Dear Dr. Yael:
I am writing to you about my daughter and son-in-law. They have been married for three years and have one child. Currently, they are both in intensive graduate programs which require an incredible amount of studying. My daughter is very careful that her husband be an equal partner in raising their child. While on the face of it that sounds good, what actually happens is that they are like children keeping count of who changed how many diapers each day and who got up last night to be with the baby.
Everything they do for each other seems to come with a quid pro quo – “I did this for you, so you should do this for me.” Each one has his or her own agenda and doesn’t seem to happily give in to the other. In addition, they are always bickering.
I am not sure why their marriage is this way. Baruch Hashem, my husband and I have a wonderful marriage and my daughter never saw this type of behavior at home. Our son-in-law’s parents just recently divorced, so I am not sure what kind of marriage he saw growing up. He is the youngest and we thought his parents had a great marriage. It was quite shocking when they separated right after our children’s last sheva brachos.
As I said, my daughter did not see this behavior at home; however, she does have a competitive personality and is also the youngest. Maybe this explains it.
I would like for the two of them to see themselves as part of a couple, working together to build a family. What does it matter if she changes two more diapers than he does? I do think my daughter is afraid that she will end up with most of the childcare responsibility and because she is a feminist who believes that child rearing should be split 50/50, she makes more of things than they need to be. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I still think that raising the children is primarily the mother’s role and it is great when the father helps out. However, I do not want to meddle. Do you have any suggestions?
A Worried Mother
Dear Worried Mother:
Let me begin by saying that whatever you decide to do, you will have to tread lightly as it is not really your place to get involved.
It is difficult when two youngest children, who were adored and probably a bit spoiled, get married. Youngest children are used to assuming less responsibility around the house. In addition, based on what you have said about his parents, your son-in-law may not have been privileged to see a healthy marital relationship and this may be impacting the young couple as well.
Without having met your daughter or son-in-law, I can only speculate, but you may be right when you say that your daughter is so afraid of having most of the care giving responsibility on her shoulders that she is making a grave mistake in the way she deals with her husband.
I think you should speak with your daughter privately about what you have observed. But be very careful to only address what you think she can do differently – do not address your son-in-law’s behavior at all. Be gentle with your words so that she doesn’t become defensive. You can say something like: “I am sure you do not realize it, but it seems as if you are very focused on things being equal in what you do for the baby and I am afraid that in long run you are harming your relationship with your husband. When you love someone you want to do for him and you want him to be happy. And when you give to another person it makes it easier for him to give to you. I know that you and ____________ have a good marriage, but it can be even more special. I love you very much and want the two of you to be happy together.”