New Mother Has to Go Back to Work Too Soon

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I just had a baby two months ago. I’ve been off work under the Family Leave Act until now and would like to take the remaining 4 or 5 weeks. But, unfortunately, we really need my salary to make ends meet. The prospect of leaving my baby (my husband needs to work full-time too) is making me miserable. I’m feeling like a terrible mother and I have no idea what I can do to feel better about this situation.

A: You may find this hard to believe (I certainly did), but the United States is one of only a handful of countries in the world without a paid family leave policy. Combine that with a tough economy and the social pressure many new moms feel to go back to work, and it’s no wonder that the average maternity leave is only 10 weeks. It’s even harder to believe (but true), that about 16 percent of new mothers taken between one and four weeks of leave, and a third don’t take leave at all, rushing back to work as soon as they’re physically able. That’s according to the latest data from HRSA (the Health Resources and Services Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

I’m sure some of those new moms are happy to be working again, but I’m betting that a lot more are, like you, miserable, beating themselves up for being bad mothers, and wishing they could quit their job. You’re not in an easy spot, but here are a few ideas that should help:

Talk—and listen. A lot of couples in your situation tiptoe around the elephant in the room: money (or the lack of it). You and your husband have to buck that trend and start talking about finding a reasonable (and fiscally responsible) way of making sure that everyone’s needs are met, or that they’re at least taken into consideration. That means listening to each other carefully and respectfully and acknowledging the pressures that each of you face.

Get your childcare situation in order. Fear that the baby won’t be adequately cared for is what many new mothers—and fathers—find most unsettling about going back to work. Since you need your husband’s income as well as your own, make finding a trusted childcare provider a top priority.

Relieve some of the pressure. Most couples, regardless of how enlightened and egalitarian they want to be, end up slipping into “traditional” roles after becoming parents. And because women put so much pressure on themselves to be good mothers, you may try to do more around the house than you can handle. Don’t. If your husband can’t take on any more, you can either hire someone to help out (which, given your financial issues, doesn’t sound very realistic) or learn to relax your standards. Does the house really need to be immaculate? Also, be sure to schedule some couple time or “me” time. A few hours alone with your husband—even if it’s just renting a video and snuggling up on the couch—will really help.

Spend more time with the baby. Since you and your husband will be working, you’re both going to miss your baby and you’re both going to want to spend time with him from the moment you walk in the door. Negotiate first dibs with your husband—especially if you’re still nursing: your breasts may be ready to explode by the time you get home and you’ll need the baby to do what babies do

My Husband Treats Our Son and Daughter Differently

My husband loves to wrestle with our twins, but he treats them so differently when they play rough. He’s very gentle with our daughter and much more physical with our son. I guess I’m wondering about two things: Is there any reason to be more gentle with girls than boys, and is there any chance that a lot of wrestling could make our son violent?

With all the talk about youth violence these days, parents are constantly on the lookout for anything that might be responsible for the problem. One common theory is the one you raise, that physical play and roughhousing-which is something dads spend a lot of time doing-teaches kids to be violent. The evidence, however, supports the exact opposite conclusion:
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Getting Back in Touch with Your Husband

I’m a stay-at-home mom and ever since our baby was born, it seems like my husband and I are growing apart from each other. We hardly even talk anymore. We used to be great at communication, talking to each other about our days, discussing our child and what she is learning. We used to do things as a couple. But now I’m afraid our relationship isn’t as strong as it used to be. What happened?

When you first get married, spending time and doing things with your husband is a great pleasure. The two of you are developing ever-tighter bonds as you share and explore new experiences together.

But after a couple of kids come along it’s easy to lose track of what brought the two of you together in the first place. All of your focus is on the children and there’s often not a lot of time left for each other. If you’re like most parents of young children, it may take you a few minutes (and a few guesses) to remember the last time you and your husband went out to dinner and a movie alone.
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My Husband Feels Rejected by Our Child

My husband and I have a 4-year old son and a 22-month-old daughter. I am a stay-at-home mom, but my husband is a very involved father. The problem is that both kids have been in a long stretch of “Mommy do it.” It’s terrible to see how my husband’s face falls as night after night the kids scream “mommy, mommy” as he tries to put them to bed or read them a story. Is there anything I can do to help the kids get past this stage?

The dynamic you’re describing is very, very common–and very, very painful to the non-preferred parent. In this kind of situation, your husband may be tempted to back off as a way of avoiding the hurt. Don’t let him.
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Balancing Being a Step Mom and a New Mom

I’m a new mom—and the step-mother of a 6-year old from my husband’s previous marriage. I try to pay as much attention to my step-daughter as I can, but the minute I turn to my newborn son, she runs off in a fit.  I don’t want to hurt my step-daughter’s feelings, but I want to feel free to enjoy my baby as well. What can I do?

Dealing with a stepchild’s jealousy may seem like it should be the same as dealing with any jealous older sibling, but there are other issues–particularly if the child doesn’t live in your house all the time. In cases like that, the stepchild may feel very upset that the new baby gets to be with you and daddy all the time while she can see her dad only part of the time. She may also be worried that her dad won’t love her as much as the new baby. After all, people are always fussing and cooing over infants and tend to ignore bigger kids.
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I Want a Baby but My Husband Doesn’t

I am 32 and have the worst case of “I-want-a-baby-syndrome.” The problem is that my husband is nowhere near ready. I cry sometimes when I visit my friends with children and I have to leave. Please help so I don’t drive my husband looney, pestering him and trying to convince him to have a child now!

The place to start is to gently figure out why your husband isn’t ready. He may be feeling insecure about his job, about your relationship, about money issues (being able to support the family if you’re off work), the political situation, the economy, the environment, or something else. Once you get an idea of the cause, you can help him overcome his fears by offering solutions that ease his concerns-but do it in a supportive way. Putting pressure on him or giving ultimatums is the wrong way to go.