How a stay-at-home mother can handle her controlling husband


(Hadley Hooper/ FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
July 10, 2012

Q. My husband, a good man and an involved father, is much loved and enjoyed by our two sons, 3 and 1, but we aren’t much of a parenting team anymore.

Perhaps this is because I might have — or have had — postpartum depression or because I’m staying home with the boys. We thought that it would be best for our family if I stayed home, but it means that my husband has to work at a job he dislikes and do some freelancing, too.

This has left him feeling stressed about money, so he clips coupons and does the grocery shopping as well. He says that he does these things to keep us within our budget, but I really think he’s afraid that I’d spend the money foolishly. He won’t even give me an allowance to pay for my small expenditures, which means that I must put anything I buy on my credit card and he can track whatever I spend.

I feel like I’ve given over all of my power to my husband. He convinces me that I’m wrong even when I have a valid point; he dislikes most of my opinions on child-rearing — and because I once was a preschool teacher, I have many opinions — and he won’t help me come up with a set of family rules that we can both support. This confuses our older son, who doesn’t know what he can or cannot do, and it is causing him to have some behavior problems.

I also get angry with my husband and my sons quite often, perhaps because of the PPD, but he won’t let me get therapy because he doesn’t believe I have this problem.

We are also rarely affectionate with each other, which makes me feel alienated from him, but when my mother offered to babysit the boys, he said he wouldn’t leave them at night because he gets so little time with them.

Is there any way I can regain the affection and equality we had before I stayed home with the kids? I have even contemplated divorce, but as the child of divorce, I would hate to do this to my children.

A. You’re facing several problems in your marriage, and PPD — if you have it — is just one.

Trust — or the lack of it — is another one. Just as children must learn to trust others so they can grow psychologically, so should parents learn to trust each other so their marriage can grow. You and your husband might not agree on a set of family rules — most couples don’t — but you can agree to disagree on some of them. To do that, simply say, “This rule isn’t too important to me, but it matters a lot to your daddy, so we’re going to follow it.” If you’re honest with your children, they will accept your differences.

And then there are the problems brought on by your husband’s anxiety, for it is anxiety, rather than suspicion, which makes him try to control every aspect of his life and of yours — and the more responsible he is, the more anxious and controlling he becomes. It isn’t easy to be the only breadwinner in the family, but a little freelancing of your own might bring in enough money to ease his stress (and yours). If that’s not possible, ask your mother to watch the children so you can do some volunteer work and perhaps learn some new skills as well.

Every mother should do some kind of work — outside of child care — whether it’s full-time or part-time, for money or for fun, because motherhood can become an ego-damaging experience if she doesn’t. As much as you love and enjoy your little boys, you need to spend at least a few hours a week with people who don’t spill milk, throw tantrums and watch you while you sit on the potty.

You’ll know that you’ve found the right job if your colleagues give you the kind of encouragement that you’re not getting at home.

Although your family loves you, your husband will seldom tell you how much he appreciates the meals you cook, the clothes you wash and the noses you wipe because he is as stressed as you are. And, of course, you’ll never hear your toddlers say, “Thanks, Mom, great lunch!”

Their faces always light up when you walk into the room, however, which should be all the thanks you need as long as you’re doing some work outside of the house. And if you still feel controlled and unrewarded? Then see a therapist, with or without your husband. You can use your credit card.

Send questions about parenting to advice@margueritekelly.com

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