Wednesday 22 November 2017

This Life: How can I get my wife to be less over-protective of our sons?

Question: My wife is overly protective of our sons -- how can I get her to ease off? Also, we haven't had a night to ourselves in five years.

My wife doesn't trust anyone else with our children. They are now three and five and she will never spend a night away from them.

In the beginning I didn't mind, I understood that a mother didn't want to be parted from her sons. Then when my parents offered to babysit she declined.

She tells me she worries they wouldn't be able to cope, as my father sometimes drinks too much. Her own mother has never offered to help out and her father left them years ago.

She is an absolutely wonderful mother but in five years we haven't had a night to ourselves and I think our own relationship is suffering.

She accuses me of not caring enough although she never leaves me babysit them alone for long.

In the last year I have given up asking if she wants to go out to dinner and have started meeting up with old friends again which annoys her too.

Among our circle is a recently separated friend who's an interesting woman and always a good laugh. One night recently we ended up going for dinner after meeting the group for a drink. I don't know why but I told my wife we all stayed in the pub.

This woman told me she enjoys the friendship and the conversations we have but that's all there is to it. I feel I can't mention her to my wife because she will be suspicious for no reason.

Orla Barry replies:

You begin by complaining about the overprotective nature of your wife but end the email by alluding to what the problem might really be.

You have become frustrated in your marriage. There could be a catalogue of causes from obsessive mothering to lack of a social life but the problem, if untackled, could see the relationship heading down a route that becomes impossible to come back from.

The friendship with this woman should be nothing to hide. If you are concealing it, maybe your wife does have reason to worry.

Every woman tackles motherhood differently. Some return to work a little weepy but quietly glad to embrace adult conversation and basic work routines again. For others it's a heart-crushing wrench that stays with them long after, and for others full-time parenting is the only choice that makes sense.

Your wife's upbringing could well be responsible for her desire to spend all her time with her children, not wanting to repeat the mistakes of the parents etc. Her mother's reluctance to help out now could be indicative of her parenting skills or fear of rejection from her daughter.

Parenting can be an overwhelming experience and no-one has the answer about the perfect way to raise a child.

Your wife has declined your parents' babysitting offers but how have you intervened?

It is important that grandparents get to spend time alone with their grandchildren if possible and build a unique relationship with them. Is your wife right when she worries that they may not be able to cope? This is an issue that deserves revisiting.

Just because the grandparents have been rejected for babysitting duties doesn't mean that other family members or professional babysitters couldn't step in. The situation has been allowed to develop for so long that it will be hard for your wife to release her grasp, but certainly not impossible.

You say you haven't been allowed babysit on your own for too long but what sort of effort have you made to do so? At this stage it seems your wife will have to be convinced that the children are just as happy and safe with anyone else as with her.

Think about what your wife would really like to do by herself or with her friends that doesn't involve the children. Then organise a treat for her. She may well be anxious the first few times but after a while she should come to realise her worry is misplaced.

There is another issue here though too and that's the health of your own relationship. Your wife may well feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of the children and not realise that your own marriage is suffering. If she doesn't start allowing others step in, so you can spend time alone together, things will only deteriorate.

It can be easy to forget the importance of dedicating time to your partner when the needs of two young children are so paramount. You need to address some of these issues head-on with your wife.

Tell her to what extent the relationship is suffering. Try and listen to her take on things because she may just be trying, as many mothers are, to be the perfect mum. However, be frank and let her know that the situation cannot continue.

Do some investigation into recommended childminders in the area and have them come visit you and your partner. If she is overprotective now, it will only worsen with the years.

I'm curious why you felt the need to mention your separated friend. If there is nothing to the relationship why the worry?

It's easy to go through periods of time, whether due to work or family commitments, that stimulating conversations can be few and far between. It's underestimated how big a part such communication plays in human attraction.

While you say there is nothing to the relationship, be clear your female friend thinks so too. If going for dinner causes tongues to wag or expectations to grow then put a stop to it until everyone is clear what this is.

There shouldn't be any reason why you can't go for dinner with a friend of the opposite sex but if you're lying about it you are already raising suspicions.

Your children have a wonderful mother who has dedicated herself 100pc to them, but they need additional relationships too. Building a relationship with their grandparents is hugely important. If your wife's relationship with her mother is not the best, it is sometimes through grandchildren that old wounds can heal.

It may be up to you to break the routine that is in place and see that everyone else starts playing a part in their upbringing. Don't allow this situation to fester for the sake of your happiness, your marriage and the well-being of your children.

Orla Barry is Social Affairs Correspondent with Newstalk 106-108FM and presents ‘The Green Room’ on Mondays from 10pm-12am

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