DEAR CAROLYN: I have a problem I am not proud of. My daughter is pregnant, and so far everything in her pregnancy is routine. When I was pregnant with our three kids, my husband was typical for our generation in terms of the involvement he showed during my pregnancy and even my kids’ infant years.
But now that our daughter is pregnant, he has shown more interest in her than pretty much every pregnancy I had combined. He downloaded an app for his phone that gives weekly updates of the baby’s size, changed all his photos to the ultrasound photo, and even researched car seats for our car for a few hours so we can drive the baby around.
My daughter thinks this is wonderful, and, objectively, I do, too. But I can’t help it; I feel jealous that he is being this way toward her when he more or less just showed up at the delivery room to cut the cord with my pregnancies.
I know this is an ugly emotion and I don’t want to express it to him, I just want it to go away. I am ashamed I feel this way during what should be a happy time for my family.
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DEAR JEALOUS: Ugly: “I am jealous of the attention you pay to our pregnant daughter.”
Sympathetic: “In your excitement for this grandchild, I witness everything you could have been to our own little family, and I’m heartbroken.”
Please see this rephrasing as a stake to the heart of the notion that you’re wrong or petty to feel what you’re feeling. You have made a valid assessment that you missed out on something special.
In fact, before you say anything (or decide not to), I hope you’ll extend that thought even further. Your husband’s delight in this process also tells you how profoundly he missed out on both your pregnancies and the early days of his kids. The strict roles you describe as “typical for our generation” were a disservice not just to mothers, but to fathers and children as well.
Perhaps if you can share your hard feelings as more “we” than “I,” you’ll be able to commiserate with your husband instead of hide from him in a snarl of shame and resentment. “I’m watching you with Daughter and I ache at how alone I was through my pregnancies, and how sidelined you were. I realize that’s how things were done then, but I’m really feeling that loss. I think we both missed out.” He might have become a father when that role was at arm’s length, but you, too, were a product of your time, before society had its epiphany that mothers should encourage, invite, expect babies’ fathers to plunge in completely.
You also can’t discount the stress of the breadwinner, especially in the context of your time; he might have felt all-in by the definitions that were current then.
And, too, there’s this: undivided attention. Grandparents are just better positioned to give it.
Within reasonable boundaries (see 2,748 prior columns on parents, grandparents and new babies), you and your husband can recapture a bit of this lost family intimacy through your grandchild(ren), and grow closer for it. Talk to him, please, when you’re ready – as in, when you’re ready to forgive yourself.