Dr. Gail Saltz
Q: My husband and I have two married children and four grandchildren. We all live near one another. Our grandchildren, who are all under 6 years of age, give me great joy, but my husband doesn't have the same feelings. He thinks we should baby-sit only in emergencies. This breaks my heart. We are about to retire, but my husband says he will not respect me if all I want to do is “play” with the grandkids. Their other grandparents dote on them, and I feel left out. My husband has put his foot down. I am angry and hurt. Can I do anything to resolve this?
A: I detect a massive failure of communication. What you can do is determine your husband’s real concerns, so you can address those without getting mired in an angry battle of wills. Your husband, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to understand the importance of having a close relationship with the grandchildren. Your job is to figure out why. He himself might not know why. So you need to read between the lines or encourage him to think about his reasons.
Maybe he fears that the children will become the focus of your attention, and there will be less for him. If this happened when he became a father, he might easily believe it will happen again. The impending retirement is a big step, too. If he has retirement plans, he might think your devotion to the grandchildren will interfere with them. If he has no retirement plans, he might fear you will desert him just when he needs you.
And he may have other fears that he can't articulate. For instance, he may be worried he will be a bad grandfather, he will be bored with kiddie activities, he will feel old and irrelevant, the kids won’t like him, or that they will like the other grandparents more. Once you have defined the real problem, you can work toward solving it. You and he need to be honest with each other and be able to air your feelings. But the only way your husband will be able do this is if he feels safe.
Suggest solutions that work for everyone. If he is worried about losing your attention, reassure him that he will have time with you. If he doesn’t like playing with blocks and Barbies, plan some activities he enjoys, like fishing or checkers. Don’t force him to sit through a G-rated cartoon in a theater filled with screaming kids. You can all go for pizza instead. Or he can join you later at the pizza parlor.
Remember, you don’t have to do everything together. You might come off as so intent on controlling him that he recoils. On the other hand, you are certainly entitled to nurture these important relationships, and that might mean doing some of the nurturing on your own. There can be times when he engages in his own activities, while you visit the grandchildren.
And if he gets bored spending time with the kids, he can bring a book or a crossword puzzle — whatever it takes. You need to let him participate in his own way, which is better than not at all.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: When spouses disagree on an important issue, own up to your feelings and react rationally, so you can come to an agreement.
left/msnbc/Components/Photos/060406/060406_anatomy_vmed_2p.jpg2658100000left#000000http://msnbcmedia.msn.com1PfalsefalseDr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist 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, www.drgailsaltz.com.