Family Marriage

My Husband Is A Stranger To Our Kids

I have a 1-year old and 3-year old and do direct sales on the side. My husband’s a stranger to our kids. When he comes home from work he goes to our bedroom and hides until supper’s ready and plays video games after that. He does do dishes while I’m giving the kids baths. And he picks up toys too, and that’s great, but it would be nice if he’d use them with them instead. He sits in the family room playing his ridiculous games until 10:30. On weekends he’s either helping family/friends with projects, sleeping in or watching tv. Our girls get very little attention. I’ve told him this frustrates me for them. He says he’ll do better but hasn’t. How do I get him to follow up on his promises? He’s damaging our daughters.
Sincerely, Got Their Backs

Dear Got Their Backs,

Are you wearing your big-girl pants? You cannot make your husband follow up on any promise – as it seems you’ve already found out. You could try to manipulate him with tantrums and threats but I don’t recommend it. One 3-year old in the house is enough. Let’s shift our focus, then, to what you can do. There’s plenty.

First, it strikes me you’re not included as a casualty in your complaint. Your frustration is “for them” – your children. Is it possible there’s some frustration for yourself in the way your husband spends his time? If you haven’t told your husband you’re missing him too, he doesn’t have the whole picture. Everyone likes to hear they’re missed and wanted – provided the message is delivered kindly.

Second, you say your husband “hides”. I wonder what he does for a living that he comes home needing immediate respite. Regardless, he thinks he needs decompression and your word choice indicates what you think of that. Is it possible to give him grace and let him have that time without accusation? If you could, how do you think he might respond?

Third, I commend you for acknowledging some of the positive things he does. Do you express your appreciation for these to him? Appreciation is catnip to a husband.

Fourth, I’m guessing you probably knew he liked video games before you married him but expected that he’d get over them. He probably didn’t share that expectation. Since demeaning his “ridiculous” games has had no effect, it might be worth a try to engage with him a bit on it. Ask him to explain what the thrill is and offer to participate in his interest a little bit yourself. As one who loathes video games myself, this wouldn’t be easy. Nobody said fighting for your family is easy. You have nothing to lose and big potential gain.

Finally, I’d ask you to reevaluate the assertion your girls are being damaged. I think that’s a progressive cultural construct. From the beginning of time, most fathers had to work sun-up to sun-down to provide for their families and the kids were not considered damaged as a result. What has been shown to hurt children is divorce. To stay off that path (unless you’re looking for a reason to get on it,) the best thing you can do for your daughters is to affirm your husband in his new fatherhood role.