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Jealous of Husband's Closeness to Baby

QUESTION: My husband and I have been married three years and we have a one-yr-old son. I went back to work full-time about five months ago; my husband works part-time and is home with our son half-days.

I love to work, and I am thrilled that my son can be with my husband half-days so he only spends 5-6 hours per day in daycare. Our son is an energetic, bright, happy, mischievous baby; there is no doubt that he loves his life! My husband likes to be home with our son. We always knew he was the "homebody" in the family.

So what do I have to ask a marriage/family therapist? Well, I hate to admit it, but I am jealous. Not of my husband--I know myself well enough to know that I could not easily adjust to staying home all day. I am jealous of the fact that my son prefers my husband to me! When our son needs a hug, he almost always reaches for daddy. When my husband leaves the room, my son starts to cry. I know it's crazy, but I have to stop myself from competing with my husband to see if I can "make" the baby prefer me!

I fear losing my son's affection or becoming distant from him. I don't want to be a stranger to my child. What can I do?

You are enjoying a reversal of the usual gender roles in the family. The good news is that you like the overall arrangement you and your husband have created. And you are sensitive about the needs of both your son and your husband, as well as being grounded in the reality that you are each doing what comes naturally to you.

You are experiencing a similar kind of displacement in the family that fathers often do in the first year of parenthood, when they work mostly outside the home and their wife is the major emotional caregiver that baby responds to in time of need, for comfort. But you do not have to remain on the periphery!

Even though you are not home most of the day, you can arrange to spend time with your son as his primary source of comfort. Give Dad some time off on the weekend and develop a separate relationship with your child. You will not be competing with Dad and you and your son will learn the special pleasure of an independent connection. You and he will develop your own rhythms and he will learn to depend on you as a primary source of nurturance, separate from his father.

During the week, pick a task, such as bedtime and make it yours and his. Expect him to cry for Daddy if he has been used to his attention most of the day, but insist that you are "good enough" and he will just have to settle for you. Do not take his rejection personally, and be sure that your husband reinforces this message to your son when he does call for him. ("Mommy can help you with that. Mommy is the one who puts you to bed.") Your child will respond to the two of you as a team telling him what the rules are! Transform your jealous feelings with humor ( "I guess you'll just have to make due with Mom"). And you will find that competition is replaced with involvement. If you include yourself in primary nurturing tasks and your husband backs you in this, your child will grow to depend on you for primary nurturing as well.

Avoid the pitfall of any attempt on your husband's part to "rescue" your son because he can comfort him sooner. You will have to struggle with finding ways to soothe your son and you will. Afterall, that is how your husband learned, too! Do not forget the struggle of "learning how to do it" is an important part of you and your son's bonding. Attachment is forged through the hard times together as well as the good times.

The quality of your connection to your son is the answer more than time. Finding solutions to tearful times is a part of establishing yourself in the center of the family love, instead of the periphery. Your child benefits from the security developed with two primary caretakers he is attached to, instead of one. Do not be shy. Insist on developing this primary bond!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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