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We have a fairly standard issue 1 year old at home, the typical teething, sleep issues, sporadic moodiness that I believe is likely the norm. My wife is a super star and watches/takes care of him probably a good 80% of the time where we are both home. Now note; I fully offer to step up whenever and however I can, however she seems to stoically default to some unspoken assumption that the baby is her responsibility alone and wants to save me the headache of dealing with him a majority of the time. It's admirable, but it causes issues when I'm trying to help her out so that she can get sleep or take a break. It practically gets to a near argument to get her to let me deal w/ an issue or take over most of the time. She's always of the vastly incorrect impression that I need the break, not her.

Example; lil tot is going through more teething and has been waking up nightly around 1am and has been taking anywhere from 1-3 hours to get back to bed. Last night was a typical example of where I gave him his bottle, brought him down, and tried to get him to bed, but struggled w/ him for a good 2+ hours. After a while the wife comes downstairs (she hasn't been sleeping, was minding the monitor and stayed up in case I needed help) and nudged me to take over so I could go to sleep. This would be fine if she didn't take the brunt of most of his nightly episodes, so even though I want to help shoulder that burden, she won't take advantage of it.

I guess long story short, I don't know how to convince her to let me shoulder some of the burden and let me "take some of the hits". She says things like "you need to sleep too" while entirely unaware of the irony/hypocrisy of this. How should I approach this? or How have others who've had similar experiences approached this?

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  • I’m not sure (because of the way it’s phrased) that this isn’t an interpersonal issue vs. a parenting issue. (E.g. ”She's always of the vastly incorrect impression that I need the break, not her.” ) I’m also curious as to why this hasn’t been an issue long before now. Did you share infant/toddler care more equitably than today? Do you share everything else equally or do you follow the more common traditional roles? Maybe this is the area she feels she has real authority in. Maybe she doesn’t agree with your parenting style. So many maybies. Very hard to say without both sides.
    – anongoodnurse
    Jun 27 at 21:11
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    @anongoodnurse I suppose it's a bit of both, however it's mostly us trying to "figure out" parenting for the first time as a team. In regards to if the equity has changed over time - not much as before now he was exclusively breast fed and there wasn't an awful lot that I could do sometimes, though now that it matters less who works with him, and he's harder to put down, it's become more of an issue. And as far as our roles - mixed, I do most of the repairs/yardwork but also all of the cooking, she does most of the cleaning and laundry etc.
    – padleyj
    Jun 28 at 12:28
  • An important part here is how the other duties in the family are distributed: e.g., are both parents working full-time or is one of them a housewife (at least while the baby is small) and the other one is working? Jul 8 at 12:29

4 Answers 4

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My wife and I struggled with this some, and honestly even today (10 years later) still do sometimes - though by now, it's in reverse as I'm the primary caregiver.

The things that helped was to talk about your needs, rather than phrasing as her needs. If you phrase it as her needs, then it's totally valid for her to shrug you off - she has to be the final arbiter of what she needs.

Rather, you have a need to be a part of the parenting team. Your needs might include:

  • Having responsibilities related to parenting
  • Feeling like a useful part of the team
  • Having a closer bond with your son
  • Learning how to do parenting tasks on your own

Think about what you want or need from this, and then talk to her about that.

In our case, it was really helpful to discuss how I needed to learn how to do things "start to finish", and also needed to learn how to ask for help. It's quite hard as a parent to see the other parent struggling with something you can help with, and understanding that from the other side helped me a lot here; but it's still hard.

It's also important to recognize that the other parent will take the ask for help as implying they're not capable on their own, and so only do it when you think they might accept it, and in a way that's as positive as possible without being condescending. Instead of "let me do that" or "you're having a hard time, let me help", we use "Would you like my help?", and then acknowledge and accept "no". We also try to make it clear we're available without explicitly offering help - "Hi honey, I'm upstairs reading" - which often works well. Recognize that once "help" becomes a positive instead of a negative, you may actually be more likely to ask for it (and do so!).

Finally, make sure any conversation you have includes both your needs and her needs. You have a need to help, be a useful parent, etc. - she may have needs that may be in conflict here. Is she a stay at home mom? She may feel like you're intruding on her space, and need to have better defined boundaries. She may need you to do some things differently, and may have a hard time saying that - are you totally on the same page on how to get a crying baby to sleep, for example? Find out what she needs, and keep that a focus as well.

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Adding on to Joe's good answer:

The "start to finish" is crucial. If you are going to do a task, say grocery shopping, you have to be the one to know what is getting cooked that week, make the list, make sure you've got the staples covered (tp, diapers, laundry detergent), go do it, and unpack. That way, everything mentally is handled under one person. It's possible your wife thinks (rightly or wrongly) there are things you don't do with a task, and as such she defaults the ownership to herself to make sure everything gets done to her standards.

Going along with this, consider making a "definition of done" for when certain tasks are complete or when things need to get done. My wife was always mad that I didn't take the trash out. To me, trash needed to be taken out when it was full, to her it needed to be taken out when it was full or stinky, regardless of fill. Once we sorted that out, we decided her standard was better, and now I take the trash out if it smells too. It's possible your wife has higher/different standards that you don't know about, so when you take over a task, she'll always be dissatisfied with the result, and so she just decides to do it herself.

If this answer helps you, it's largely drawn from the book "Fair Play" by Even Rodsky which is worth a read.

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    The point you make about standards is critical. Many times I’ve seen someone do someone else “a favor“ but has done it incorrectly, i.e. different standards. The person expects gratitude for doing it, but sees frustration instead. This leads to more frustration and sometimes anger and hurtful accusations (“nothing is ever good enough for you” kind of responses.) Honest communication is critical, as is openness to change (in both parties; it’s called compromise.) Also, sharing work isn’t a favor, it’s an obligation. (NB Not saying the OP implied this.)
    – anongoodnurse
    Jun 28 at 20:04
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I often find that as my children's primary caregiver, I am more effective at whatever needs to happen with those children. (ex. getting a baby back to sleep, calming tantrums, even finding out why the teens are grumpy). Could you give her a break by taking more of the burden in the places where parenting and house work meet - and help more with the mental work of parenting. Is the diaper bag stocked and ready for the morning, the dishes done, laundry folded and put away? What needs to be purchased this week, what appoints made, etc. Are meals planned - are there easy, heat and serve meals in the freezer for when things go wrong? These are the things that will keep me awake as I lie in bed even without a monitor. I'm not staying awake in case my partner needs help, I'm staying awake because everything is not as it should be, people are not where they belong (we co-sleep so for me it is baby and partner, but for others it may just be partner), and so everything else on my to do lists comes into my mind to remind me it needs to be done. If I can't sleep anyway, I reason I might as well let my partner sleep - but having help with all the non-direct-care parts of parenting is worth a lot. Also, consider that takin

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There are may be many underlying issues here:

  • Distribution of other tasks at home, notably - who is working full time and who is not? E.g., if the husband is working full-time and providing for the family, whereas the wife is a stay-home mom, she may feel compelled to let her husband rest and sleep well, as he is compelled to help her. That is, she might feel just as guilty of "doing nothing for family" as he does. Moreover, if the family is dependent on the husband's income and good performance at work, exhausting him with home tasks may only add to her sense of insecurity.
  • Vision of the family life Some people simply have more "traditional" view of family life, where the husband is not taking care of small kids. Although usually one blames men for not willing to shoulder their responsibility, women may be just as well subject to the stereotypes that they have inherited from their family, community or culture. Looking into the wife's background: how the things are done in her family, her community or her culture may provide some insights. Even in the same country, somebody coming from a metropolitan area may feel a lot more open about sharing the parental responsibility than a person from a countryside. On the other hand, they may fully expect their spouse to take on more "manly" tasks, such as teaching the kid to play baseball, repairing a car, etc.
  • Asymmetry of parental roles Contrary to the idea of absolute equality popular in modern society, parental roles are not symmetric: some babies feel more affinity for their mother - because she is breastfeeding or simply because baby is feeling more at ease with her, having spent 9 months in her womb. The father usually can compensate by changing diapers, giving baths or carrying the baby around, but sometimes this separation of duties is more drastic.
  • Overcontrolling/micromanaging A parent (especially a first-time) may often have little trust in others ability to take the care of the baby correctly. Thus, they would prefer to do it themselves. Although in one's spouse is probably less common than mistrust in grandparents, babysitters, daycare professionals or school teachers, it is still possible. Every parent has to go through learning "letting go" - for one's own sake, but also for the sake of the child, who has to be exposed to the outside world, more distant family, microbes, society, and so on. Moreover, the parents permanently occupying themselves with care about the child are usually chronically tired, which results in lower quality of parenting.

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