By Esther Mann, LCSW
This week’s letter is being answered by Jennifer Mann, LMSW.
My wife, “Shira,” and I have the most beautiful one-year-old daughter! She is our first child and my parents’ one and only grandchild. Lately I’ve been having some tension in my marriage. My parents want to see the baby every Sunday. They will even take her for the entire day so we can relax, go to the city, be a couple without a baby. My friends would give anything to be in our shoes. We really have it made. Sometimes my mother can’t stay away and will either call or pop in for a visit during the week. Who can blame them?
Shira says she is uncomfortable with how much time we are spending with them and how much they insist on being here. She says it is compromising our family’s privacy, which I think is a bit of an overreaction. Shira wants me to talk to my parents and limit their visits. I refuse to do that. The baby is my parents’ greatest joy. Why in the world should grandparents not be able to see their grandchild?
After her maternity leave was over, Shira decided she didn’t want to go back to work, so she could raise the baby. I think she has become obsessed with the baby. My mother worked full-time, and I think because she wasn’t always on top of me I had to figure some things out for myself. I was the kind of kid that would go anywhere—grandparents, friends, sleepaway camp, etc. For me, that is the healthiest way to go.
I think Shira should go back to work so she has something else going on in her life, and she can let other people take care of the baby. I think Shira is being selfish and does not value family. To me, life is my family. Growing up, I spent a ton of time with my grandparents. They were like second parents. We were dropped off there all the time, or my grandparents would visit us. They are in most of my childhood memories. Why would I deprive my daughter of the same gift I was given? How can I convince Shira that spending time with grandparents is a good thing, without getting into another fight? Thanks.
It seems as though the one thing everyone in the family can agree upon is that time spent with your daughter is precious. Your baby has given you and your parents the gifts of parenthood and grandparenthood. And clearly she is the most beautiful baby out there and no one can get enough of her.
Many men get married and do not pursue time spent with their parents, or they put the onus of creating family time onto their wives. You are not insisting on something frivolous or materialistic for Shira. You were raised in a very noble way, a way you admire, and would like to share your upbringing with your daughter. So what’s the problem? The problem is it isn’t working for Shira. In turn, there are problems in the marriage.
First and foremost, it is important that you understand there is no right and wrong here. There is no one right way to raise a child. If there were, trust me, every parent would be on board, hoping for the best result possible: a well-adjusted, emotionally healthy child. Some women need to work to help support the family. Some women want to work to find fulfillment outside of the house. And some women choose to stay home and raise their children full-time. All options are perfectly acceptable.
I have a feeling you have expressed your attitude to Shira regarding her choice to stay at home with the baby. Even if you haven’t expressed it with a discussion or small comments here and there, it is certainly expressed in your attitude. It came across loud and clear to me, as an outside objective reader of your e‑mail. Your intentions are in the right place, but you are judgmental of Shira’s choice. Perhaps Shira is picking up on your judgment and in turn it is impacting the marriage.
For the sake of a happy marriage (and happy child), you are going to have to learn how to budge. If you give an inch, maybe Shira will give an inch. Let’s think about this from Shira’s perspective for a moment. She knows you don’t value the work she is doing as a stay-at-home mother. She is being compared against her mother-in-law, who raised you, and she knows that she comes in second to your mother. That is not a great spot for your wife to be in.
It is in your best interests to make Shira your number one. No wife wants to be number two, and no wife should be number two. Your first priority is your wife. The happiest marriages usually have their priorities in the following order: spouse, children, parents. Your marital relationship may improve by leaps and bounds when you reprioritize. There is nothing more attractive to a woman than a man who protects her, listens to her, and makes her number one. Turn on the radio and listen to any song ever sung by a woman and you will notice a pattern emerging. Loving grandparents should absolutely be involved in their grandchildren’s lives, but in a way that works for the couple.
The number-one sign of a successful couple is their ability to compromise. You can spend your time arguing your points with Shira and insisting that you know best, but let me be clear: this will get you nowhere, and fast! A better use of your time is to communicate without judgment and come to some resolution regarding your parents’ involvement in the baby’s life.
Here are some suggestions for the discussion. Ask Shira when would be a good time for her to have a sit-down. Find some calm, quiet time when the baby is sleeping for the night. Let Shira know that you are interested in hearing her opinions. Express a desire to work together toward a compromise that works for both of you.
Next, validate what she is saying. Try to focus on hearing her, and not changing her mind. (Remember, that won’t help you.) She may say something like, “I would like your parents to call instead of just popping in. I need a heads-up.” She may tell you about her upbringing, which may be very different from yours. She may tell you she thinks you put your parents’ needs before hers. Whatever the case may be, you will say “OK. That explains why you like to spend Sundays alone.” Or, “I never thought of it in this light. Interesting.”
Notice how you are not caving in or giving up on your needs. This is the part where you get to tell Shira about your needs. Then you ask Shira, “What can we do about this? We shouldn’t fight about this anymore.” At this point you come up with a very practical plan. The specifics of the agreement should be discussed calmly and rationally, taking into account both of your needs. Maybe you will agree to let your parents know that Shira would like a phone call before a visit. Maybe your parents will get to have one Sunday per month alone with the baby and one Sunday visit as a family.
Due to the nature of a column, clearly I do not understand the delicate nuances that make up your marriage. If you and Shira have been able to practice successful communication in the past, then this conversation will be doable. If all your heavy conversations end up in fighting, you may want to see a marital therapist who will help you learn to listen to each other and put an old fight to bed. That will be up to you and Shira. Remember, you and Shira are like two coaches of a baseball team. Coaches who spend their time arguing about the play will lose the game. Coaches who can compromise about strategy may not always win the game, but will certainly put up a good effort.
Wishing you shalom bayis—
Jennifer Mann is presently working as a psychotherapist at Ohel. She also works as a relationship coach and can be reached at 718-908-0512.