Dear Carolyn: I have a young baby, 4 months old. I also have a wife. I expressed to my wife recently that I might take a day off for my birthday. She said I am mid-30s and should grow up and save my personal days for important things like when the baby gets sick and vacations. I reminded her I wasn’t able to use all of my personal leave last year (it is use-it-or-lose-it) and one day isn’t that big a deal. She remains disgusted with me on this topic.
I brought it up again and she said we aren’t paying for day care so that I can go watch a movie (I really enjoy that, and my wife rarely has the patience to sit still for one). I replied that if the objection was paying for day care, then let’s have a discussion about whether I stay home with or without the baby on my birthday, but I really want to stay home.
She got mad. Now I feel like it’s something I can’t even broach again.
I discussed it with my co-workers and boss, and their reply was, “You don’t work on your birthday,” and, “They’re your personal days.” I don’t know what to do. It isn’t a huge deal, but I am tired, and would like a little break. I worked 10 days straight to make extra money. I am the one who gets up most of the time during the night to soothe the baby. My wife works four days a week and also occasionally works weekends, but when she does she gets an additional day off that week.
Now I feel like I’m whining.
Please can you suggest a way to approach this that won’t lead to a fight?
Generally, she is the one who keeps us on top of our responsibilities. I’m trying to be more that way, but I feel like ALL she thinks about is responsibility, and it makes me push more toward my natural inclination, to place value on fun-time. I know this isn’t fair to her, though.
What Do I Think It Is, My Birthday?
After working 10 days straight, a day off is healthy. That’s what personal time is for.
On the surface, I think you’re paying for an image problem. “I don’t want to do X on my birthday!!!” sounds like a child’s foot-stomp; “I’m burned out from work and I need a day to rest” sounds like a reasonable assessment by a self-aware adult.
So why couldn’t your wife see through the word “birthday” to recognize the legitimacy of your need? A mix of things, I’m guessing, which includes your different natures, that history you refer to, some residual immaturity on both your parts, and typical baby fatigue. One by one:
▪ When two people bring vastly different temperaments and priorities to a relationship, you both need to love what the other brings and feel better for it, instead of burdened by it, for the pairing to work. Say, she appreciates the way you lift her spirits, and you appreciate the way she grounds you.
You also need to work a little harder to give what the other likes to receive: She learns to let go a bit when she’d normally choose to stay home and do laundry, for example, and you learn to stay home and do laundry sometimes when you’d normally ditch for a movie.
▪ Apparently — before you started pulling extra baby/work shifts — you two didn’t always do these things for each other, leading to some calcification in your self-defined Resident Grown-up and Resident Cutup roles. For your marriage to get and stay healthy, you both need to push through your prejudgments of each other and your natural default reactions.
▪ Breaking this habit will require of you both: self-discipline, objectivity about your own frailties, forgiveness and a deliberate focus on each other’s strengths … all of which are harder when you’re baby-whacked, because everything is harder when you’re baby-whacked.
But it’s nowhere near as hard as things will get if you don’t address this now. For starters, consider taking that personal day with your wife. Baby in day care, you two holding hands. Remind yourselves.
That’s a better frame of mind for the broad discussion of your natures, your history and the importance of your taking care of each other, which you do need to have. Broach it calmly and with love.
If “calm” eludes you — or if “disgust” is all she has — please consider a good marriage seminar or couple’s counseling. Low-cost version, the writings of the Gottman Institute (www.gottman.com). I hope she’s receptive this time.
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