Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My husband and I are fortunate and have great maternity/paternity leave, which we’re splitting. Right now, it’s his shift and he’s at home with our 7-month-old and preschooler.
My husband is stressed. He’s admitted that taking care of small kids is not his thing. He didn’t deal well with stress before kids and now he’s really, really stressed. He’s constantly grumpy, complaining, and regularly yells at our preschooler. He won’t get counseling for dealing with the stress (he says that would stress him out more), nor, on a practical level, will he accept help at home during the days to take care of the kids while I’m at work.
We have five more weeks to go before he goes back to work and I resume my maternity-leave shift. I’m at my wits’ end with worry about the toll his stress is taking on him, our relationship and, most importantly, our kids. I’m not sure what I’m asking but I need advice on how we all can survive the next five weeks with our sanity intact.
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Your husband is acting like a petulant, self-centered child.
I have no quarrel with people who lack the skill or temperament to care for small children. It’s a difficult, stressful, exhausting and, just for fun, high-stakes job for which not everyone is suited.
Forget not having a quarrel – I don’t think any less of anyone who lacks that skill or temperament.
But when someone unsuited to the job – freely self-identifying as such, even – then refuses to take any steps to remedy the problems that unsuitability creates, then we have a serious problem.
He can’t hire help? Go to a parenting class? Talk to the kids’ pediatrician? Make arrangements for interim care so he can go back to work early? Get whatever counseling it takes to stop yelling. “It would stress me out more”? What an erfing coward.
If ever there were a time for a spouse and co-parent to step in on behalf of the children, this is it: He’s abusing your kids. “Verbally” is abuse, too – plus, you’ve got a stressed-out caregiver who won’t get help. Are you sure it won’t cross over into hitting the kids?
Desperation changes people.
So you need to draw the line. More kindly than I have, of course; were I talking to him, I would have a kinder tone to avoid driving him off. Say you’re worried about him and the kids, this can’t continue as is, then ask: What reinforcements is he willing to call in? Tell him it needs to be done and it is going to be done, and now’s his chance to decide which way he gets help for these five weeks (and beyond).
If he doesn’t choose, then you will have to step in and make the decision – hiring help, placing the kids in day care, resuming your leave early, etc. Because that’s what is best and safest for the kids – and what is best for the kids will ultimately be better for him.
So ask him what’ll it be: He fixes this, or you do.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.