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Wife doesn't trust partner with baby care

HI, CAROLYN: My wife and I have a healthy and happy 11-month-old little guy. I gave birth to him and she is staying home with him. My problem is that it feels like she doesn't trust me with him. She constantly hovers and tells me what to do. It's frustrating because not only is this my child, too, and I have pretty good instincts about what he needs, but also because I was a nanny for many years and have a degree in developmental psychology. So, I definitely don't lack the credentials. Sometimes I just let her say her thing and leave it at that. But sometimes what she demands I do is very unreasonable — for example, not to bathe him when she's not there. I get angry then and tell her to please trust me. Then she gets upset because I don't do what she wants me to do. I think we're emotionally too involved. Can you give me a good line I can calmly say that is nice and appreciative, but firm?

Not Trusted

NOT TRUSTED: I don't think this is a good-line-to-fix-it-all problem. Unless she magically responds to: "I am his parent — not his deputy parent."

I also don't think you are both "emotionally too involved." You are responding to the fact that her fears are interfering with your bond with your baby! That's utterly valid, and your level of concern about this sounds exactly right. (Though expressing that through anger can't help, which I'll get to in a second.)

So please treat this as an emotional problem your wife has that is already serious, and has the potential to become more so if you don't treat it as such.

I suggest a two-pronged approach. First, put yourself in the position to care for the baby solo on a regular basis. Agree on a schedule that includes activities that take your wife out of the house solo at least once or twice a week — or, parental bliss, where you take the baby out for an activity and your wife has the home to herself. Both elements of this are key: You with baby alone, and on a regular basis. She will likely resist this but hold firm. You're no less this child's parent than she is.

Plus, parents need breaks. It'll be healthier for her to keep/re-establish the part of herself that isn't an extension of marriage or family.

Second prong, professional mental health care. If she won't get evaluated for anxiety and/or depression, then you go to a family therapist or parenting course and ask her to come with you. Your binary ignore-it-or-get-angry tactics introduce alienation while leaving the core problem intact. Anger especially means you're bottling up till you can't help reacting versus responding with care and purpose.

In fact, till you get help, please make this your mantra: "I am [Baby's] parent." Calmly, firmly, as you continue doing your parenting job.

RE: CALMLY: I suggest a whole range of nice, calm lines: "Thanks, I've got this." "I'll think about that next time." "I need to finish this up before I can talk about that." "We're fine. I've bathed babies." Your own confidence that you have the right to say and do these things is the key.

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