Dear Dr. Gail: We have a new baby, our first, and I find my husband is competing with me over the baby. He accuses me of “hogging” our daughter. I work nearby, so I am able to go home for lunch. When we go out, we fight about who gets to carry the baby. When she cries, he wants to hold her, which keeps her awake. I want to let her alone, so she will fall asleep. He also interferes with how I look after the baby. He doesn’t do diapers or any of the menial jobs like bathing or cleaning up.
He says he gets to spend very little quality time with the baby, but doesn’t realize I am a working mother and feel the same way. I feel that I am being robbed of motherhood. My husband is in a bad mood much of the time, so it is hard to communicate. How can I rein in my growing annoyance about this? — Mommy Nearest
Dear Mommy: You are new parents — so let me reassure you that you are not alone. Despite the many joys of parenthood, this is a stressful time. Studies show that many parents report a decrease in marital satisfaction after having a baby. Part of your problem is the adjustment to parenthood and your disagreements over parenting styles. This is not uncommon with new parents.
But I don’t think that’s your real problem. Both of you feel shortchanged, yet you are not communicating about this. It sounds like both of you have a need for control and are having trouble perceiving the other’s viewpoint, which makes both of you angry and moody.
Right now you have a small child and relatively small problems. It is important that you and your husband resolve this, because when you have a bigger child or another child, you will have bigger problems. When the exciting newness of parenthood passes and you no longer feel it necessary to be in the baby’s face at all times, you don’t want to be left with anger at each other.
You and your husband must talk frankly about your real concerns, which have nothing to do with who gets to carry the baby. For example, it sounds as though your husband feels cheated because you get to spend additional time with your daughter at lunch, while he does not. And you resent doing all the menial caretaking, while your husband does the fun stuff.
It’s unclear who has imposed the rule that your husband doesn’t do diapers. Do you do all the diapering because he refuses, because you fear he will do it wrong, or because that’s a time when he will “let” you be alone with the baby?
Obviously, some baby chores are more desirable than others. Few would maintain that diaper duty is the parenting chore they love the best. This is why I think you are resentful about the unequal division of labor. If your husband’s actual main concern was spending more time with the baby, he would be fine with changing diapers. Despite the mess and smell, such chores are part of parenthood, and count as time to care for and connect with the baby.
But for all you know, his view is: “You get to spend time bonding with the baby during lunch, so now I need my bonding time.” Meanwhile, your view is: “I am stuck with the gross diaper while you get to play peekaboo.” You need to tell each other what you are feeling rather than guessing.
You might also be feeling guilty about working full-time, which is driving your need for possessiveness. You might fear the baby will like your husband or your babysitter better than you. Your husband might be feeling neglected because your limited free time no longer goes to him.
Once you have identified the real source of your irritation, you can work to change it. Divide the labor when it comes to the drudge work as well as the fun stuff. Write it down if necessary. For instance, you will do diaper duty on alternate days, or you always change the diapers, but he gets up in the night when your daughter screams. Figure out whatever makes you feel the burden is shared fairly.
Explain to each other your points of disagreement — why he feels it is best to hold the baby when she cries, and why you feel it isn’t. Read parenting books and magazines for ideas. Be flexible.
There is no reason you cannot be with the baby together. One of you can hold the baby, while the other dangles a toy. One can carry the baby to the park while the other carries her home. Take turns. The idea is for both of you to discuss what you are really annoyed about so you can negotiate a satisfactory solution. You want the baby to grow up in a happy, loving home.
It is also important to make specific efforts to be nice to each other. This often gets neglected when everyone is so focused on providing for this helpless little creature. You forget bigger creatures need attention, too.
This is a highly emotional topic, but if you step back, you can more easily understand that there are many ways to be a good parent and that it takes time for new parents to adjust to their new roles.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Conflict involving a new baby is usually a sign of conflict over something else in the marriage.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts," which helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .