Husbands have sometimes received a bad rap for not being as involved in the day-to-day care of their babies. But what about when dad is too involved? "As soon as I became pregnant, my husband, Tom, went out, bought a book on fatherhood and read it from cover to cover," explains Melissa Willis from Nashville, Tennessee. "From that moment on, he was an expert."
Tom also took it upon himself to decorate the nursery, select all the furniture and painstakingly paint an elaborate full-wall mural to complete the Australian outback theme he'd chosen. "I would have liked to have had some input, but Tom was so excited about the baby that it didn't seem worth arguing about," admits Melissa.
When the couple brought baby Joey home from the hospital, Tom's temperament quickly turned from excited to excessive. Melissa says he'd double-check every bottle she made in the warmer because he insisted she was using it wrong. When the new mom wanted to take her baby on an outing, dad was adamant about checking the car seat straps himself. "If they were twisted or not tight enough, he'd flip," she recalls. Tom only allowed family members to babysit, and when they did, he would write detailed instructions, including how to mix formula for Joey's bottles. "I pointed out that information was right on the can, but he had to do it anyway," Melissa says. Tom set up a high-tech video monitor to keep tabs on Joey's every movement, but he would still wake Melissa several times a night to ask her how Joey was doing. "Tom's a worrier in life in general," Melissa says. "Why wouldn't he worry about our kid?"
"I tell couples that what they're arguing about often is a vehicle for something much bigger," says Tania Paredes, a psychotherapist and couples counselor in Miami. "After all, Melissa can buckle her pants and her own seat belt. Clearly she can strap her baby safely into his seat. Is there something she's done to make him believe that she's not capable of caring for their son? Unless there's a reason for the compulsion, Tom needs to scale back. And even if there were an incident—say the baby's bath water was too hot once—he needs to accept that it was an unfortunate accident and move on."
Joey is now 20 months old, and Melissa says Tom has mellowed somewhat, revealing that quitting her job to stay home with their son when he was 9 months old was a turning point in Tom's controlling attitude. "I think he felt better knowing that my full-time job was to take care of Joey," she speculates. The other marriage-saving move was Melissa's decision to focus on her husband's positive qualities. "Tom's a great dad, and I'd rather have him be too involved than totally absent," she says. "Sure, he's a diva—and he's turning Joey into a diva—but he also makes life fun. I'm a really laid-back person, which is why we get along so well."
"Every parent has strengths and weaknesses," adds Paredes. "You need to decide together what each of you brings to the table. You may decide that dad's a better cook and you enjoy giving the baths. Whatever works for you as a couple is fine, as long as you give your partner the space and the freedom to do his tasks his way. As your child gets older, it's especially important for him to see his parents respecting each other's strengths."
Melissa admits she can't resist poking fun at her husband on occasion: "Joey has this T-shirt that says ‘Next tantrum in five minutes.' The other day I brought it to Tom and said, ‘I'm sorry honey, but I shrunk your shirt.' He had to laugh."