A few days ago, I was trying on some clothes in a fitting room when – just as I pulled the shirt over my head – a sudden wall-shaking bang just about made me fall over. I waited a moment and then, there it was, another wall-shaking bang. And then another. And another.
And then this: “Emily, mommy said to stop banging the doors. No, Emily. Stop it Emily. Stop banging the doors, Emily. No, stop it Emily. Mommy said to stop banging the doors, Emily.”
Of course, Emily continued to bang the doors, running up and down the aisle with toddler abandon, gleefully shrieking and slamming the door of each empty fitting room against the wall.
Finally, Emily’s father, who had been sitting dutifully in the man chair outside the ladies change room, piped up. His voice was deeper, more authoritative. He meant business. “Emily, get over here now!”
Oh, thank the gods, I thought. But alas, it was not to be.
“Don’t talk to her like that!” Emily’s mom chastised her husband. “She’s just playing!”
And then not another word from Emily’s dad, who I assume slunk back to his designated waiting chair while his wife angrily disappeared into a fitting room and his daughter continued to run up and down the aisle, slamming doors with the full knowledge that her dad couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
Various studies have shown that the relationship between spouses suffers once kids come into the picture. If the pregnancy was unplanned, the relationship suffers even more. There are many reasons for this, and the fault lies with both parents; however, in this article, I want to narrow the focus down to one reason. That is, when a wife becomes the “alpha parent.”
This is the wife who hovers over her husband when he changes the baby’s diaper or prepares a meal, just waiting for him to do something wrong – or rather, something different than she does – so that she can correct him, criticize him or just take over with an exasperated, “Oh, I’ll do it.”
This is the wife who complains that her husband doesn’t help with the kids but, when he does, says, “No! He gets his sippy cup after he gets his pyjamas on, not before!”
As a result of this Alpha mothering, the foundation of the marriage shifts from a romantic partnership where both spouses are working together to raise their little darling, to a parenting dictatorship where mom calls all the shots and dad learns it isn’t worth the fight to argue.
And when that “romantic friendship” foundation of a marriage gets shaky, all kinds of troubles are sure to follow.
I’ve had men tell me they feel tricked by their wife and that she just used him as a sperm donor. Or that they feel like just a paycheck. I’ve had men tell me they feel emasculated or controlled by their wife’s parental bossiness, or that they feel like an outsider in their own home. I’ve had men tell me they feel deeply saddened and disappointed by what has become a child-centered marriage, and that they feel themselves drifting away – emotionally and physically – from their marriage and family. The resentment and disconnection can at times be palpable.
At the same time, I’ve had wives – many of whom quickly admit to being an Alpha mom – tell me that they resent their husband’s pulling away or apathy toward the family unit. The communication and interactions in the marriage have deteriorated, and their husband seems “checked out.” They are fearful because their husband is showing them less affection and they are afraid he is on the brink of having an emotional or sexual affair.
So what to do? Well, stop being an Alpha mom! Let your husband have a say in how he parents his own children. Realize that your way isn’t the only way. Both parents need the freedom to parent their children in the way they see fit. Might you disagree about parenting, discipline or have legitimate concerns? Of course. That’s why partners discuss things, with respect and in private, away from the kids. Discuss. Not dictate.
Now, sometimes when I encourage women to do this, they say, “But I don’t trust him with the kids.” Well, that’s different. That’s an issue of competency and safety. And that’s not the kind of situation that I’m talking about here. Here, I’m assuming that you had children with a man who is willing and able to care for his own kids, and that those circumstances haven’t changed. And if that’s the case, then you might want to think about how often you actually let him do his job. After all, it’s you – and your kids – who stand to benefit the most.
And those benefits are profound. A husband who feels more loving toward you and his children, and who feels more invested in and committed to his family unit. A wife who has more free time, less stress and who can rely on her husband to share both the challenges and joys of parenting. A couple who maintains their identity as romantic partners, instead of merely co-parents.
But best of all, you’ll double your children’s parenting resources. Kids benefit from what each parent brings to the table in terms of experience, personality, comfort, discipline, wisdom, strengths, ideas and so on. Both you and your spouse have your own unique and essential qualities that can enhance the lives of your children.
There are things you will do better and worse, and things that your spouse will do better and worse. If you can work together to offer your kids the best of both of you, they will reap the benefits. And although this article was written with straight couples in mind, the same can be said for same-sex couples with kids. So instead of sidelining your spouse as a parent, make him part of the game. It’s a sure way to win at marriage and family life.