The Parenting Power Struggle

The Babymoon Ended When My Husband Starting Telling Me How to Mother

Parenting Power Struggle


photo courtesy of Kayla Snell

filed under Fighting, True Stories

I still remember the first time my husband and I fought about when to feed our son. He was three days old. It had been a 40-hour labor during which I spiked a fever due to a possible infection. When my baby finally came out the cord was wrapped around his neck and his skin was grayish. He wasn’t crying. The attending midwife swiftly managed to release him from the cord and he was wrapped up in a blanket and shown to me before being whisked away. My husband went with them. She didn’t say where they were taking him, and when I didn’t hear anything after a while I just had to assume all was well.

They kept him in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for a few days of observation until bloodwork could confirm he was healthy. We were allowed to visit him there and they let me stay in the hospital for three more days to be close to him. My milk was not fully in and we struggled with breastfeeding. Maybe not having those first post-birth moments together had an effect. The nurses took time to sit with us and help me get him to latch on.

On day three, they let us to take him into our hospital room for a short while. For the first time, it was just the three of us—my husband, me, and our new baby boy. The baby started getting a little fussy and I could feel my husband’s stress level spike.

“He’s hungry,” he said with a sense of urgency.

I was already acutely aware of his feeding schedule. I was also sleep-deprived, physically exhausted, and just as concerned about our baby’s health as my husband was. I didn’t need him to tell me when to breastfeed.

“He may just want to be held,” I said taking him out of his bassinet. Something shifted for me in that moment. Our new-parent honeymoon was over.

During my pregnancy, my husband had been very supportive and loving. He talked at length about what a great mother I was going to be, about how he would learn from me, since he grew up without a father. How I would intuitively know how to care for our child.

Yet it took a mere three days for my husband to start questioning my mothering instinct. It took many years for him to stop. I started thinking of him as our child’s “other mother.” I had quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom for two years, and as soon as my husband got home from work he was ready to take over. I know, I know—that’s great, right? I should have been happy and to have such an involved baby daddy. And I was, most of the time. He was and still is an extremely capable and loving father. But each time I felt him criticize my mothering, it chipped away at our relationship.

It wasn’t all of the time. But even once in a while felt like too much. He’d tell me when to feed the baby, how to swaddle him, how to rock him to sleep, as if only he knew what was best. It never made me question my mothering abilities. I felt confident I was a good mother and so did everyone around me. My husband’s behavior didn’t change that; it didn’t undermine my confidence. But it did, unfortunately, cause me to resent him.

Looking back on my pregnancy and our years of planning a baby, I see how naïve we were about the things parents might argue about and how having a baby can affect a relationship. We thought because we shared the same values about life—compassion, open-mindedness, justice—that somehow raising a child together would be easy. We thought that couples who had differing views on religion or politics would have struggles, but not us. We both knew what was important in life and would raise our child in this harmonious web of love, compassion, and intellectualism.

We had no idea that whether you’re agnostic, Jewish, Christian or Muslim has little to do with whether or not the baby should be allowed to fall asleep in the car on the way home or if this will totally screw up his nap schedule, which in turn will screw up his nighttime schedule, which in turn will screw all of us.

We didn’t know that having the same views on the flaws in our public education system will not save you from the fight about whether or not to let him fall asleep at the breast.

Nor did we consider that sharing strong feelings on immigrant’s rights, gay rights, and women’s rights would do nothing to help when the baby starts fussing and you have vastly different ideas on how to best soothe him.

I can recall sometimes receiving directions from my husband on feeding and nap times when he was going out, as if he were leaving him with a babysitter.

“I’m his mother,” I would say in a clearly annoyed tone. “He’ll be fine.”

I could never have predicted this, and I don’t think my husband could have either. When it got to be too much and I would break down and tell him how hurt I felt, he would apologize and say what a wonderful mother I was and how he didn’t know why he would even question it. And we’d have days, weeks, maybe even months of harmony, until it would come up again. Eventually some stress would trigger it, some worry about our son. And when it happened, because of the baggage of the past, it felt as if it had always been happening.

I eventually learned not to let it hurt. To let it roll off of me. To not feel. Which served to protect me in the moment, but didn’t serve our relationship in the long run. It’s better to feel and find a healthy way to communicate those feelings, rather than bury them and grow numb. Our son is almost 10 years old now and although my husband and I mostly agree on how to raise him, I don’t think either one of us has ever fully recovered from day three.

Maya Silver is the pseudonym of a sex educator living in Northern California.

CATEGORIES: True Stories, Fighting

TAGS: Parenting, power struggles, communication

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