Different parenting styles.
August 15, 2012 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I have been married for around 5 years, it's a good marriage. My wife suffers from depression, which has made it difficult at times, however we have worked through these periods. Now we have a daughter, she is 11 months old and perfect in every way. My wife has very restrictive views on parenting, which are pretty different to mine, how do I manage this?

My wife is a stay at home mother and I work a 9 - 5, which is about a 30 minute commute from our house. The main issue I am facing is that my wife is very restrictive on what our daughter can do, if it doesn't align with her schedule, our daughter is very well behaved.

We can no longer go out in the evenings at all, I would just like to be able to go family members houses for a meal, where our daughter can sleep. Also sometimes when I would like to do something by myself, I feel that she is using our daughter as an excuse to prevent me, its not like I want to do anything outrageous, but my wife always tries to make me feel guilty.

I feel like I am suffocating and I am really starting to resent my wife, this is detracting from my enjoyment with our daughter. I have tried discussing this with my wife numerous times, however it always ends in an argument where she curses at me and we gain nothing, she always has an excuse or a reason and there is no negotiating.

It feels like she has no respect for me, what I want and that she is just using our daughter to control me. It is also possible that she is jealous of my relationship with my family and she is using our daughter to prevent me from seeing them (and my friends). I feel this is all linked to her depression and also insecurity, I know she struggles with her depression, but this is destroying me.

Also to put this in perspective, I am not a lazy husband, I do a large amount of the house hold chores and I am important part of the care of our child.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My first question would be, what basis do you have for thinking that this is your wife using your daughter to control you, as opposed to looking out for your daughter's best interests? It's certainly possible that if she spends all day every day with the kid, she's more deeply attuned to her needs than you are even if you are a standup parent. My husband is absolutely a hands-on dad and very, very involved in our children's care, but it took several disastrous evenings at friends' houses before he was willing to accept that our son sleeps like a dream in his crib and for absolute crap everywhere else, and that we interfered with his schedule at our very great peril.

The other thing that strikes me is that you've titled this "Different parenting styles," but you've written very little about your parenting or hers. No examples of how your wife raises your daughter, no examples as to what you'd do differently wrt your daughter, but lots about how you can't do anything by yourself, your wife tries to make you feel guilty, you feel like you are suffocating and you resent her, you think she has no respect for you and it is destroying you. I don't think different approaches to parenting are the root of your difficulties here; I think the problems stem from your marriage. I've been married for nearly ten years, my husband and I spent two years in couples counseling before we got married, and I will tell you: any marriage where you feel like you are suffocating and your wife has no respect for you is not a good marriage.
posted by KathrynT at 9:40 AM on August 15, 2012 [11 favorites]

Are you able to just hire a babysitter so your daughter can sleep at home in her own bed?

As the parent of an (almost) 11 month old, bedtime is pretty important. It's also pretty important that your wife get time to herself as well. Does she ever have the opportunity to do that? Or are you just expecting that you will get time to yourself with your wife as the obvious babysitter? I can see why she would resent that. As far as she's concerned, you get all day to be out of the house and talking to other adults. Her social time and her adult time are crammed into the few hours a day when you're home with her, and she doesn't want to lose that.

I suggest hiring a babysitter and going out with your wife alone, or watching your child while she goes out alone. I would do this at least a few more times before asking her to watch your child while you go out. This will demonstrate to her that you value her well-being and your daughter's well-being over your own ability to socialize and spend time with your family.

I also wonder why your family can't come to your house to spend time with you? You have an 11-month-old, they should be accommodating you and helping out. Does your wife genuinely feel comfortable around them? If not, going to their place for dinner is going to suck, your daughter won't get to bed on time and you'll have to wake her to go home...sounds sucky for everyone but you, honestly.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:42 AM on August 15, 2012 [10 favorites]

To me, this isn't a question about different styles of parenting, not ultimately. The main issue is that your wife absolutely refuses to discuss your concerns and curses at you (!) and shuts down. I assume this behavior is the same in other aspects of your marriage.

Without being able to discuss things with her and work out compromises, this parenting problem has no resolution, nor will any other problem. Your resentment will fester.

I recommend focusing on building communication. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem as if your wife would be very willing to do so.
posted by Leontine at 9:45 AM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

My first question would be, what basis do you have for thinking that this is your wife using your daughter to control you, as opposed to looking out for your daughter's best interests?

Yeah, if you're starting conversations with this accusation and/or mindset, it's going to lead to a huge, bitter fight. Accusing a mother of lying about caring for her child's well-being is going to make her extremely angry. I'm not saying you're necessarily doing that, but if you are or if it comes across as that to her, it is going to completely shut down any kind of productive communication between you two.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:49 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If nothing else, bedtime is really important and the bedtime routine can make or break the next day she has to spend. And, honestly, considering it takes about half an hour to get her down, I would not be a fan of making dinner plans at someone else's house at bedtime, be expected to put the baby to bed there, then wake the baby back up to go home to then maybe if I'm lucky easily get the baby back to sleep once at home. That's just not fun. If you want to have dinner with your family, either host it or go there before your daughter's bed time.

If she's suffered from depression in the past, then she is more susceptible to post partum depression, and post partum depression can occur within one year of the birth (diagnostically speaking). Has your wife exhibited any of these symptoms in the past few months? If so, I think a call to your doctor is in order.

And aside from that, if every discussion turns into a fight, something is going on with the way you two are communicating -- whether you are being insensitive to her needs as a stay at home mom or whether she is being unreasonable in not letting you go out, or maybe both, you're not communicating effectively.

I don't think is at all a parenting styles issue. I think this is a marriage issue that has come about through parenting. And I do think there's a possibility your wife has PPD (some of her behavior sounds like some of mine when I had it --- I could be very mean to my husband for no reason), and if that's the case, nothing will get better until it is addressed.
posted by zizzle at 9:52 AM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

It's not clear to me what the differences you're talking about our, other than you think your baby should be able to sleep anywhere and your wife doesn't. I'm going to suggest that you take your wife's word for that; my baby was a horrible sleeper, and until she evened out at around a year, we stuck rigorously to a routine. The price for not doing so was baby being a tired, cranky mess, and waking up four times a night, which, as the non-working spouse, was my responsibility to handle. We made exceptions for weddings and Important Stuff, but if my husband suggested that we ruin bedtime for a casual social encounter, without also promising to handle any night wakings that would result, there would have been conflict.

As for the suffocating/resentment: have you seen this recent question? Are you truly splitting childcare/chores equally when you're not at work? Do you see your contributions as "helping out" or do you take them seriously as your job as a father and husband, making sure she can depend on you to pull your weight and finding your own backups when you want to make other plans?

As a SAHM, I can tell you that my parenting style is tailored to the kid I've got -- a smart, serious, very stubborn baby who needs lots of consistency and routine to feel safe. So I love seeing my in-laws, but when they show up at 7pm and rile her up before bedtime, I politely tell them it isn't possible and suggest other plans. The fact that your wife isn't able to do this is the real issue here, not the parenting. Please ask yourself honestly if you're giving her a safe place to communicate concerns and reasoning.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:53 AM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

(I was talking about my own baby in that first paragraph, not yours...)
posted by zizzle at 9:54 AM on August 15, 2012

Also, my husband thought our daughter was perfect too until separation anxiety hit and she started screaming bloody murder every time I was out of sight. The fact that at 11 months you still think she's perfect makes me question how in touch you are with the boring, frustrating moments of being a parent.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:55 AM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

You say that your wife shuts down and refuses to discuss compromises, but what are you asking her for? You want to do something by yourself… sure, we all would like that. Now put yourself in her shoes. Does she EVER get to do anything by herself?

Your wife is in a very difficult situation right now. She had no choice about being the parent who physically carried the baby, or recovered from childbirth, or breastfed your daughter for however long, or who dealt with permanent changes to her body. I'm guessing that you agreed that she would stay home with the baby, but in many situations that's sort of a gradual transition from "I'm taking care of her anyway; I gave birth and am at home recovering" to "this is What I Do."

Think about how you go to work all day and take orders from your boss. You really, really like to come home and be free of that, right? Your wife doesn't get that opportunity. Your child is your wife's boss. She deals with those demands 24/7, whether she's with the kid or not.

So I would suggest putting yourself in her shoes and thinking about ways to lessen the burden on her. Think long and hard about what you're asking. Then, perhaps, she'll be a little more willing to compromise.
posted by Madamina at 9:56 AM on August 15, 2012 [10 favorites]

We can no longer go out in the evenings at all,

Just for some perspective, my husband and I have been out in the evening together a total of twice since our baby has been born. Unless you live with a babysitter or have helpful family members to babysit, most people can't afford to go out frequently when they have a baby, if at all. Most people become the types to stay at home and watch a lot of TV.

I think that you might be attributing the suffocating and isolating feeling that comes with suddenly having a child to the wrong factor--your wife--when really it is due to the fact that being a parent is very, very different from being childless.

And yeah, being a parent often feels suffocating and dull and frustrating, because you do lose a huge amount of your freedom. It sucks in a lot of ways. That's not your wife's fault, though.

I do think she might be able to handle this better, and COMPLETELY agree about her being screened for PPD, but on the other hand, I think some empathy from you and a lot more tolerance is a good thing.

Finally, the best thing I ever did for my mental health and our family's emotional health was go back to work. I no longer have that desperate-for-human-contact attitude towards my partner, he no longer has to be my sole social outlet, I feel like chores and childcare are much more evenly split, and I am no longer resentful of my partner when he wants to go out and I've already spent 8+ hours at home alone and am suddenly looking at 4+ more hours with no break. Think about it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:59 AM on August 15, 2012 [11 favorites]

You two aren't communicating well at all. It is terribly inappropriate for her to curse and refuse to discuss issues. On the other hand, your simply assuming that she is being a jerk because she doesn't think that doing the whole "take baby to Grandma's and let her sleep while we eat and chat and then bundle her back into the carseat and get her home and hopefully get her back to sleep" is a good idea, or that the only reason she doesn't think it's a good idea is because she's being a jerk and trying to control you, doesn't suggest that this is an area of strength for you, either.

What happens if you ask? "Could you explain to me why you think this is a bad idea? I want to understand, because it's how I was raised and it's what I expected to do, but it's clear that it's important to you to do this differently." Do you get the same kind of hostility and shutdown?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:00 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would suggest counseling, despite the risk of having it written off as an AskMe cliche. I think she has deeper issues that are best resolved by having a professional help unpack them. This is possible even in family counseling.

She may well be scared, anxious, or experiencing feelings of a loss of control that she's trying to manage by grabbing for control in other ways. Counseling can help her identify these things productively and give all of you (yes, even baby) better interaction models to proceed with.
posted by batmonkey at 10:01 AM on August 15, 2012

I feel as if you are generally getting a bit dumped on. Her anxiety, insecurity, depression or whatever is not something on which you should base your day to day behavior. I would suggest there is very little objective evidence that adjusting your behavior to accommodate her will do anything but reinforce her behavior/fears and create resentment on your part. Assuming there is sufficient income and structural flexibility she has the option of doing what she wants during the day--getting out, visiting friends etc. Full time motherhood for stay at home Mom' is not a prison sentence unless they are locking themselves up. It is a tough job but one with considerably more potential flexibility than working outside the home. Witness the very large number of women (including single parents) who return to work outside the home and live fulfilling lives. As for whether you are doing your share. You are working 9-5--this does not mean you should expect her to "take care"of you. There is no reason you should not pick up after yourself, assist with daily chores and certainly give your wife free time from child care. But it also up to her to create some of her own freedom and choices. Do not construe this as meaning you should be insensitive to your wife's depression/anxiety and parental expectations--but ultimately these are issues for her/a therapist/counselor/friends to work out. You can help create the opportunity for her to pursue these resources and solutions but it is not up to you to subordinate your needs to them.
posted by rmhsinc at 10:54 AM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

The fact that at 11 months you still think she's perfect makes me question how in touch you are with the boring, frustrating moments of being a parent.

Ugh. This is a horrible thing to say to a person who's earnestly sought help from this community. Can't we be better than that?

OP, I'm sympathetic. PM me if you want some details of my own situation and how I've tried to manage it. It looks like you're doing your best to be accommodating under difficult circumstances. The sad fact is, you're going to have to try harder and smarter.

Couple's therapy is the only way to get that communication started. You should try to be as affirming as you can. Eat whatever you need to eat. Make whatever sacrifices you can in the short term and don't sulk about it. Just make the case, steadily and without drama, that the two of you need to be in therapy together. Don't make it about her, make it about your kid. Relentlessly assume goodwill on the part of your wife and speak to that even in the absence of any evidence from her. Do everything you can to see things from her point of view, even if you know in your heart she's wrong and being self-indulgent about it. Step up even if you think she won't.

Say, "Clearly we're having problems managing conflict. We're both stressed and we need to figure out how to manage that together. I want to do everything I can to get a handle on this because I don't want our kid to grow up in a house with parents who fight." Vary that until it sticks. In the meantime, do your homework and find the best goddamn therapist you can. It will cost more (a lot more) than you expect. But the expense will be temporary and the rewards will be tremendous.

At around 9 months, one or the other of us was going to commit murder. It was horrible. But the memories I have of our daughter playing in her car seat between us as we struggled through our weekly therapy appointments are now really precious to me. They felt, literally, like my first act of taking responsibility as a father.

The thing our therapist said that has really stuck with me and helped through a million petty fights since then was, "You can be right. Or you can be in a relationship. Not both. Not all the time." There was a lot more to it than that, but this was the thing that broke down our mutual resistance and got us talking again. When that sunk in, we started to turn a corner. But it took a lot of work to get there.

Good luck. I feel for you. I really do.

It will get better.
posted by R. Schlock at 11:01 AM on August 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

I think that the first year of our daughter's life was one of the most difficult communication periods we ever went through. We had sort of an interesting set up, because I was stay-at-home for the first several months; then my husband was stay-at-home for several months. At the end, we both had a better understanding of the other, I think.

It's really.... hard to be home with an infant all day. There are lots of ask mes that cover this. It's hard to have a non-verbal being needing you for everything; it's hard not to have adult conversation; it's hard to feel like you're expected to deal with this kid and the house and the food and the laundry (nothing you've said makes me think you're requiring this of your wife; my husband didn't expect it of me - but I expected it of myself). And then, when my husband would get home but want to go out I would be like "but don't you want to spend time with your kid? Or me? WTH?" But I was too tired and strung out and hormonal to actually use those words. Then, when I went back to work, I was jealous and worried about the baby all the time for no good reason.

We resolved this problem in a couple ways. One was to have date nights - AFTER the baby was asleep. The sitter would come after she was down that way she never knew. If we couldn't afford the sitter, we had date night at home - just us playing a game or watching a movie or whatever. We also invited people over to the house (people who didn't care if we ordered carry out and the house was a mess and that sometimes I had to disappear for a while to feed/change/calm the baby).

We never really talked about those things - we just kept suggesting different ideas to each other until some things worked. Which is my advice to you. If what you really want is to be able to go out, then try to suggest ways to make that happen that address the concerns your wife has. Can you go to your family's on the weekend and have lunch so she doesn't miss bedtime? Can people come to you instead? Can you and the baby go alone so that your wife can get some sleep? Can you suggest that you rotate days - maybe you get to do your own thing on Saturday nights after watching the baby all day so she can run errands or get her hair done or see friends or whatever; and every Wed. you will come home from work promptly and she can do whatever she wants for the rest of the night?

I will say that if I was the one who was home all day, and I understood the baby's schedule, and I knew that if she missed bedtime that would mean several night-wake ups or early morning wake ups or a horrible next day - and I was going to have to be the one who dealt with those things, all alone -- I'd make sure we never missed a bedtime. And I'd be pissed at the suggestion that we should miss the bedtime, because I would see that as inconsiderate of me. So, if your wife is concerned about what will happen if the baby misses bedtime, maybe offer to handle those consequences?

If gentle suggestions that address the problems don't work, then, yeah, I guess therapy is the way to do it.

The first year is hard. It's all so new and exhausting. It gets better!
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:19 AM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm not really sure why most people are acting so hostile to the OP. Perhaps he didn't phrase everything perfectly, but I think he has a legitimate concern here.

Also sometimes when I would like to do something by myself, I feel that she is using our daughter as an excuse to prevent me, its not like I want to do anything outrageous, but my wife always tries to make me feel guilty.

My husband also suffers from depression and anxiety, and we have a small child. But when I asked him if I could join a new activity to get out of the house some evenings by myself, he was very supportive. Being a new parent is difficult, and I think it's healthy for both parents to get out of the house on their own sometimes. This is a legitimate concern.

OP, I agree with others who have suggested counselling. I also think perhaps you should encourage your wife to get out of the house during a few evenings on her own. She might feel trapped with the baby all day, and not feel like "letting" you leave her alone at home in the evening as well. I know that once I started my evening activity, I felt a lot happier during my times with the baby as well.

Good luck.
posted by barnoley at 11:25 AM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am in a very similar situation, except I am the mom in this case. Having a small child is really difficult - especially on moms with a history of depression or anxiety. Sounds to me like she is trying to channel her energy into being a good parent and it's pretty overwhelming to feel that kind of pressure. Just be supportive, try to compromise as much as possible. Counseling is a good alternative for her.
posted by AbsolutelyHonest at 11:29 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was a young parent, I was lucky enough to have a best friend who was a scientifically inclined midwife. All her advice centered on one basic question: what would have been meaningful if you were hunter-gatherers in Africa? In this case the answer is that kids need to be part of a tribe and relax while falling asleep among the tribe. If one conditions children to sleep alone in quiet dark rooms, one is going against human nature.
One can overdo this, as we did with our no. 1 who ended up needing a party in order to sleep. But with no. 2, we struck a balance - she can easily fall asleep if there is a party going on, but is ok if she can just hear the TV or radio from the next room.
posted by mumimor at 12:11 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Having been in your wife's position, I can attest that trying to handle evening social events (even low-key family gatherings) with a tiny baby in tow is Not Fun. Having to manage adult conversations and meals while also attending to the kid's needs in a non-home space is enormously exhausting, and as others have pointed out, if your wife is the primary daytime/nighttime caretaker, then she's also the one who has to deal with the aftereffects of disrupting the kid's sleep cycle. For me, though, what was worst about social evenings like the ones you're describing was the implication that they were supposed to somehow be recreation for me, or that any extra work I was having to put in was somehow my fault for being (as you say) too inflexible about my parenting, etc. I think a little sympathy and understanding on the part of my partner would have gone a long way in those cases.

Have you tried acknowledging that evenings out in this phase are a favor your wife is doing for you-- and accordingly, offering her something in exchange? I wonder how resistant she'd be if there was a complete quid-pro-quo system in place: for every joint evening at your family's, or for every evening you personally spend out, she also gets one evening on her own to do whatever she'd like with, while you put the baby down and handle any nighttime wakeups. I know as a young mom, that'd have gone a long way toward reconciling me to the demands of post-baby nighttlife.
posted by Bardolph at 12:58 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Watching a baby all day is exhausting ... it's entirely possible that she's too tired and doesn't feel like going out at the end of the day. I have a 2-year-old and it's still hard. Your wife may also be frustrated and lonely and it sounds like she is taking it out on you.

And yes, sleep schedules are touchy. It works better when there's a routine.

I came in here to suggest that you could perhaps look into putting your daughter into a Mom's Day Out program. It was a sanity-saver for me -- with both my kids! They are generally run by churches and meet for part of the day. The one I sent my kids to was from 9:00 - 11:45 in the morning, twice a week. Each session was $12.50. Just getting that 2.5-hour break made all of the difference! I felt like I could get a handle on things around the house, and alleviated some of the guilt I felt about the chaos around me.

Another group that saved my sanity was MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers). They're for moms of kids 0-5. Most provide childcare.

I think if you guys restored some balance to her life, and gave her the opportunity to get out and have some child-free time, she'd probably be a better mom and wife. It is hard!

Also, compliment her. Tell her that she is doing a good job. Randomly bring her flowers or offer to pick up take-out on your way home. Try to focus on what your wife is doing well and encourage that! The other stuff will hopefully sort itself out over time. Good luck -- the first year is really hard.
posted by Ostara at 1:53 PM on August 15, 2012

I think some of the hostility may be (a) from people who know how difficult taking care of small children, even well-behaved ones, can be, and (b) it's really hard to determine who's more at fault here given the lack of information provided. What are the reasons your wife doesn't want to go out at night? Surely she must give reasons other than "Hey husband, I'm just trying to control and manipulate you, oh and I'm jealous of your relationship with your family." Those are motivations you are ascribing to your wife's behavior that aren't very helpful here, she may have legitimate reasons for being upset, but we don't know.

My partner and I have come to realize that going out with our 13-month old at night is just not feasible. If we do go out and try to push on his bedtime back a little, 75% of the time one of us is on constant baby juggling duty for the entire night. Especially in a non-baby proofed house. The night will eventually end when he breaks down into screaming fits. When you go out, do you share in this duty?

We don't have anyplace we could take him where he could sleep. I assume you mean you'd go to a family member's house where a crib or babyproofed room are available? If not, sleeping isn't even an option. And assuming that babies will just fall asleep like normal in a new environment isn't right either. Are you willing to deal with the extra effort to do this? Are you the one putting the child to sleep?

And definitely, you want to go out and see your friends, that should be fine! My partner and I still see our friends and do some of the things we used to do. But we either get a babysitter, or we take turns. Are you taking turns with your wife?

Now, I agree, you should be able to go out sometimes. But under special circumstances. Dinner can be served at 5 or 6, and so you could possibly get home at a reasonable hour. Still, going to a non-baby proofed house is just barely worth it, since you spend the entire night chasing around the kid making sure they don't break anything or choke on anything.

I just write this because for many child temperaments, your wife's reactions are reasonable. But ultimately, you need couple's therapy. From your one-sided question it's clear that you need a referee - you need an objective opinion that can listen to both your issues and help you work through them. Babies are STRESSFUL on a relationship. My partner and I regularly have to take a step back and remember to be more empathetic with each other.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 1:34 PM on August 16, 2012

Try to see things from your wife's perspective:

Also sometimes when I would like to do something by myself

As your wife is a SAHM, I'm sure she'd like to do something by herself as well. Does she ever have the opportunity to? You at least get to leave your daughter and the house for most of the day.

I would just like to be able to go family members houses for a meal, where our daughter can sleep.

As the SAHM, I'm guessing that she will be the one to deal with any ramifications associated with the child not sleeping/being upset in an unfamiliar environment?

my wife is very restrictive on what our daughter can do, if it doesn't align with her schedule,

That would be because your wife is the SAHM who parents your daughter the most.

It seems that you are afraid that your freedom is being limited now that you have a child - well, yes, that's exactly what happens when you have a child - your freedom is, henceforth, limited.

I think if this resentment that's in your question is coming out in your conversations with your wife, that might go some way as to explain why she shuts you down.

tl;dr - therapy
posted by heyjude at 12:14 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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