QUESTION: My husband and I had our
first child 4 months ago. Our baby smiles at him and talks to him
more than she does me. She seems so much more responsive to him. I
feel she is too used to me, being home all day with her, and when
daddy comes home, he's the star.
I feel alone a lot since he works and we have
been moving around a lot. We have moved 3 times in the last year.
I have tried to talk about this to him, but he says my baby loves
me and so does he and I shouldn't worry so much. He says I need confidence.
I agree. But I also need empathy, understanding, and sensitivity.
I feel that my baby doesn't like me; and, I feel my husband doesn't
I'm sure other mothers out there feel this way.
I need perspective. Do you have suggestions for how to work my way
out of this negative rut?
ANSWER: Many women experience postpartum
depression in the year following their baby's birth. Becoming a mother
is one of the most profound but least recognized of any life transition.
This accounts for difficulties in postpartum adjustment, as women
are not supported through this period of adjustment. You are in the
midst of the postpartum period and may be experiencing "postpartum
blues" due to the changes in identity that motherhood brings. This
enormous change coupled with our society's general devaluation of
motherhood could be contributing to lowered self esteem and depression.
Moving and having a child precipitate major life stress. No wonder
you may feeling unconfident in yourself and lonely to boot!
But you are right to want to get out of the negative
rut of seeing your husband as the "star" and your baby as not liking
you. Your intent to want to enjoy rather than feel jealous of your
daughter's relationship with her father is a credit to your ability
to parent, which often includes an ability to see the forest even
when you are amongst the trees. Your question indicates that you are
trying to develop a larger perspective which is the job of any good
parent! These troubling perceptions of your daughter are likely to
be symptoms of depression based on your circumstances. Becoming a
mother for the first time can be a very isolating experience, particularly
if you have moved not just once, but three times in the past year!
Consider joining a mother's group and sharing your
feelings with other Moms. Develop friendships and activities outside
of your husband and daughter that can recharge your batteries. Perhaps
your baby is reflecting your own relief and joy when your husband
comes home. Your own negative feelings about yourself may be misplaced
onto your daughter. It is most likely you are lonely and unhappy due
to life changes. Do not project this onto your relationship with your
daughter. You are running away from the real cause of your pain when
you believe that your baby dislikes you.
Instead of using jealousy as a distraction, address
your problem of isolation. Since you are new to your area, you may
not have the developed friendships and activities that would bring
enthusiasm into your life. You may be overly dependent on your family
to provide the excitement and stimulation you need. Leave your husband
with your daughter one day a week (weekends perhaps) and get in touch
with your individual needs and desires. Although being a mother is
a very powerful framework for self definition, give yourself the time
to remember who you are away from motherhood.
Instead of overloading your family relationships,
seek to build outside connections and interests that can rejuvenate
you and address your sense of confidence in yourself. Be honest with
yourself. Accept that you are experiencing much loneliness and change,
and because you may be suffering some depression, your child is not
getting the reflection of vitality that Daddy can give her when he
comes home. It is also unrealistic to assume that being with your
baby all day can compete with the new energy of a parent who has not
been doing the daily childcare! If your roles were reversed, your
husband might well be the one who was depressed, and your experience
of homecoming would be equally joyous. Remember that your life has
changed more than your husband's life when you became parents. He
still goes to his job, but your job of mothering is new and more than
full time! Your jealousy does not stem from your daughter's relationship
to her father. But perhaps it is your husband's relationship to the
outside world that you crave.
Build in some separate couples time to catch up with
one another and maintain some of the specialness you want to experience
in your relationship with your husband. However, things have changed,
and you will have to make room for your daughter's needs, too. The
couples' relationship is also adjusting and in flux!
Allow yourself feelings of sadness about this. It
is natural that sadness would come up when you see the two of them
interacting with such "up" energy. Take your feelings as a sign that
you need to direct energy towards finding a place for yourself in
your life that is nourishing to you. If you are artistically inclined,
take an art class. If you play music, join a musical group of some
kind. Try yoga, dance or any other class that might be of interest
to you as a start. But take yourself seriously!
Responsibility and empowerment are two sides of a
coin. Your daughter depends on your leadership. By nature of your
parent role you are positioned to make a difference in your life and
your daughter's life. She is not! You are in charge of your life and
one of the leaders of the family. By taking action to face and resolve
your own depression and lowered self esteem, you and your daughter
win. If necessary, seek counseling to support your efforts to build
confidence at this time. Refocus your energy towards your development.
You will find that your independent interests as well as adult companionship
during the day will be likely to improve your feelings about your
Helplessness in response to a problem fuels depression
and can become a downward spiral. Stop this cycle by taking action
on your behalf. Taking care of yourself will benefit your daughter.
Remember that mothers have needs too!