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My Baby Is the Boss. Please Help Me Get My Life, and Wife, Back!

A dad who has lost control asks The Goodfather for advice on how to get it — and his life — back from baby.

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Dear Goodfather,

My baby is the boss. The kid is one and a half and is wholly, completely in charge of my wife. He gets how to demand things, without words, of course, and make my wife jump. And jump she does. He’ll spout some whiney gibberish and she drops EVERYTHING to find out what it is “sweet baby boy” wants. 

First of all, it’s insane. Babies shouldn’t run a damned household. Second of all, I’m not able to parent anymore — because she’s so freaking attentive I can’t even try (and wouldn’t want to be THAT attentive anyway). Finally, and yeah, you knew this was coming, my wife doesn’t even know I exist. It’s all baby all the time and, well, fuck that. it’s not how it’s supposed to be. 

We should be doing this together and still be our own people and also a couple separate from baby. That’s how I feel, at least. Got my back?

Overrun in Oregon

 

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If I tell you that I don’t have your back, you’ll probably stop reading. And I don’t want that because you need some support. But I also don’t want to encourage you to continue to engage in the narrative you’ve built around your family. The resentment you’re clearly feeling is toxic and, if it remains unexamined and unaddressed, could strain your relationship to the breaking point. Do I have your back? I do, but not in the way you want me to.

Let’s break this down a bit. First of all, your baby does not “run your house.” Frankly that’s an absurd accusation. That would presume that your one-and-a-half-year-old has some nefarious intentions and despotic desires. They don’t, of course, because they’re one-and-a-half. There’s no manipulation going on here. 

But as the smallest and most vulnerable member of your family they rely on the adults — you and your wife — to keep them alive. When babies are pre-verbal, their methods of communication are blunt, to say the least. What sounds like whining to you is your kid asking that a need be addressed. And you should definitely address those needs if you can. It’s not going to spoil your kid. So, just calm down a bit. 

But I suspect, deep down, you know all this about your baby. I’m almost certain, considering you’re a grown-ass man, that you don’t really believe your son is in charge of your house or your wife. What I think is actually going on here is that you’ve discovered a novel way to mask your own jealousy of your wife’s close bond with your kid. 

You need to know that there’s nothing particularly unique about that jealousy. It’s not uncommon for fathers to feel useless and edged out in their children’s early years. Those feelings can be compounded if a child is being breastfed or has special needs. These situations precipitate a shift in marital relationships and can lead to less intimacy and communication. It’s easy to lose track of your relationship with your partner when your child is the main subject of conversation and acts as a physical barrier between you.

You need to start a dialogue with your wife about how you’re feeling. Don’t come in all hot and try to blame her for getting between you and your kid. Steer clear of suggesting that she’s forgotten about your needs and the priorities of your relationship. Focus on one word: Balance.

I’m willing to bet that as responsive as your wife is, she probably doesn’t want to be. Not really. Imagine how stressful that must be. I’m going to ask you to look at the situation with a little empathy and examine what your wife is really doing. Where are her pain points? What stresses her out? Find some things you can take on and then bring your suggestions to her as a means of making life easier for everyone. You literally cannot expect your wife to cater to some idealized notion of couplehood independent of parenting if you are not willing to help make space for that kind of relationship. If you want intimacy back, you’ll have to help her find the time and space for it. 

You’re right that you have to do it together. But you should be doing it as a team. That takes communication and it takes concessions. You need to see that raising a child is your common goal. And the way you raise that child should primarily be by showing them that they are loved, supported and safe. To build that support and safety you need to find a way to be on the same page with your partner. I’m certain you can get there. You have to try.

In the end, you don’t need me to have your back. You need to have your wife’s back so she can have yours. That will mean understanding your son is a baby who needs his two supportive and loving parents. And that love needs to come from mutual respect, mutual help, and good communication.