Don’t Make Your Spouse Feel Like an Outsider

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I don’t usually offer unsolicited parenting advice, because a lot of moms are sensitive to it. I am not sure what brought this to mind today, but as I found myself thinking about it, I decided to try to write those thoughts down – perhaps they may be of help to someone.

It’s natural when Mom is home with little kids that certain routines arise. It’s good to involve your child in your day, and they enjoy the togetherness as much as the “helping.” Maybe Little One always closes the dishwasher door for you after you’ve loaded the dishes, or always puts the canned goods in the pantry after coming home from the grocery store, or always cuddles with a drink and a blanket and book before nap time, or whatever. Then when Dad is home during the evenings or on weekends, he has no idea about such routines and can’t understand why Little One is crying while he’s putting the canned goods away or why shutting the dishwasher door caused a major meltdown.

If Mom scolds impatiently because Dad has done it “wrong,” Little One is going to pick up on the resentment, and Dad is going to feel like an outsider in his own family.

In the immediate moment, a gentle explanation is in order, and maybe Baby can be given a can to put away or the door can be opened so he/ she can shut it. I’m not for a little one calling the shots or ruling the roost, but I don’t think this is a case of “giving in” to his or her wants. I think this is not so much a case of selfishness or wilfulness as it is just disappointment. At some point Baby needs to learn not to melt down over every disappointment, but that is easier to deal with when you can talk and reason more later on. Perhaps early training can begin that way by saying, “It’s ok. As soon as you stop crying, you can put this can away,” etc.

In the bigger picture, Mom can welcome Dad into their routines. Perhaps Mom can talk about their routines in the ordinary course of life. “It’s so cute that she likes to help me put the cans away.” That way Dad is familiar with them. Or let him know ahead of time, while bringing the groceries in, that you usually let Baby put away the cans.

In addition, let Dad and Baby establish their own routines. Maybe Dad can do bath time or bed time, at least some times. Once when I walked by as my husband was helping one of our little guys with a bath, I heard him say, “It’s pancake time!” And I thought, “Pancake time? In the bath tub?” I backtracked and peeked in. What he was referring to was pouring the shampoo on the little one’s head like syrup on a pancake. My first thought was, “You know, it uses less shampoo if you pour a little bit in your hands and rub them together.” But I didn’t say it. I figured in the long run the amount of shampoo wasn’t that big a deal, and it was cute that that was a part of their ritual. And they never asked me for “pancake time” during baths, accepting that that was a dad thing. One of their other routines, when the boys were older, involved going to an indoor swimming pool on certain evenings (Tuesdays, I think) and getting donuts afterward. Not only was that a fun routine for them, it gave me a little bit of solitude, and they brought me a donut afterward. 🙂

Dads can help by understanding that a certain amount of this is going to be inevitable when Mom and the kids spend all day together and avoid getting feelings hurt over it. Participate, ask to help, let Mom know if you’re feeling left out.

Something else we have to watch out for is that we can get so wrapped up in our kids and their needs that we neglect our husband and his. That need weighs on us with our children because they’re so helpless, and we feel our husbands can take care of themselves. But that’s not how we felt when we married them! It can be difficult, especially with young babies, but this is another way in which it’s important to let dads in, to let him handle the baby’s care sometimes – both so you’re not overloaded, and so he can increase his time and interaction with the baby. He may not do everything just like you would, but that’s okay.

And, of course, this can involve other scenarios than little ones’ routines: a spouse can feel left out if one is on top of the family schedule and the other misses a memo, or if mom and the kids always get ice cream on Mondays after school (one of our routines the last several years of school), and dad didn’t know or forgot when he picked them up. As kids get older, they can be taught to be gracious, to respect others’ feelings, not to whine when something doesn’t go their way, to ask respectfully rather than throw a tantrum or sulk, etc. Not making someone feel left out of the loop becomes a family issue and not just a marital issue.

And, also, it’s not only dads who sometimes feel left out. Sometimes he is the one who is at home more, or who has fun routines with the kids, or who has regular activities with them that don’t include mom (hunting, sports, etc.).

The point is to remember that you’re a family unit. That doesn’t mean everyone has to do everything together all the time. We used to go camping as a family, but when I got transverse myelitis, that became more difficult for me. So sometimes my husband and sons went either by themselves or with a men-and-boys church activity. Once they were close enough that I drove over to eat the dinner that my husband prepared at the campsite, and we sat around the campfire and roasted marshmallows and made s’mores. Then before it got dark I drove to my climate-controlled home and comfortable bed while they enjoyed the rest of their camping experience. 🙂 And I still felt included because I heard all about the rest of the adventures when they got home. When my husband traveled a lot, we looked for ways to keep him from feeling out of the loop.

Keep the lines of communication open, keep each other informed, be gracious when a slip-up happens, find ways to include each other, share conversation and possibly photos about experiences even if the experiences themselves can’t be shared.

What ways have you found to help your spouse feel included in your day to day rituals and activities?

(Silhouettes courtesy of clipartfest.com)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire)

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9 thoughts on “Don’t Make Your Spouse Feel Like an Outsider

  1. Barbara, this is an excellent post with such wise advice! When our kids were little Daddy was the one who did bedtime stories with them…often helping with their baths…and we jointly put the kiddos to bed.

  2. This is something I’ve had difficulties with. There are certain tasks that I have Tirzah Mae do with me (like opening the box of macaroni and pouring it into the pot) that Daniel doesn’t know about. So when he’s making macaroni and she comes over and opens the box, he sees it as messing around in the kitchen and sends her away… and then she’s upset because she feels like she’s in trouble for doing what she and mama always do. I have to try to anticipate those sorts of things so I can smooth the way.

  3. Oh gulp, I am guilty of this and so appreciate this wonderful reminder.

    Thank you so very much for your warm and heartfelt comments.

    I wanted to let you know that I am nearing the end of my college experience and am currently doing a 7-week internship at a museum as a requirement for graduation. It is an interesting experience to be sure.

    I must admit that I am struggling to try and manage my time and make sure my family’s needs are met. Sadly, this leaves little time left for visiting my favorite people in the world and their fabulous blogs. I hope you’ll have patience with me. Thankfully, this time won’t last forever and I will soon, once again, be able to see all the wonderful things you are doing.

    May glorious weather and lovely flowers put a spring in your step,
    Laura

  4. This is very smart and sage advice. My husband works a ton, and I have to be so careful to cut him into the girls club with our two daughter and I so he doesn’t feel left out!
    Happy Monday!
    Megs

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