DEAR CAROLYN: My spouse does not trust me with our kids. I am often criticized for being too rough with our 2-year-old when I wrestle with her, or putting too much food on their plates, or being cruel to let our 3-month-old cry while I do dishes, or being too lax when our 2-year-old decides to try to pick up dirt and bugs when we walk, or … you get the idea.
I know my wife and I have different tolerance levels for risk. I think that is actually a good thing! She is right sometimes to rein in my more lax tendencies and, in theory, I can also encourage her to maybe not freak out about everything.
But instead it comes off as though she does not think I can parent. While she says that is not what she means and does think I am a good father, she continues to criticize or tell me how to change a diaper (seriously).
This morning as I was dealing with a very upset 2-year-old and my wife was upstairs feeding the younger one, my phone kept pinging me. I knew it was my wife and after I calmed our daughter down, I saw she had in fact suggested I hug and comfort our daughter or that she may be hungry.
I did, and she was, and I figured that out on my own.
I don’t know why it made me so angry, but it did. I know I can’t make my wife change or do anything differently, but I am being driven up a wall. Are there better words I can use to express myself? Or do I have to resign myself to being the bad dad?
DEAR SPOUSE: I urge you to find a good marriage counselor and start talking this out with a referee. Such constant second-guessing is serious business and can destroy your marriage, which will be far worse for your kids, as you presumably both know, than parenting on the risk-friendly end of the normal range.
Plus, there’s a chance your wife’s meddling is a manifestation of anxiety; I’m just a layman here, so get a pro’s-eye view.
I would say it’s also possible you’re too lax, but I suspect not on the strength of her trying to coach you! by phone! from upstairs! That’s just beyond, and so unfair and demoralizing for you.
Please do get help. You can’t make her change, but you can ask — and say why.
RE: TRUST: I could be your spouse … sort of. When I “criticize” and (gulp) text from within the house, I am trying to be helpful. Seriously. I really am. We’ve talked about this and I understand it comes across as criticism, which I don’t mean at all. So, I’m trying to be more closemouthed or offer help in a better way.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Or how about treating your spouse as an equal, and assuming no help is needed unless your spouse expressly asks you for it?
Clothes-pinning your mouth shut is not a solution to the underlying problem: lack of respect.
At best you’re operating on an unchallenged conviction that you’re the better parent. You think help is something you have and Spouse needs. Please tackle that toxic assumption head-on.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.