August 11, 2013 in Features

Carolyn Hax: Parents clash over kids, turf

Washington Post
 

Dear Carolyn: When we had kids, I stayed home with them while my husband worked, sometimes with long hours and lots of traveling. I got used to having the kids on my own, and taking them to the zoo, museums, hiking trails, etc.

Now that they’re older and I’m working during the school year, it’s been harder to go on our getaways. My husband is currently furloughed, so he isn’t traveling and has to take Fridays off.

Today, I saw a perfect day and took the kids hiking. My husband got very upset. He feels I took them to a prime family place and he can’t understand why I couldn’t wait until Friday, or at least ask him to come along today. I’ve been to this place many times before, so I guess I never considered it special. And the weather was perfect, which it might not be on Friday.

But he told me he expects me to at least invite him when something like this happens again. I grew up on a farm where our family vacations were “We don’t have anything we can do today so let’s jump in the car and go someplace and be back in time to milk the cows,” and I love spontaneous adventure, but he’s a planner and has a problem with spur-of-the-moment ideas.

I have a feeling he’s just going to make me feel guilty for not waiting until the long weekend. I don’t have a problem coming up with something we can do then, but I’m seeing his request as his having to “OK” everything I do with the kids before I get to do it, and it’s leaving a weird taste in my mouth. Am I overreacting? – Referee Needed

Possibly overreacting, definitely under-communicating – and, I suspect, overprotecting your turf.

Maybe you know him well enough to jump to the conclusions you did, but from my perspective, you’ve taken his one questionable reaction and run with it – all the way to a cultural clash flecked with implications that he’s controlling. Touchdown?

A once-powerfully-employed, now-furloughed breadwinner is going to feel significant stress over his new position. I don’t think you can judge him or his reactions fairly without lodging that firmly in mind.

You also sound as if you need to reacquaint yourselves with each other; you’re judging him on one incident and a lot of speculation. Why not be direct? “I’ll plan something good for us Friday.” Then see how Friday goes.

Most important, there’s nothing to be gained by assuming the worst and internalizing it as dread. This is your husband! Talk to him: “I’m happy to plan some for your days off, but I don’t think it’s fair to the kids to limit outings to your days off. Remember, we’ve done outings like this for years. But I’m excited you can join us for some.”

Finally, quit being defensive, and start being generous: “I think we both might need a little time to adjust to recent changes. Of course I’ll call next time, and I’m sorry I didn’t think to this time.” His request is simple on its face.

As is honoring it, if you think about how you’d feel if roles were reversed. Before, he had his important breadwinning role and you had the kids to yourself as parent-in-chief. After, he shares the breadwinning with you … and you not only still have the kids to yourself, but also growl when he tries to join in.

Everyone wants to feel valuable and valued. Approach this issue by respecting that need in him.

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