Dear Dr. Respler,
I am writing to you about a crisis I am currently encountering. I feel ashamed that I am so unhappy when I should be joyful. My wonderful wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy two months ago. He is Baruch Hashem healthy. So why am I writing?
Because I am miserable.
Ever since my wife gave birth, life has been so difficult. I am learning and my wife is teaching, in addition to working from the house. She works so hard. She nurses the baby, works, keeps the house immaculately clean, cooks gourmet meals – but she is falling apart.
I feel terrible for her and I tell her to relax, but she is a perfectionist. The baby and her schedule drain her completely. I beg to do the night feedings, but she insists on nursing the baby as she already skips a nursing feeding during the day because of work. I would like her to stop working, but we need the money. I have offered to go to work part-time, but she insists on keeping to our agreement that I learn for two years full-time. Our parents are not able to help us financially, so we are living off her salary and our wedding money.
Our personal life is suffering – she always seems too exhausted to spend time with me. I am literally jealous of the baby! I did go to college at night before we were married and have an accounting degree. I could make more money than my wife if I worked. I would be willing to work full-time, and learn at night, so that she could stop working so hard, but I am afraid to even suggest this to her.
I love my wife very much and am afraid that she will become ill if she continues this life-style. My wife refuses to get any cleaning help, and it appears to me that she is existing, not truly living. My guilt is so overwhelming that I cannot even learn properly. She is a very strong-willed person and it is hard to change her mind. I am so depressed about our situation. I hope you can help.
Dear Desperate Husband,
I am impressed at your sensitivity to your wife and your love for her. You seem to have the middos of a true ben Torah. Your wife is attempting to do all the right things and support her husband while he learns Torah. Many couples have some parental financial support in attaining this goal. As that does not seem to be an option for you, I would suggest that you speak with your rav to discuss this matter. Without knowing more about your situation, it would be unprofessional for me to suggest you leave learning.
However, I would like to explore how you can communicate your concern and love for your wife more effectively. It appears that even though you have tried to convince your wife that you are willing to work, and that you want her to stay at home with the baby, you have not been successful. It may mean that you have not adequately communicated your inability to learn well under the present conditions, and your wife will need to reassess her priorities – in other words, strive for less perfectionism. The choices in this situation have to be clarified: 1. You may have to become the sole provider for the family and 2. She may have to learn how to accept outside help, cook more simple meals, accept your help with night feedings etc.
I do not know your wife so that the following point is pure conjecture. For some women accepting a lower level of housekeeping may be perceived as failing and in essence may cause the women feelings of anxiety. There are also women who want to continue to work and fulfill a multiplicity of household roles since they aspire to be in a controlling situation in the marriage. These situations are most effectively dealt with in counseling.
There is another problem which appears in your question. You seem to be feeling emotionally neglected. Under normal circumstances it is not unusual for a husband to feel jealous at times of the newborn infant who is controlling his wife’s time. Prior to the birth of the first child, the husband is the focus of the wife’s life. Suddenly this tiny baby becomes the object of her love and affection. This jealous feeling may be contributing to your personal depression.
It is very common for a new baby to take up all of a mother’s attention, and balancing the new role of being a mother and a wife is difficult, especially for working mothers. Even if your wife is adamant that she wants things to continue in this way, you must sit her down and tell her how much you love her and how hard it is for you to see her running herself ragged. It would be a good idea to lay out the different choices and tell your wife you’d like to discuss which one will work best for your family as the current situation is not.
It’s also imperative that you and your wife make some time for each other. Make an effort to go on dates, even if it’s a “stay in” date if you can’t find a babysitter. You can always put the baby down to sleep and order in some food and spend time together. Dating each other is so important, even if it means that you are just setting aside some time together in the house. Hatzlocha!