Dear Carolyn: My husband agreed to have children even though he didn’t really want them. He did not make any conditions, and I would not have granted any. We have two — one more than he agreed to (oops! both our faults) and one less than I want.
Now he thinks he should get priority in making every other family decision. Where we live. How often we move. How much we spend. Our 3-year-old has already lived in three states, but those moves were for our family’s economic good. Now he’s talking about moving again, just for his own pleasure. What are my options here?
Still a Person
Still a Person: I haven’t seen any situation end well where half of a couple feels (or continues to feel) entitled to use leverage against the other half.
For a life partnership to be fulfilling and for co-parents to be effective, you both need to be invested in the same goals and give them roughly the same priority. He’s invested in himself, and you’re invested in . . . hard to say. The kids, the family, the marriage, yourself — I see a little of all of it here.
Your best option in dealing with the prospect of another move or with any other of his specific decisions stemming from a sense of you-owe-me entitlement is to deal with the entitlement head on.
If you and he can cooperate to the extent necessary, then I think counseling with a skilled and reputable therapist is the best way to do that.
Unless, of course, you are able to say this to him in a way he’s willing to hear: Yes, he gave you something monumental when he agreed to have children. However, the monumental thing is not a thing, but two people with needs that trump your needs and his.
So while you’re fine with weighting things toward his preferences for a while, these preferences can’t be indefinite. For one thing, continuing to make decisions that prioritize his wants over their needs will eventually harm the kids. This or that decision might be fine, but a culture where they don’t matter is not. This is particularly true with constant moving, because eventually the kids start putting down their own roots in the form of friendships, teams, neighborhood institutions, and even before that they will draw a sense of security from the familiarity of their surroundings. A lot of families have to move a lot — in the military, for example — but the “have to” is a greater purpose, not parental whims, and the moves are still tough on the kids.
Furthermore, parental stability is key to children’s well-being, and how stable will your marriage be if your husband keeps acting unilaterally to collect on some imagined marital debt, and you resent him for executing a deal you never made?
Whether a couple has kids or doesn’t, or whether they did or didn’t want the kids they have, is all built on the underlying act of marriage: You loved, chose and pledged yourselves to each other. That means taking care of each other, no? And not an indefinite exercise of scorekeeping and personal prerogative? Maybe that can be the middle where your two views on children can meet.