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Father (Thinks He) Knows Best

Father (Thinks He) Knows Best

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

My husband and I have a high-energy 21 month old. I stayed home with her for the first 9 months, and pumped multiple times per day when I started my out-of-the-home job, until she was 15 months old. The entire first year, it felt like she never slept. Which meant I never slept, because breastfeeding. Hubby would take a shift with a bottle sometimes, but as much as she woke up and wanted milk, the most sleep I got that first year was a couple hours here and there. It literally drove me to the brink of insanity, deep into postpartum depression. I’m only just now climbing out, and he didn’t let me sleep without guilt, or pump less than 3 x per day at work without guilt, or supplement with formula without guilt, or even mention the idea of sleep training (a battle I still lose) without guilt. To quote him, I “never put our daughter first”.

My husband is also a Reservist, so he’s gone between 2-4 days a month, and sometimes a week or two at a time for trainings. Other than that, he’s a full-time SAHD. I have used up almost all of my PTO (personal time off or paid time off) to stay at home with our daughter when he has to be at drill. The other few days have been sick days. Recently, a flu bug went around our house. Our daughter was sick, but active, then I got so sick I could literally not stand, and he got sick a few hours later. We were both sick all day and our daughter was feeling better, so she was rambunctious, but I was definitely down for the count, so he took over for the whole day and let me sleep, which I love him for. The next morning I was feeling better, or at least well enough to get through my work day, and I went to work, only to be barraged by angry messages that he was feeling so much worse, and the baby is getting sick again, and how could I go to work and leave him stranded with a sick baby when he can hardly stand. I want to be sorry and sympathetic, but I feel it is unfair to be so rude and abrasive. He never asked me to stay home, and he was at least at a functioning level the night before, so I had no idea what the next day would bring. I’m a manager at a small-ish company, and I left early the week before, sick, then called in another day, and I felt I had to show up that next day. Plus, my PTO is down to almost nothing….

And that brings me to this: My last hours of PTO are for 2 days that he’s going to be gone visiting his mother on the East Coast in December. I treasure those days. I covet those upcoming days, probably more than I should, because it means I actually get to be ALONE for the first time since our daughter was born. He’s pissed because he wants me to dip into those days. He’s outraged because I didn’t consider using those for ‘family time,’ and cue how selfish I am, always putting myself first. But all I want is some peace and quiet to recharge. Does it make me a bad partner and mom to take those days off—away from my family, holed up in a quiet, clean house, binging on Netflix? Should I have stayed home with him when he was sick, and used up a whole precious day? How does someone who is desperate for time away, alone, balance never ever getting that, and stop a growing resentment?

He is a wonderful, amazing, kind, caring Father, and he tries to be those things for me, but we are completely opposite with our needs. Being parents really brings those differences into the spotlight like never before. He just doesn’t understand my desire to be alone sometimes, even though I never get that. Maybe I was naïve to think motherhood would still allow me that, occasionally, but I felt I could forage enough to stay happy. I am not happy. I am starving.

Unhappy

*reads letter*

*PREPARES CAPS LOCK*

*stands up instead and  leaves the room*

*deep breathing deep breathing*

*sits back at computer*

*PREPARES CAPS LOCK*

So your husband is a “wonderful, amazing, kind, caring father.” That’s great, but he sounds like a lousy husband. Harsh and extra Smackdown-y, but there it is. The way he’s treating you is gross and controlling and I DON’T LIKE IT.

Let’s run through your letter and pick out the OTHER adjectives you used in your letter, every time you described how he interacts and communicates with YOU, his wife and partner:

Angry. Rude. Abrasive. Pissed. Outraged.

And yet you’re asking me if wanting the occasional alone time/mental health day makes YOU the selfish asshole in this scenario? You, the one who is still recovering from PPD, the one who he “guilted” into an overly taxing/exhausting breastfeeding/pumping schedule, the one he continues to guilt trip over simple parenting choices rather than find compromises? Meanwhile he’s hurling verbal insults at you seemingly every time he’s unhappy or sick (aw, poor baby! home sick and caring for a sick child because the out-of-the-home working parent had to go to work? WELCOME TO LIFE, DUDE)…or worse, whenever you dare to have an opinion or need that doesn’t line up perfectly with his own.

(Oh, and for all the other non-OP readers out there, let me tell you that the subject line of her email was “Am I a selfish mother and partner?” Is your head exploding yet? Just a little bit. I thought so.)

Dear, dear OP: No. NO. You are NOT selfish for needing time alone. You are NOT a bad partner or mom because you need (or just plain WANT) to take a couple mental health days to Netflix and chill. You are a wife and a mom but also a human being, and a human being who has had a damn rough 15 months or so and DESERVES whatever kind of break you want.

And you also deserve a partner who GETS THAT. And who doesn’t go straight to his little outrage box to pull out tirades about you being selfish or “always putting yourself first.” I mean, I get that we’re only reading one side but in all the fights/incidents of contention detailed here there is not ONE SINGLE INSTANCE of you actually putting “yourself” first. (Going to your damn out-of-the-home JOB doesn’t count as “putting yourself first,” either, my lands.)

Here’s how a good, supportive, unselfish partner would respond to the following conversation:

“I’m exhausted. I need a break. I am not happy. I am starving for some time alone and more sleep and I am worried that my mental health will suffer if I don’t get some.”

“OH MY GOD LET ME TAKE THE BABY FOR TWO DAYS TO VISIT MY MOM WHILE YOU STAY HERE AND REST, I HAD NO IDEA YOU WERE SO STRESSED. I’M SO SORRY. PLEASE TELL ME HOW I CAN HELP, O YE WONDERFUL MOTHER OF MY CHILD.”

Instead, you get guilt-tripped. You get called names and told you’re a bad parent.

At the very least, some couples counseling is in order to sort through your different parenting styles. I would insist on that, outside of the PTO disagreement, because he needs to respect your parenting style rather than try to guilt you into his.

It’s awesome that he’s a great father and puts your daughter’s needs ahead of his own (I mean, I guess he does?), but there’s a way to do that WITHOUT demoting your partner to some kind of second-class citizen within her own home, unable to make any parenting decisions on her own or even say NOPE to decisions that she disagrees with or are making her unhappy. (I am SO weirded out that he guilt-tripped a woman with PPD over pumping and formula aka things that involved HER OWN BODY.)

If you simply needed assurances from a neutral third party that you’ve not being a selfish mom or wife, well…you got it. You got it a lot. Now I would suggest you step back, re-read your letter and look at your husband’s overall behavior and treatment of you in general. I suspect this goes much deeper than an argument over two measly days of PTO if his default reaction to every disagreement is to pull the “selfish” card. He strikes me as the type who won’t be super jazzed about therapy/counseling, but hopefully I’m wrong and he’ll be willing to work with you on things. (Update: please see below from smart advice from a counselor in the comments section below about first steps before pursuing any sort of couples counseling).

And you know? Who cares if you ARE selfish sometimes! Isn’t everybody, every now and then? Who cares if you want to treat yourself to a mini-staycation (using a benefit nonetheless)? Who cares if you want to be selfish in a way that hurts ABSOLUTELY NO ONE? You’re a mom, not a Stepford Wife. And if that’s what he wants or expects…man, it’s 2015 and they already did that remake and the concept is dead. Let your wife be a human being and get some much-needed R&R already.

 

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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April
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April

Amy, kudos on this response.,but seriously, this man is emotionally abusive. Hope you get some rest Op!!

Holly
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Holly

This sounds like my life, loosely, but the overall treatment of me by my then-husband – WE COULD BE TWINS, OP. And did you catch that? I am divorced now. Things got so bad, there were many other issues as well, but damn. After coming through that tunnel I now can see how abused I was all those years by his controlling, manipulative behavior (which he always said was what *I* was doing to him.) In any case, if you don’t want to head down the path of divorce, get some help now. I don’t think it could have saved… Read more »

Ashley
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Ashley

I’m so sorry, OP. The way he’s behaving really isn’t ok. Limited alone time and lack of sleep is very difficult, even with a supportive partner, so I can only imagine. This is a huge deal, for you and your marriage–and ultimately your daughter. I really hope he’s open to talking to someone and I hope you can work it out.

It gets worse
Guest
It gets worse

Please get out. Please. Please. Please. I lived with these things. Almost exactly those things – the resentment and guilt and anger at what were all normal things; the rage that I had the audacity to work and earn money and benefits for my family while he suffered at home with kids. I would berate myself (after he did so) for being too selfish, too needy, too much of a failure and try to make excuses and tell myself what a wonderful partner and parent he was. Eventually I left because I wasn’t happy, and it wasn’t until I was… Read more »

Ros
Guest
Ros

A few quick comments : 1) for some people, time alone is a necessity. For sanity. I am not exaggerating. I manage a few hours a week, while working full-time and being with my daughter as much as possible. My husband does too. We both prioritize it because we understand that our partner needs it. If your husband doesn’t get that? Counselling, Stat. Because the very idea of not having that makes me feel claustrophobic and tear-y, and the reality has to be much worst, and no. Just no. 2) telling someone else what to do with their body, and… Read more »

Kerry
Guest
Kerry

My husband is also a stay-at-home father, and there’s a lot in your letter that I can picture myself saying when our older daughter was younger….so I’m somewhere between yes, your husband’s behavior is unacceptable and just pure empathy. I think our culture does a lousy job of preparing men for hands-on parenting. I think when you take the kind of person who, if they were a woman, would drive themselves crazy about the importance of breast-is-best and with the messages that letting a baby cry can it out cause permanent brain damage and all of that, and then make… Read more »

Kerry
Guest
Kerry

Ok I reread the original letter and I think, aside from the obvious anger and resentment coming from both sides, it all comes down to this 1) The husband would like to have the luxury of someone stepping in for him on child care when he is sick. 2) The wife would like to have the luxury of having a day or two to herself after a very hard first year and a half of parenthood. 3) Both of them think its completely unreasonable for their spouse to get what they want if they don’t also get what they want… Read more »

Kay
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Kay

I just figured the PTO clock would likely reset in January.

Kerry
Guest
Kerry

Oh! That would make a lot more sense. Every job I’ve ever worked in, the leave time has been cumulative rather than use-it-or-lose-it. 

I still think that if there’s anything they can do to start treating her personal-time-off as actual time off they need to do it now, however. When you commit yourself to round-the-clock, unrelenting work-or-childcare the way this couple seems like they have, you don’t have time for sleep, or for adult conversations, or for therapy, or even divorce. 

Jessie
Guest
Jessie

OP your husband’s behavior is not okay. If he refuses couples’ counseling PLEASE get some individual therapy.

Sarah B
Guest
Sarah B

Hey, Domestic Violence Counselor here. I’m definitely seeing some major red flags of someone who is emotionally abusive and controlling. You definitely know your situation best and I don’t have all the information, but it might be helpful to call the National Domestic Violence hotline and talk to one of their counselors. 1−800−799−7233 
Also, we typically don’t recommend couples counseling if there is abuse in the relationship (See link:  http://www.thehotline.org/2014/08/why-we-dont-recommend-couples-counseling-for-abusive-relationships/)
Finally, leaving is the most dangerous time, so talk to a trained counselor about some safety planning options. 

Kay
Guest
Kay

Yes.  Thank you.  LW, if you think the relationship is abusive in whatever way, please get individual counseling first.  Please. Couples counseling can be great for a non-abusive relationship where both parties are making a good faith effort, but it can absolutely be harmful when any kind of abuse is involved.  

Amy
Guest

This is beyond not okay. I went through severe PPD and have BEEN THERE with the pumping. I made it to 8 months because I needed all the drugs to not kill myself. Your husband is being a jerky twatwaffle and if he won’t go to counseling, I echo Jessie’s suggestion of getting into counseling yourself. You cannot be all things to all people. Ask for help and if you’re not getting it from guilt-trip McGee (aka your husband), then find a friend who’ll help out when you need it. Asking for help is wicked hard but so worth it.… Read more »

Ros
Guest
Ros

Second thought after my first comment… if he’s such a good father, maybe making him consider how he’d react if someone treated your daughter that way in 25 years. If he’s incapable of seeing any issue that’s not around her… maybe the words “I need our daughter to know that she won’t be less important as a person if she chooses to become a mother” might work where arguing that you need things for your own sake isn’t working, and, bonus points, he can’t argue that that’s a selfish desire.

(But seriously. Counselling. )

Stephanie
Guest
Stephanie

So many red flags in this letter! -PPD -Guilt as an emotional weapon -Sleep deprivation Wow.  I am so sorry that you’re going through this.  You are being emotionally abused, no holds barred.  Please try to get counseling, and if your husband refuses to go, PLEASE go for yourself. As someone else already said above, some people absolutely need time alone.  I am one of them.  We are called introverts–we recharge and energize by spending time alone.  Extroverts recharge by spending time with other people.  Neither way is right or wrong, just different.  Your wanting a couple of days to… Read more »

Kay
Guest
Kay

LW, my husband is a stay-at-home-dad, too.  And if any part, ANY PART of you is justifying his behavior and rage and abrasiveness and one-upmanship on who loves your daughter more and all the criticism and guilting as being because of what he’s going through in that role, IT IS NOT.   Have there been challenges for us as a couple because of me working/him at home?  Oh yes.  Yes.  There have.  There have been arguments and disagreements and both people feeling unappreciated and like they just need a break in a way the other one is not getting. But… Read more »

M
Guest
M

I agree whole-heartedly with the last bit of this. I am also a new mom who is being emotionally abused by my husband, and I have been seeing a counselor. My husband also tells me I am selfish for attempting to eke out even the most basic of human needs, tells me I am a bad mother (even though I am actually a pretty good one), and actively deprives me of sleep (by “accidentally” making more noise than a rhinocerous at 5 am every morning). The most important part of therapy has been hearing that my perception of what is… Read more »

Elle
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Elle

Yes, to what everyone else has said already. And also…have you ever considered that your husband might be a narcissist? Especially I the way that your husband seems to direct everything back to himself, and doesn’t seem to want or be able to empathize with what you’re going through. Google some variation of “married to a narcissist” if you want a more detailed description.

CB
Guest
CB

This was my thought as well.  I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for many years with a man diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder.  I too was repeatedly told I was selfish for stating my needs/wants.  

OP, in addition to Googling narcissistic spouses, please check out codependence.  I recommend Pia Mellody’s “Facing Codependence” and “Where To Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day” by Anne Katherine.

Meg
Guest
Meg

My first reaction to this was – “Husband. Step down, please.” But, upon reading a second time, I also have to feel this letter is highly influenced by the recent home illness. And seriously, illness with a kid is the worst. I can give you vivid details of how my husband failed me when my 2nd child had scheduled tube surgery and on the same day, I got mastitis, my oldest started vomiting from strep and he left us all at home, barely functioning. He’s a great husband, but it just was a bad day and he didn’t realize. Counseling… Read more »

K
Guest
K

Hugs to OP. This sounds awful, and like so many have said, there is nothing about this that is okay. I agree with counseling, and I agree with possibly starting seperately and then planning to go together when things are a bit more stable. I also think that some conversations around logistics need to happen. It is not reasonable (or appropriate) to use all of your PTO to cover childcare while he is away. I respect that he has the role he does, and I’m not sure there is a lot of flexibility there (can he stop/quit? Does He make… Read more »

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

I am so sorry that you are dealing with such a difficult situation.  No, you are not a selfish mother and partner!  Your husband is clearly in the wrong here, and if I were you, I would seriously consider if your life would be better without being married to him.  If your husband knows that you are unhappy, and doesn’t care about trying to make things better, then that is a major problem.  You should definitely see a counselor on your own, who can help you decide if couples counseling would be helpful.  Imagine if your best friend or your… Read more »

Elizabeth
Guest
Elizabeth

I too have been there. I’m out now, and with a kind husband. Just wanted to say that often work benefits include counseling for a 10 copay. (Eap plan is one.) If time and money are both tight, the domestic violence hotline is a good place to start. Often churches provide free counseling. And my goodness, I’d love for you to drop your little one here and get a break. You have my prayers and best wishes for health and safety.

S
Guest
S

These feel like exaggerated old hurts coming up now for no reason. No, he never should have allowed you to feel guilty for sleeping five hours or pumping to 15 (!!) months. But you have vastly different ideas on how much to sacrifice for your child. I’ll be the first to say that specifically on the two days of PTO, you’re being selfish. No, you shouldn’t have used it for his illness, but he wasn’t well, you could’ve called a backup sitter to help him. But you both work really hard and have to use your PTO for his work.… Read more »

Caroline
Guest
Caroline

She is struggling with severe sleep deprivation spanning a year and a half, and is stretched to breaking point. Every time she tries to do something practical to improve her situation – their joint situation – he calls her names and is borderline abusive. She wants 48 hours to recharge. In December. This is not ”special fun family time”. This is mental health at stake time. He wasn’t well… HE could have called a back-up sitter. He didn’t ”allow” her to feel guilty, he specifically set out to make her feel that way. There will be no ”special fun-fun family… Read more »

Ros
Guest
Ros

This. In a situation where everything was normal, you’re getting sleep, you don’t resent your spouse for pulling crappy guilt trips WHILE you’re mentally ill and sleep-deprived, and you get an hour or two on a normal week to take a bath/read/whatever, sure, time with the family is absolutely necessary and fun and a better use of time off than two days off alone. But when you’re holding on to sanity by a thread and the only thing reinforcing your grip is telling yourself ‘if I make it through this week I get *two days alone*’, someone taking those days… Read more »

Christen
Guest
Christen

Seriously.  What exactly is her motivation for spending time with someone who doesn’t seem to value her as a person anymore? Not to mention his logic is pretty flawed: had she spent those last two days of PTO at home with the baby while he recovered she wouldn’t have any left to go visit HIS family (which I agree: visiting in-laws is pretty much the exact opposite of a vacation) so…what’s his end-game here?  To make her feel crappy and like she can’t win at all ever. Because he’s succeeding at that.   I find it really telling that the… Read more »

kimm
Guest
kimm

It is not hurtful to need time to yourself. If you are afraid to say you need an hour or 2 to yourself every week, that is a sign you do need to speak to a counselor, you should not have to be afraid to be honest with your husband, he is supposed to be your good or best friend. If that is not true then talking to someone about it may help you decide what kind of relationship you really want to be in for the rest of your life.

Melinda
Guest
Melinda

Find a babysitter or daycare. Seriously, you both need a break. I’m HOPING he didn’t start out this way. Having a baby & all the changes around that are the HARDEST thing on a relationship & people in general. You guys need to exist as people. He needs alone time, too. Sounds like your baby is old enough to start a preschool/daycare a few times a week. Find the money for it because otherwise you’ll be finding the money for separate homes. Hopefully, once this has decompressed the situation, he can be kinder to you. I’m HOPING that he really… Read more »

Melinda
Guest
Melinda

P.s. forgot to mention that breastfeeding with ppd means you put her first. That is HARD, I’ve been there.

His comments are uncalled for & a clear sign that he doesn’t know how to argue without becoming a controlling jerk.

Dan
Guest
Dan

Contrary to the prevailing opinion, I’m not sure this is a 100% he’s-wrong-you’re-right. Obviously the guilt of the first 15 months was wrong and douchey and if you haven’t explained to him how bad that made you feel you gotta do that, although I can imagine he’s a bit control-freaky and was trying to create the best world for your kid. But now it seems like it’s all down to the fact you guys aren’t talking and you haven’t set up a support system. He probably feels like he’s shouldering the whole baby load (probably incorrectly and he definitely needs… Read more »

Allison
Guest
Allison

Dan, I feel the same way as you do, at least if their relationship was good before kids. My husband and I went through something very similar – I had bad PPD, and we had no patience or time for each other. I resented that he got to go to work and enjoy a leisurely hot lunch and talk with other humans. I’m sure he felt trapped, after working hard all day having to come home to a surly wife and crying baby for the second shift. I couldn’t stand the sight of him although logically l could acknowledge that… Read more »

Rebecca
Guest

If it was just the time off, I’d understand his annoyance, but all the other things are red flags to me. Seek individual counseling.

JPG
Guest
JPG

I third the comment about the narcissist. My ex acted in a very similar manner when we were together, although we did not have kids. He was a master of twisting words and guilt tripping. I got out and eventually married my now husband, who is awesome and nurturing, understanding, respects my introverted nature, and always encourages me to take time for myself. My husband is a son of a narcissist (my MIL), and there have been many times where we just had to split ties from her for awhile because she was so toxic. Being raised by a narcissist… Read more »

vanessa
Guest
vanessa

yeah MAJOR RED FLAGS in this one. HUGE gaslighting. please go get individual counseling so that another person is getting all of the details and can help you see whether this is a situation where better communication/more outside support might help, or whether you need to get out now. 
you can likely find a sliding scale or insurance-taking therapist. do it tomorrow morning.

Ann
Guest
Ann

Ha, this sounds a bit like my husband. OP, I don’t have much advice, because I’m right there with you, just hugs. But don’t let him do this to you. I doubt that he means to be abusive, but he is. If you’ve got anyone in your corner who can talk some sense into him, please ask them to do that. And put your foot down that you need the rest and you’re taking the PTO days for yourself. It’s not selfish to not drive yourself to the breaking point.

liz
Guest
liz

It sounds to me like husband might have PPD too. That is a thing, right?

Get daycare. Get sleep training. Both of y’all, get to a doctor and get a full check-up.

If he won’t cooperate on those things, then I concur with “abusive”.

trapwindow
Guest
trapwindow

Yeah, if you’re simply asking for advice about how to judge yourself for the one day in the office while he is sick, it isn’t selfish. Objectively, just like your job would expect from you, it is his responsibility to make alternate arrangements if he is sick during the day with your daughter. Isn’t that how you would treat it? And that’s separate from whatever reasons you have for taking the PTO. Some places of work, you can’t even change them on such late notice if you’ve used all the days designated for “sick” time or whatever. Either way, you… Read more »

Elaine C. B.
Guest
Elaine C. B.

I know I’m late to this comment thread, but I didn’t see anyone else suggesting that the family seek out military resources. As a former active duty member and current reservist, I can say there are lots of options out there, including counseling services, that will be free for certain topics/goals. The military may also have an ombudsman type program, a list of daycare options, and “reconnection” workshops they may be eligible for. They can also seek counseling from a chaplain. Also the local Red Cross may be able to refer them to a Red Cross certified teenage babysitter who… Read more »

michelle b
Guest
michelle b

I know I’m also late, but I just to add that I know it must be incredibly hard to consider that you may need to break up your family in order to be happy. However, I want you to really think about if this is the behavior you want to have modeled to your child, even if he’s a great father. Do you want her to believe that it is acceptable to be treated this way by your partner? If not, please get out. For both of you.