Hi Cool Mom. My wife and I have been going back and forth for the past months about getting my three-year-old daughter’s ears pierced. My wife really wanted to do it, but I wanted to wait until my daughter was old enough to decide for herself. There’s plenty of time for these things. I mean, she’s three. All our conversations have been civilized. We weren’t screaming at one another, just discussing it casually from time to time. The last time we discussed it, we said we’d wait at least a year, which is a decent compromise. Well, I came home the other night and my daughter’s ears were pierced. My wife just casually said “Oh, we were right there, so we just went for it.” I feel hurt. But more so, I’m fucking pissed because now I feel like my opinion about my daughter is not valid because I’m a man. I don’t want to overreact but I also don’t want it to seem like I don’t have a say. — James, via email
Guess what? I’m going to write something that I rarely do when I write this column (so men, enjoy it while you can): you’re right. You’re right. You. Have. Every. Right. To Be. Pissed.
Your wife completely ignored your wishes and your (extremely understandable, imho) desire to wait until your daughter can consent to having her ears pierced, and she went ahead and did what she wanted anyway. This is absolutely, 100-percent a dick move, regardless of whether she did it because of your gender or not (which I wouldn’t necessarily assume — I think it’s more likely she just wanted to be a dick and not take your interests into account — but ultimately the end result is the same, so it’s a moot point regardless). You have Cool Mom’s permission to go ahead and overreact away.
There’s one thing to recognize, however: your daughter’s ears are pierced. It already happened. There’s no magic glue gun you can take to drill into her tiny little earlobes and plug those holes up. No amount of screaming or fighting or lashing out is going to change that. Without getting too metaphysical about this, what’s done is done, and you can’t undo it. So go ahead and take a deep breath and accept that before you lash out.
Also, it’s worth considering this: in the grand, lavish, multicolored medieval tapestry that is a marriage, this conflict will only represent one very small square. It will likely be totally forgotten about and ignored until one of the peasants decides to use it to wipe mutton grease off his hands. This is a big deal, yes, but not for the reason you think it is. It has nothing to do with your daughter’s ears being pierced, or your wife discounting your opinion in the decision-making process because of your gender. It has everything to do with your wife discounting your opinion, period.
I’m a romantic at heart and I believe a good marriage is two people making a series of compromises over the years until one or both of them croaks. To paraphrase Larry David, a good compromise is when both parties are equally dissatisfied with the outcome, and that is clearly not what happened in this case. Your wife wanted something, you wanted something else, and it ended with her ignoring the compromise you’d settled on by going behind your back and pursuing what she wanted at the expense of your personal feelings on the matter. And that’s a shitty thing for anyone to do, but it’s even more shitty when you’re parenting and the issue at stake is the welfare of an entirely different small person, who is incapable of making decisions for his or herself.
If this is the first time your wife has done that, then that sucks, but in the scheme of things it really isn’t that big a deal. But if it isn’t — if she in fact has a pattern of making parenting decisions unilaterally, or worse, using your child as a pawn in your larger arguments — then that isn’t just a square of the tapestry, it’s the whole damn rug, and it’s a major issue. If it doesn’t stop, it’s arguably a marriage ender.
But I wouldn’t open with that when you confront her about this specific incident. Instead, I’d approach her as calmly as possible and tell her how hurt and annoyed you are that she deliberately went against your wishes without your consent, and ask her why she felt the need to do such a thing. I’d also ask — again, calmly — how she felt if you did the same thing in any other scenario (for instance, if you booked a family trip that you guys had already decided you couldn’t afford). If she’s capable of self-reflection at all, this is likely to prompt some degree of contrition, if not an immediate apology.
If she’s still on the defensive, or says it’s not such a big deal, or refuses to even entertain the notion that she did something inappropriate, then I’m sorry to say, but you two have bigger problems than an impromptu trip to Claire’s.