaughter who steps up to help. That will be a far sight more likely if she offers her time, attention, heart and help to them now.

  2. I know that Wendy sometimes has to shorten long letters, so can’t tell how well her response corresponds to the ask from LW’s husband. Taking over granddaughter duties for an hour (or two) seems a reasonable compromise, but the ask may be for quite a few more hours than that. Does he expect her to be his substitute for the bulk of the weekend?

  3. I’m kind of confused on this one. It seems like Wendy is offering advice that the LW isn’t asking for? From my reading, the LW is upset about her husband and his daughter being angry at her because she is unwilling to take on the bulk of childcare for his very young granddaughter for the entire weekend. I don’t see anything about her being upset that his granddaughter visits, although it does seem like she’s fully aware that if she’s at home while granddaughter is present, her husband tends to use her as a default sitter instead of spending time with his granddaughter himself, which she’s not really into. Maybe something got lost in editing?

    Anyway, my take differs – maybe it’s because I’m childfree by choice and am also not really comfortable with young kids. I would not take on the bulk of childcare for a 3-year old for a weekend. Absolutely not. An hour or two, sure, but not the majority of the weekend. It’s unfortunate that mom doesn’t want to hire a sitter or ask her own mother for help, but she (and her father) don’t get to demand that Dad’s wife will step up when she is clearly uncomfortable watching a small child.

    Also, for what it’s worth, not being comfortable around children doesn’t seem to be debilitating for the LW (she seems to have a fairly fulfilling life) and it is not what’s negatively affecting her marriage – that would be her husband’s failure to respect her boundary and his daughter’s refusal to get back up child care.

    Would it be nice for her to get to know her husband’s granddaughter? Sure, and as she gets older and more relatable, I’m sure the LW will do so. But not all women like children. Not all women want to be around young children. Not all women are good with children. And not all women are interested in being built-in babysitters. And that’s okay.

    1. Bess Marvin says:

      Agreed 100%.

      LW doesn’t hate the granddaughter or begrudge her the time. She may very well ALREADY spend an hour here or there with the kid around! “She is an adorable child and I’m happy that my husband takes time to be with her.”

      LW specifically says: “However, I noticed that if I am in the house, he will tune into football, take a nap, etc. So, I opt to be mostly busy on those weekends…”

      LW doesn’t want to babysit the child for a full weekend. She’s worried babysitting for a full weekend will result in her being called in regularly to be the babysitter — as she’s already observed happens if she’s around when her HUSBAND is supposed to be babysitting.

      I read this as: “I don’t mind the kid, but I don’t want to babysit / be solely responsible for her.” That’s totally fair to my mind, and I don’t think Wendy addressed that question.

    2. Pittsburgh says:


      I’m shocked by this advice. Basically, let people manipulate you with their “anger” and loosen your boundaries. WTF.

    3. Agree, the solution to this weekend was a sitter. If the LW were to take on most of the caregiving this weekend, she’d get stuck with it again. It’s one thing for me to take my friends’ (wild, and not toilet trained) kid for a walk for half hour, but watching her all weekend, no way. Spending more time with the hubby and his grandkid, sure, like a walk to the playground, okay. But not actual caregiving.

  4. CanadaGoose says:

    I think the people who need to be more flexible are the husband and the mother of the child. The letter writer has been clear she does not want to watch this child, and that’s her right. It’s one thing to say that if her husband asks her to hang with him while he does it, then she should agree sometimes. That’s valid and that’s partnership. It’s not appropriate to expect her to a job on her own that she said she will not do from the outset simply because the person who agreed to it no longer can. And DIL has no right to expect it. Bottom line, it’s her kid and if her dad can’t watch her child, then she needs to find care. That a single mom of a toddler can go on a cruise alone boggles my maternal mind. That a sitter is not desired by the DIL or her husband is irrelevant. It’s an option that allows them both to keep their plans. The LW does not want to be that option and if her husband divorces her over that, then he’s not worth being married to. I have 3 kids, 2+ decade husband and we both care for our and each others’ parents. And I still think the LW is 100% in the right here and is the one who should be upset people are mad at her for not wanting to do a favour they have no right to expect.

  5. I totally understand where LW is coming from. I don’t have kids and would feel really uncomfortable to be out in her position. She obviously spends time with the granddaughter already, but her husband assumes she is watching the child when they are both at home and so she has had to make plans to avoid this being the default.
    I have anxiety when hanging out with my friends and their kids when we’re out and about. Like, If the child is being naughty, can I tell them off or am I overstepping boundaries? I’m not a natural with kids so find them hard to relate to and be fun with. I would absolutely step up in an emergency, but this is just poor planning from the husband and mum.

  6. I totally understand where LW is coming from. I don’t have kids and would feel really uncomfortable to be out in her position. She obviously spends time with the granddaughter already, but her husband assumes she is watching the child when they are both at home and so she has had to make plans to avoid this being the default.
    I have anxiety when hanging out with my friends and their kids when we’re out and about. Like, If the child is being naughty, can I tell them off or am I overstepping boundaries? I’m not a natural with kids so find them hard to relate to and be fun with. I would absolutely step up in an emergency, but this is just poor planning from the husband and mum.

    1. Anonymous says:

      I agree I would absolutely not help at all. It’ll be expected more now in an emergency yes very begrudgingly tho. Stick to your guns op your holding the reins

  7. Update from the LW:

    “Read your response on the web, and there are some good nuggets there. I will try to attend for an hour here and there in the future. I will probably get along great with her when she’s older, especially if she will be the sporty type. My eight year old niece and I are good buddies, but I never had to babysit her as a toddler. I never miss her soccer games.

    Don’t agree with getting therapy. Why? I won’t be having any kids and this child is growing up quickly. I’m disappointed that you didn’t address husband’s responsibility to pay better attention to his granddaughter on his weekends over football. Haven’t you noticed that society still thinks everyone born with a uterus is supposed to just adore mothering? This is an outdated idea. Can we agree?

    Today, we discussed a solution, even if they aren’t thrilled about it entirely, mainly because of the cost. I insisted that my husband pay. We found an expensive nanny/sitter with a good reputation. She will stay in our home for the weekend and be the primary provider. I will stay home too and keep an eye on things to ensure safety. I will suspend my (outside the home) activities for the weekend. It’s a bit uncomfortable living with a stranger for the weekend, but I compromised.

    So, this crisis is averted, but the can has been kicked down the road and “Brenda” and my husband will need to make some other backup plans for the future. Can’t rely on her mother, the alcoholic.

    I sure hope “Brenda” doesn’t make any more babies sans a committed husband.

    PS. Enjoy your column”

  8. LisforLeslie says:

    I was also surprised no one latched on to the “oh, if wife is home, I can watch the game and she’ll take over” mindset. I do think it’s ok to ask for help, and if he needs a couple of hours to do work – that’s fine. But clear lines need to be drawn – this doesn’t mean he can watch the game next weekend and assume she’ll fill in again.

    The example of caring for an elderly parent – driving out there and spending time – that’s a nice story, but the better comparison would be to move an invalid parent into the house and then ask the spouse to take on bathing or feeding for a weekend. Big difference.

  9. Getting therapy because she doesn’t yield to the pressure of becoming a free sitter, because she is a woman ? Noooo

  10. I am wondering whether LW has brought up the issue of her husband watching football and not watching his grandchild with him. I think it has grown resentment. Understandably LW books herself during these weekends if her husband is being irresponsible but to her husband and daughter it looks like she don’t want to spend time with the granddaughter at all. And now, it’s a big ask to look after the grandchild for a whole weekend.

  11. I have a child whom I love and I have zero desire to spend a WEEKEND with a three year old. When it comes to ‘women’s work,’ around men, I utilized all my weaponized incompetence. They’d mostly be happy for me to cook, clean, and watch kids. Nope. If they make a commitment, they honor it.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I love kids ( I never had my own, but have had young relatives who I adore, and have done lots of evening babysitting in the past when I was younger) but the thought of being responsible for a three year old for that amount of time utterly terrifies me as there is so much that can go wrong, I’ve never felt I was good enough for that which is one part of why I don’t have any. I’d just be so scared of messing something up. They are the most precious thing ever and two entire days and nights gives me enough time to totally totally not get it right because it is something I don’t have experience in. I can absolutely understand the LW’s reluctance. It’s like, here; hold everything my heart holds dear, the most important thing ever, even though you don’t know everything about how to care for them, I’ll just trust you. I get that it doesn’t feel like that for most people who are confident in their own capabilities, but it does for me and I think it maybe does for the OP too.

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