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Father Feeling Depressed At Baby's Mealtime

The Dad Who Just Doesn’t Want to Dad

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a question like this be tackled, so perhaps I’m the first! Or maybe it’s just a difficult situation, which believe me, I know. Some background:

My husband and I have a son (22mo). During my pregnancy, my husband was planning on all the “right” things – how he’d help with this and that and how we’d take shifts over night and how parenting was a team effort, etc. And then our son arrived and reality with him and, slowly, I started doing more and more. I don’t resent my husband for a lot of it, most of it made perfect sense at the time (for instance, I ended up handling most of the night wakings solo because I was breastfeeding and my husband had ZERO tolerance for sleep deprivation and I wanted at least one of us to be a functioning human the next day). Now, at 22 mo, I realize that my husband’s led a sort of pampered life in regards to parenting, which I fully admit to setting him up for.

My issue is that he’s admitted that he doesn’t like about 99% of the parenting job (yes, even though he’s not even doing half the work). The routine stuff like feed, wash, diaper, clothe, he dislikes because of the monotony. The discipline-teaching part of it (at least at the toddler phase), he dislikes because he expects to “solve the problem” once. (So he wants to tell our son not to climb on something once and that’s the end of that.) And the messy parts of parenting a toddler? The crying and whining and tantrums? He has no patience for. The smallest amount of whining is met with frustration and the huge tantrums can leave my husband in an agitated funk for the rest of the day. So this leaves me doing most of the work while also dreading the fallout of tantrums because I’m handling both an upset toddler and husband. It also puts a damper on a lot of things because my husband is reluctant to do them because he doesn’t want to deal with the expected tantrums (like road trips, for instance).

We’ve already decided that our rosy plans for 2+ children aren’t realistic and my husband can only go through this once. But my question is, as a third-party observer, what’s your take on this? My son will obviously grow into a child and eventually stop the tantrums (please oh please oh please), but I suppose a small part of me is very concerned that these are huge red flags in my husband. I tell myself that I think my husband will be an awesome parent to an older child, but I’m worried that’s delusional. I obviously don’t want to take drastic measures (I mean, the only true “solution” here is separation), but I also just hope I don’t look back on this time wishing I had. Any thoughts or ideas?

Thanks for the insight.

Oh dear. I do not like anything about any of this.

Lots of people/parents are admittedly not “baby people.” They also dislike the monotony of infant care, find their patience tested to the bone by toddler tantrum, and I don’t think any of us look back on the sleep deprivation fondly at all. Lots of parents will admit that yeah, the job gets easier and more enjoyable as your children get older and more independent.

BUT YOU DO IT ALL ANYWAY.

You don’t get to abdicate responsibility so thoroughly, the way your husband has done, and call yourself anything other than a pretty shitty parent. (And a not-great husband, too, frankly.) You don’t get to decide to stay completely uninvolved in your parenting duties until your child hits an age you decide you can tolerate.

Older kids throw tantrums (particularly if that’s the only way they know to get attention — albeit negative attention — from a parent). Older kids get nightmares and ear infections and stomach bugs in the middle of the night. Older kids require massive amounts of patience, repetition and unconditional love through all of it. And then there’s puberty and teenagerhood to navigate. It’s never NOT work, but we do it all because we love these little humans more than we love our sleep or our disposable income or whatever.

We do it all because love them more than we love the selfish part of ourselves.

What sort of relationship do you think your son will have with his father at this point? He’s probably already aware that Daddy doesn’t feed/change/clothe/bathe him — all those thing have defaulted to Mommy Work, and he’s also going to pick up on the fact that Daddy gets mad and irritated at him a lot. There’s no healthy bond here, so even in the hypothetical “someday” when your husband is like, “hey son, let’s go out back and play catch!” their relationship is not going to fix itself overnight like on some outdated 1950s sitcom. Your son will either reject those overtures, or spend his life pursing the acceptance/approval of a parent who was cold and emotionally absent during his formative years.

I know this is really hard to hear — it’s hard to write! And I want you to stop blaming yourself! Someone had to do the work! It’s not unreasonable for a breastfeeding mother to handle most or all of the night wakings, but there are still so many other ways for dad to be hands on and helpful during those early months. Your husband just…didn’t, and didn’t really seem to care or want to be. Which is so unfair to both you and your son.

What if something happened to you tomorrow? Do you trust that he’d finally step up and take good, full-physical-and-emotional care of your child? Are you really okay with changing your reproductive plans because your husband “can’t go through this again?” Are you really okay having both a toddler and a husband who acts one?

I would highly recommend you insist (at a minimum) on some couples’ counseling ASAP, and also push for some solo counseling and a toddler parenting class (or 12) for your husband. (I want to mention that fathers can 100% experience postpartum mood disorders, in case that was perhaps in play here initially, and a failure to address that is what led y’all to this.)  But you MUST let him know that the current division of duties is no longer okay, and it’s time for him to step up and be a father and equal partner. If he can’t do that, I do think you have a very tough choice to make. But you and your son deserve so much better than this.

More on Co-Parenting and Marriage from Alpha Mom:

1. The Unhappy Housewife-to-Be
2. Helping a Spouse (or Significant Other/Partner) in Crisis
3. Housework & the Stay-at-Home Parent

Photo source: Depositphotos/monkeybusiness

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Lisa Roper
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Lisa Roper

I come firmly down on the side of doing absolutely everything to make a relationship stick. Of course there are exceptions, but just like we do everything to help save a life, I think a marriage deserves that too. And I don’t think people should regret effort towards making things work. Now, it is clear your situation is not a good one for long term. That’s fine! You can work with that! I do like Amalah’s advice about counseling (look here for marriage friendly counselors https://www.marriagefriendlytherapists.com/), but even something as simple as parenting books might help your husband find his… Read more »

Bess Lin
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Bess Lin

My husband struggled mightily with our child at first. He wasn’t sure how to help, and our son was strongly, very much a preference to mom type of kid. It was exhausting for me, and frustrating because I took on EVERYTHING for the first year. And the second. But my husband, when asked, would absolutely help. For like half a minute after I forced him. And our marriage suffered mightily – in fact we almost got a divorce when our kiddo was 3/4 because of how distant we were from each other and how much he struggled to be engaged… Read more »

Caroline Bowman
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Caroline Bowman

Above all, when you sit down for a very serious conversation with your husband, ideally when your son is nowhere in sight or earshot, clarify how absolutely world-alteringly serious this actually is, how ”yes dear” won’t actually help, that you require him, as a matter of absolute urgency, to get to the root of what is going on (and yes, indeed he may well be depressed), and to fixing it, at least some of it in practical terms, or his projected family future may well be in serious jeopardy. I don’t suggest shrieking ”do x and y OR I’M DIVORCING… Read more »

Anon
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Anon

My husband is the stay at home dad and he struggles with this a lot. For obvious reasons (he’s home and I’m at work) he handles a lot of the care BUT the whole thing about getting anxiety about the tantrums – that’s very familiar to me. In my husband’s case he is very depressed and his anxiety is high. He has an older daughter and raised her for years on his own after her mother passed away. Because of the heartache of that I think he blocked out some of his memories of how kids act. I try to… Read more »

Lily
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Lily

I agree with Amy here! It’s tricky; all parenting matters are tricky. But you cannot shoulder the entire load because he doesn’t want to. We all do things we don’t feel like out of service to our family. There needs to be a better balance, otherwise you will resent his lack of participation and it will drive a wedge between you. He also won’t bond as well with your little one if he’s not getting involved. I am cheering you three on! It will get easier the more he does it, and he’ll develop a system.