Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Case of the Embittered New Mom

As always happens, the best part of an Ask Polly column in New York Magazine is the letter itself. There it is, raw emotion, usually from a woman, looking for empathy from Polly. As a rule Polly ladles it out, to no real effect, clarifying nothing at all.

In the current case Polly has something to say about the wonders of egalitarian marriage. Since she is responding to a woman whose egalitarian marriage is causing her severe distress, the remarks are especially worthless… even by Polly’s standards. And then Polly continues that this couple should talk it out, because, don’t you know, in the therapy culture everything can be solved by talking things out. It is a lie. It is absurd. It misses the point entirely.

One notes in passing, that there is no such thing as a marriage where one parent is not the primary parent.

The letter writer seems to portray herself as an embittered zealot. She calls her self an "ingrate," so I am not exaggerating. Somewhere or other she got the idea that both partners in a marriage should have good high-paying jobs but should also contribute equally to home care and child care. As it happens, such is the case in her marriage, and yet, she is miserable. She resents her husband, who does a great deal, for not doing enough and for not taking enough initiatives.

She sounds like a chronic complainer who will be miserable no matter what. I see her letter as a portrait of a marriage that is in serious trouble. The letter writer seems to understand this, because she sees that her expectations are out of whack with reality. And yet, she does not modify her expectations. She wants to modify reality. Which makes her a zealot, even a fanatic.

For your edification, here is the letter, by a woman who correctly calls herself  “Ingrate New Mom”… at least, she got that part right:

Why do new mothers hate their husbands? I am the working mother of a 15-month-old. I love being a mother, and I never thought I could love anything as much as I love my son. I find my work interesting and fulfilling. I also have a delightful rascal of a dog. The foundation for all these wonderful things is my husband: I’m married to the love of my life (let’s call him Jim). The problem is that right now Jim drives me absolutely fucking batshit CRAZY….

Note that she has cleverly shifted the blame to her husband… as though nothing else could be driving her crazy. And not also that she believes that she is one of the crowd, that all new mothers hate their husbands. Perhaps she has been venting to her girlfriends, all of whom hate their husbands.

She continues:

We both have well-paying jobs at great companies. Jim works hard, enthusiastically cooks dinner, gives the baby a bath (if he’s home in time to do so), and on weekends will do whatever I tell him to. Jim also was happy to take his full paternity leave (did I mention we work for great companies?) where he went above and beyond as the full-time parent for three months (after I went back to work), even making organic baby food from scratch. See? I have a wonderful, willing partner in parenthood. So why does he drive me so crazy?

Just for the record, I would make two points. Given Jim’s willingness to take time off from work to do baby care and household chores, we should also ask what this is doing to Jim’s career. Is his househusband routine causing him to miss out on promotions or bonuses? Is he doing what he has to do to shut her up? Does he resent her imperious ideologically-driven parenting for causing him to be less successful and less important at work?

We do not know. And yet, if they are both working and are both earning good money, why don't they have any help around the house, a housekeeper or a Nanny or an au pair? Huh?

She makes it appear that she wants her husband to be an active participant in the household chores because she learned about it in Women’s Studies. Or that she wants to punish him for his male privilege. It's an effective way to wreck a marriage. If she thinks that things are tough when her husband does not love his housework and childcare, just wait until she tries doing it alone.

If you want a psycho interpretation, we might imagine that the root cause of her distress is that she disrespects her husband for being a househusband. Perhaps this  makes him less of a provider than he might be. If he is less of a provider, this means that she has to work. And it might also mean that they cannot afford the household help that I would prescribe. 

And, she mentions later in the letter, her own mother stayed at home with the children while her father supported the family. It might be that she resents him for being less of a man than her father. Does that float your boat?

As for her complaints, here they are:

My issue is that I have to ask for help with OUR child and OUR house. It irritates me that child care and housework fall to me by default. So I get home from work at 5 p.m. and have a brilliant, boring, joyful, exhausting couple hours with our son. I’ve always been the guardian of baby bedtime (probably going back to breastfeeding). I then run downstairs, feed the dog, and scurry around with laundry and general tidying-up. Jim cooks dinner, but then I do the dishes, a task that usually makes me resent the dinner in the first place (ever clean up after homemade pasta?). Then Jim would love to play a board game together or do something else interactive, but I’m either busy with work, or too tired (which makes me feel guilty and resentful of Jim). I’m also tired of doing all that invisible work no one cares about (paying bills, remembering birthdays, doing our taxes, organizing doctors appointments, getting the car serviced, researching preschools, etc.).

Effectively, she wants her husband to serve her, and to have a better developed maternal instinct. Since men are not women and do not have a maternal instinct, they do not intuitively know what needs to be done for a baby or even a cranky wife:

It makes me feel selfish AND guilty, but I would love an evening where Jim does bath- AND bedtime. I’d love to come downstairs on a Saturday morning and be the one to plop on the couch with my coffee (instead of keeping the 15-month-old from killing himself). I’d love for Jim to worry about milestones or whether the baby needs a hat or not. I guess I’m tired of always asking and feeling like I’m managing an enthusiastic employee who fails to take initiative.

The solution is staring her in the face. Stop trying to manage him. Hire someone else to care for the baby, or else, cut back on your time at work and let him work longer hours. Sometimes work/life balance is not all it's knocked up to be.


Anonymous said...

Mugged by feminism. If we are not careful we fall for the unreality of feminism. Years ago I started paying attention to certain parts of feminism I started trying to help with some of the things that needed to be done because we were both working. It was the worse two weeks I ever spent. I could do no right. It took me that long to realize that my wife did not want or need my help. What she wanted was for me to recognize her contributions to the family and respect those contributions.
Whether women recognize it or not there are things the consider within their purview and GOD help the person who gets it their way. You can see this in how women deal with other women. Needless to say I learned my lesson. The culture continually militates agains't women's contributions to the family to the point that most of it has been made easy to accomplish with modern conveniences. One cannot take away a person's considered contributions without creating a cognizant dissonance.
Clue here is that don't forget being a male and intrude where you are not wanted. Be that strong male because chances are that the woman of your dreams had a strong father image despite the feminist claptrap that passes for wisdom. Also checkout her mother if you want to know what expectations are going to be.

Linda Fox said...

You're missing the REAL point of this woman's ranting.

She is NOT happy with working at this point - she wants to stay home.

So, she is magnifying her problems, and evading finding solutions, all so she can quit (her real objective), yet, by blaming her husband, avoid feeling like a traditional wife and mother. And, a failure as a 'modern' woman.

Hiring help would 'solve' the problem that she is complaining about, but not the real problem - she is manufacturing 'reasons' that will give her an excuse to quit.

Christopher B said...

Both anonymous and Linda make good points. There's also a couple of tell-tale sentences in here that hint at another problem that I find very common among women.

"he went above and beyond as the full-time parent for three months (after I went back to work), even making organic baby food from scratch"

"I’ve always been the guardian of baby bedtime (probably going back to breastfeeding)."

From what I've seen many women have an extremely difficult time giving up (as anon puts it) the 'things they consider in their purview'. The fact that her husband did, by her own admission, an exemplary job of housekeeping and parenting is probably no small part of her anxiety. The having-it-all myth is bound up in being a stand-out in all three roles, and the plain fact that a mere man (even if it is her darling husband) can accomplish the same tasks with a degree of aplomb is sure to make her feel her performance is substandard.

Bizzy Brain said...

Actually, what this femsee needs is an alpha male. Jim should shave his head, get some tattoos, and have her bring him beers while he watches sports on TV.

whitney said...

Jim is making homemade pasta. He sounds highly annoying

Dan Patterson said...

Soy bois fail.
Testosterone provides the energy for survival and ability to thrive, not changing diapers and puttering about making cooing noises. Ignoring biology, either estrogen or testosterone fueled, will result in a fatal fire.
When women can partly tame the snakes in their heads, they have a chance at a happy life. If men do not embrace the need to build and break things they will death-spiral into a life of semi-adult/semi-juvenile nonsense. Or pasta making. Same thing.

Anonymous said...

Jim’s not a husband, he’s a butler.

She thinks she’s overworked now, wait till Jim tires of this and goes in search of somebody who wants a husband rather than an unpaid butler.