Each week, Allison answers questions from readers about issues in her life.
Ask: I met my wife when we were both in our late 30s. We got married and after a few years she wanted to have a baby. Fast forward a bit and after a few failed rounds of IVF she was pushing that we try donor eggs and I agreed. We now have three wonderful school-age children who I am very close to, while my wife is distant towards them, acting more as an aunt than a mother.
She ignores them for hours, is always critical of them and spends a lot of time away from them, be it on business trips or on weekends with her friends. After about an hour of play I see that she is bored and wants to be somewhere different from hers and essentially all childcare is left to me.
I feel totally trapped. Besides, we have little in common. When we were together, my wife made a great game of pretending to be interested in things that interested me, but now she doesn’t even bother or make fun of my hobbies. Deep down I know I’d like to go, but Their indifferent attitude towards the children is such that I really fear for them if I don’t get proper access.
Sometimes they come home dejected and dejected from spending time with her and I can’t get them to tell me what happened. I really need to talk to someone about this. Can you help?
Allison replies: It would be helpful to talk to a few people and get some advice. First, seek legal advice on your rights and get therapeutic support. It can feel isolating and lonely living in a marriage when the responsibility of meeting the needs of the family rests upon you. It can also feel lonely and scary making life-changing decisions that affect your children and your role as a father. My advice is to build a team around yourself, get the right professional and legal advice, and get support from trusted family and friends.
Have you told your wife how you feel? At the start of any great life endeavor, it’s always important to think about how you envision it. No one is in control of how things will be, but intentionally making it clear what you would like to do can create a space for you to state your non-negotiables, which aids in the decision-making process.
Do you think it could work out with your wife with a little support?? If you feel there is a chance, bring your feelings to her and I would suggest having couples counseling support this. It’s important to research key issues and behaviors that cause stress, whether you’re staying together or not. There is support for parents, doing this together can help to be on the same page. I have listed the resources at the end.
If you decide to separate, mediation can help both of you come to agreements about co-parenting together and work through difficult areas of communication and conflict like how to deal with each other.
It’s normal to know what you don’t want in such tremendously challenging family situations, and by writing them down you can then identify what you do want. Identifying your fears and concerns in the present and for the future can help you know which area to look at first. This can start with your access rights. I can imagine you feeling scared and vulnerable and angry that you feel played and now trapped in a complex and painful imagining of what separation would mean for you and the children.
Get professional help as there is so much that needs to be addressed here in terms of the emotional impact on the children and you. Has your wife ever been upset with how she is parenting? Parenting can be extraordinarily difficult and painful for a variety of reasons, sometimes stemming from one’s family of origin and their parents’ relationship with them. If the ability to parent has been emotionally distant, it can be difficult to even recognize it in yourself. This may not be the case, but research into attachment styles in therapy and their subsequent impact and influence on parenting would be of great use for the future.
Parents can be emotionally absent to avoid the vulnerability that intimacy and connection bring. Has it always been like this? Or has your relationship and connection changed over the years while trying to have a baby? It’s important not to underestimate the destructive impact this can have on a relationship.
Most changes in relationships can be gradual, a slow, steady withdrawal from each other during times of great need that can occur during the difficult process of raising a family through IVF and donation. Withdrawal can be a protective defense mechanism since the pain of the process is so deep and intense. Becoming a family took a lot of effort, maybe it also left psychological marks. Being close and connected to children can be scary when there are unresolved issues from that time.
Opening a conversation about parenting beliefs and values, and identifying differences in values, can serve as an informational push rather than a confrontation. Regardless of whether you stay together, this research and preparatory work will now benefit family unity.
Allison regrets that she cannot correspond. If you have a question you would like raised in this column, send an email email@example.com. For help see Support and Advice (gov.ie); Family Mediation – LAB (legalaidboard.ie); Separation and Divorce: Children (citizensinformation.ie)
https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/ask-allison-i-want-to-leave-my-wife-but-she-is-cold-and-critical-with-the-kids-and-i-fear-for-them-41516884.html Ask Allison: I want to leave my wife, but she is cold and critical of the children and I fear for her