I have spent many hours complaining to my shrink about Jake’s opinionated nature: He wants Alice to go to private school; he thinks it’s too soon for us to go on vacation without her; he insists Maurice Sendak’s book Mommy? is too scary for her. “I want to get my own way,” I said in one session, “but he won’t even discuss these things. When two married people disagree, who wins?”
“The one who feels more strongly,” he said.
“But that’s him every time!” I cried.
I am not knocking paternal involvement. I am always aghast when, at the playground, a mother jokes about a husband who put the diaper on backward or exploded baby food in the microwave—so foreign is the idea of a clueless dad.
And yet there have been times when I believed I knew what Alice needed but deferred to him anyway, and I regret it. When she was 9 months old and began waking up at night, he would persuade me to nurse her even though my instinct was not to, so she’d learn to sleep through. In the end, she outgrew the habit, but it would have happened faster if we’d done it my way.
So I find myself baiting him, just to show I have my own will. I know he despises Alice’s dingy white Old Navy corduroys, but instead of throwing them out I dress her in them repeatedly, only to have him frown, remove her from my arms, and return her to her room for a change. Would it be better to toss the pants? Of course. Do I even like the pants? Not really. But that’s not the point.
On other occasions I vow to do things so perfectly that he won’t be able to correct me. On a fall trip to visit friends in Amagansett, I triple-checked the suitcase to make sure I had remembered everything: bath toys, baby towel, blankie, Pack ’n Play, booster, diapers, crib sheet, baby utensils, baby wet suit. We made good time and arrived before our hosts, who had said we should make ourselves at home. There was an outdoor pool.
“I want to take Alice in,” Jake said. “Can you get a swim diaper?” I looked up at him with a terrified face. “You forgot swim diapers,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, “but she already pooped today, so she can go in without one.”
“I don’t want to risk it. It’s not our pool.”
I hunted for a swim diaper in the house but couldn’t find one. Seeing the chagrined look on my face, he added, “It’s okay! It’s not a big deal. Don’t worry about it.”
But it didn’t feel okay. It felt catastrophic. In my battle to show my proficiency, I lose again and again, strengthening his belief that he can parent better.
As many parents have told me, most of these issues will be moot once Alice is old enough to assert her own will and a third party comes into the picture. Until then, I may have to defer to the more opinionated parent, Jake, as much as it kills me. Even if most of the child-rearing decisions are meaningless, they matter to him. So I consult him, give in, and then resent him, when many mothers would kill for a husband so invested in his child’s life.
It’s not easy to feel confident as a mother when you’re married to a momblocker. So I make sure to spend ample time alone with Alice and do things my way, like buy her Tasti D-Lite or let her stomp in puddles. Right now, when she’s not yet 2, these are our secrets. But pretty soon I’ll have to reckon with the only entity more daunting than a controlling dad: a tattletale.