Dear Virginia, Six months ago, my wife had our second baby -- we already have a son aged two.
I adore them both and love my wife, yet feel so trapped. My wife is a brilliant mother but although I try to do my bit with the children, she doesn't seem to need me or show much interest in me or my job which is, at the moment, fairly precarious. I feel redundant at home and will possibly be redundant at work soon. My life feels empty and I feel, at 34, the best is already over. What can I do? Tom
What Virginia says:
A WHILE ago, a friend of mine tried to help someone who'd just got out of hospital after an operation. She took her meals, rang every day, watered her garden, mowed her lawn, spirited the cat away to look after in her own home and so on.
She was astonished when, after 10 days, her friend exploded with rage, accusing her of trying to take over her life. It was simply a chronic misunderstanding. The friend thought she was being helpful. The convalescent thought she was being intrusive.
I imagine that something like this is going on with your wife -- but in reverse. She realises that you're finding your job incredibly stressful and is at great pains to make sure that at least you don't have any domestic worries. All she wants is, when you come home, for you to relax and not be fraught with nappy-changing, bottom-wiping, screaming kids, and spooning bits of mush into tiny mouths. She tries hard to juggle everything -- the house and two children -- because she thinks that's what you want. And you are interpreting her very unselfishness as rejection. Quite understandable; just wrong.
So what you must do is make your feelings absolutely clear to her. She can't read your mind. Any more, to be honest, than you, or I, can read hers.
I may have outlined the correct scenario. I may not have. Because on the other hand, your wife may be a complete control freak and to have interference from you in what she sees as her main role -- looking after the children -- could completely undermine her.
It could be that if she were to depend in any way on you, she'd feel less of a person at a time when she's really vulnerable. Some people find help helpful. Some people (like the convalescent) can find it overwhelming and disempowering.
And it could be that she, too, is not only feeling exhausted and emotionally confused after the birth, but also threatened by the prospect of your being out of work, and that she's trying to preserve some sanity by trying, at least, to be in complete control of the part of her life that she sees as her domain.
There's nothing for it but to indulge in the age-old remedy -- talk. If you find it difficult, try to do it in front of someone else -- it's sometimes easier. But I'm sure if you could agree on some aspects of home life that would be your responsibility, she'd feel less threatened by your eagerness to help, and you'd feel more of an active and, indeed, an essential part of, the family.
The readers Say:
Get over yourself
I, too, work many hours and my job has been at risk. Sometimes I also feel my partner doesn't show interest in it -- but, to be brutally honest, I think you need to get over yourself. I assume, by what you said, that she stays at home to look after the children while you work?
While I don't doubt that you often feel redundant at home, you need to understand how your wife may be feeling. She never gets to escape from looking after the children while you get to leave to go to work. Perhaps, like you, she also feels trapped.
While it is important for her to show you some attention, too, it is more important for you to come home from work, take over looking after the children and allow her some time and space to relax. Don't think of yourself, think only of your wife and children.
Pete, by email
Far from life being "already over" the best chapter is about to begin -- but only if you seize the opportunity to get stuck in and explore and nurture the lives you have created.
Are you waiting for your wife's permission? Doing "your bit" sounds rather hands-off. From my experience of raising three children they have an insatiable appetite for attention and education -- in the broadest sense of that word -- physically, intellectually and more importantly, emotionally.
There is a danger they already sense your remoteness, the inevitable consequence of self-pity.
Wake up! Jobs come and go, but families can last forever. You're blessed with the opportunity to forge life-long, mutually enriching relationships.
Why not log onto the internet -- there are loads of dedicated parenting websites -- read books on fathering and, vitally, communicate your desire to get involved to your wife.
Stop being so selfish
Your wife doesn't need a third child to look after -- she needs all the help and support you can give her.
Grow up and stop being so selfish. This is your time to prove what a fantastic husband you are.
Bring her breakfast in bed. Tell her she's wonderful. Make her feel that the children are not hers alone. Conception isn't the end of your responsibility! Children of that age are usually in bed very early, so be attentive and loving in the evenings when she'll be tired and appreciate a shoulder to lean on and a good man to cuddle up to. This can be your special time together when they're out of the way.
Once they're at school most of the day you can go back to being needy again.