Question

I am married to a wonderful husband. We were married for ten years before we had children and it was wonderful. He really is my favorite person and a good man. The problem is, he is not a very good parenting partner. We have five small children, and I am a stay-at-home mom. I always dreamed of this and I would not change it for anything in the world! But parenting so many small children, especially during a pandemic with no outside help, is mentally and physically exhausting. My husband is the only one I can turn to for relief and he resents it. He told me that because I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, it should be my job to take care of the kids. He has little to no patience with them and just yells at them.

I do not like asking for his help because I know he will pout and more importantly, I know he will yell at them while I’m gone. I do not fear that he would ever physically hurt them, but he is not kind to them either. No single parent can be expected to survive, with absolutely no outside help, in this current climate, and with a newborn, a toddler and three school age children. It is just too much! I need relief and to have some time to take a break from my “job”. He works full time and has that outside release, and even when he is not working, the responsibilities with the children still mostly fall to me.

How can I help my husband see that this is too much for one person? How can I help him to look at things through my eyes? How can I help him to shoulder more of the responsibility with our children, without treating it as if he is doing me a favor? I am exhausted and out of hope. Please help!

Answer

You have made an important step in acknowledging your limits and reaching out for help. You probably have minimized the imbalance of your parenting situation for way too long and it’s time to balance it out. Your courage in seeking help will also be a blessing to your children and husband. Your children are being deprived of critical developmental and relational experiences with their dad. Not only do you need a co-parent, but your children also need a father. And, your husband has no idea how much he’s missing by avoiding the blessings of active fatherhood. Let’s talk about how you can carry forward the momentum you’ve initiated.

It’s encouraging to hear that you describe your husband as your favorite person and a good man. If this is really true, then I invite you to expect him to take your pain seriously. Even though you’ve asked him for relief, nothing is going to change unless you both see this arrangement differently.

Please recognize that your husband isn’t helping you by caring for the children. These five children are his children and his responsibility. You aren’t more responsible for them even though you spend your daytime hours with them while he works for money outside the home. Even though he’s away from the home for much of the day, his responsibility as a father doesn’t ever end. If you feel guilty or hesitant requiring him to be a parent his own children, then this is a good place for you to start. While you can’t make him do anything, you can certainly think and act in ways that send the clear and consistent signal that you refuse to pretend you’re the only parent of these children.

I recognize that you may already believe these things, but you’ve allowed yourself to over-function by not requiring him to own the role he created for himself when he participated in bringing children into this world. His pouting and yelling have been enough to mobilize you into action so he doesn’t have to do more than focus on his own needs. The painful reality is that he’s the only one who decided that this is your job. Thankfully, you can act in different ways that send a clear message that this isn’t your sole responsibility. 

Before you approach him, I encourage you to start by looking at the different ways you’re already enabling this unhealthy pattern. Notice where you don’t speak up, do things for him, over-function in shared responsibilities, make excuses for him, overprotect the children, apologize for his negligence, gush over him when he does the smallest parenting “favor”, and so on. Before you even say one word to him, I invite you to notice these patterns and start making slight adjustments that shift the pattern. These small adjustments may feel huge to you and will likely get his attention. However, this is the start of hundreds, if not thousands, of important invitations for him to step into his role as the father of these children. This will be more of an exercise in NOT doing certain things instead of begging him to do more things for his own children.

For example, when he gets home from work, you let him know that you’re going out for a walk to get some alone time. Even if you decide to bundle up one or two of your children and leave him with a few kids, you’re not enabling the belief that you’ll do everything. He can spend time with his children without you there. If you’re worried about him hurting the children while you’re away, then there are more serious problems to immediately address.

You mentioned that he yells at the kids. Even though we all lose our cool at times and raise our voices, a persistent pattern of yelling at our family members is abuse. The October 2020 Ensign featured an excellent article on preventing abuse in our homes that I invite you to read.[i] Please don’t minimize the yelling just because he doesn’t hit the children. Emotional abuse is still abuse and causes significant damage. In fact, many of my adult clients have suffered more from the chronic emotional abuse in their childhood homes than occasional physical abuse. Of course, every situation is unique, but my point is that it’s dangerous to minimize emotionally abusive behaviors.

If you believe his behavior is crossing the line into emotional abuse, then you have to be an advocate for the children and make it clear that this will not be tolerated. You have to decide that this is a pattern you won’t ignore or minimize. Please don’t go silent and compensate by working harder to protect your children in other ways. The most protective thing you can do for them is keep them from experiencing the emotional abuse, even if that means physically removing them from the environment until things improve. While I hope it never escalates to this point for you, I share all of this with you because so many well-meaning parents minimize the harmful patterns that cause damage to themselves and their children.

Perhaps you can ask him why he chose to be a father. See if you can learn more about what this role means to him. You don’t have to accept his version of family life without advocating for your own preferences. If only one person is getting their way in the relationship, then either you’re not speaking up or he’s being a bully. If you need help with this, then hire a coach or therapist to help you find your voice so you can communicate clearly. If he’s truly a good man and loves you, then take him up on his goodness and make a stronger stand to advocate for you and the children.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

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[i] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2020/10/preventing-abuse?lang=eng