“My husband and I have clashed over parenting ever since our daughter, Ashley, was born four years ago,” said Jill, 40, a marketing executive who has been married for six years. “Ron calls me overprotective, but he’s way too lax.
“I had a normal pregnancy, but for some reason Ashley was born six weeks premature. She’s fine, but I can’t shake my fear that something bad might happen — that she’ll get sick or have an accident. I’ve made it my job to protect her, and Ron has a problem with that. For example, Ashley didn’t sleep well as an infant, so if I was on the phone I’d whisper so she wouldn’t wake up. Ron said she had to learn to sleep through noise. At 14 months Ashley could toddle around the room, but I walked one step behind her to make sure she didn’t fall. Ron would scoff and say, ‘If she never falls, how will she learn balance?’ I’m also a stickler for hygiene, so I make Ashley wash her hands after eating or touching things in public places.
“And I like toys to stay in the playroom. My life as a working mom is hectic enough without having a messy house to straighten up every night. Ron calls me ‘ridiculous’ and does what he pleases. Often I arrive home from work — Ron’s a teacher and gets off before I do — to find toys all over the living room and Ashley jumping off the sofa or the stone hearth of our fireplace. I don’t care if Ron is close by; these activities are unsafe.
“Worst of all, he mimics me in front of Ashley, yelling ‘watch out!’ in a mocking tone. And he constantly undermines my authority. If I tell her to wear a jacket, he’ll say, ‘It’s warm out.’ If I ask her to finish her milk, he’ll say, ‘She’s had enough.’
“Our arguments have gotten so bad that we now go our separate ways at home. We haven’t had sex in ages, mostly because I’m too angry. And of course Ron gripes about that, as well as the fact that we never go out alone anymore. Well, I’d rather use my precious time off for family activities. There’ll be plenty of opportunities to go on dates again when Ashley’s older — if we manage to stay married, that is.
“I can’t believe I’m even saying those words! Ron and I are both children of divorce — it’s one of the things we bonded over when we started dating — and we vowed never to let it happen to us. My parents, who fought constantly, divorced when I was in kindergarten and my mom became my best friend. Even now we talk every day, just to check in with each other. For years I had nightmares that she’d die and I’d have to live with my dad, who ignored me except to insult my appearance. When I was 8 he got a job out of state and basically disappeared from my life. I can’t say I was sorry.
“I met Ron at a friend’s party when I was 31 and fell in love almost instantly. For a long time we were really happy and had a terrific sex life. But once we became parents everything went south. Now I’m worried we’re screwing Ashley up, too. She’s even started saying she’s ‘worried’ — as in, ‘I’m worried no one will like me.’ She’ll flip out when her yogurt spills, sob uncontrollably because she’s misplaced her stuffed panda, and be too scared to get in the pool at a classmate’s birthday party, even though she’s had swimming lessons. ‘Ashley is a nervous wreck because of you,’ Ron says.
“I hate to think that’s true or that our marital problems are causing her anxiety. I’m worn out from our endless battles and afraid that if Ron and I split up Ashley will suffer even more. I want to fix our marriage for her sake as well as ours.”