Jealousy and envy and ego, oh my!
One reason we're possessive of the parental crown may be that, although society's changed, we still get traditional messages about women's roles. "A lot of our mothers, our workplaces, our TV shows still tell us that moms should do most of the childcare," says Liz Park, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist with three kids in Crownsville, Maryland. We moms can be good at taking such messages to heart.
"For women, no matter how far along you are in your career or no matter how much of a feminist you consider yourself to be, at some level you're coming from an assumption that women are caretakers," says Heather Gerken of New Haven, Connecticut, a law professor and the mother of Anna, 6, and Ben, 2. "When Anna was a baby, I would feel guilty about the time away from her," she says. And at home, sharing childcare with her husband, she felt a little jealous that he was as central to Anna's life as she was. "Now that I've gone through this twice, all I'd add is that the twinges of regret are overwhelmed by the joy of raising kids together. There's no other reason I can think of for that jealousy, except for the guilty, nagging feeling that you ought to be spending more time with your child."
Well, there are at least a few other reasons.
The briefness of those precious early years, for one. "When our son was a baby, Brian* gave him more of his baths," says Jessica Davis* of Chicago. She believed it was important for them to have such one-on-one moments, but "I remember thinking a few times, 'I should take the bath with him!' Especially when they're babies, you're likely to think, 'I want this piece or that piece' because babies sleep so much and quality time with them is much more limited than with an older child."
Then there's the matter of love. Naturally, when our spouses spend extra time nurturing our children, the kids become extra attached. "David* just adores his dad. He's his little shadow," Amy Conner* of Nashua, New Hampshire, says of her 3-year-old son. She understands the daddy worship; she thinks her husband, Matt*, is "more playful" with David than she is. "But at first it just hurt because I didn't feel that he loved me as much as Matt," she admits.
For some moms, like me, what hurts is a deep-seated notion that we should be better parents than our spouses -- more instinctive, more inventive, more in tune with our kids' needs. D'Anne Gleicher of Alameda, California, finds herself battling this idea when her daughter is sick. Because she can't get paid time off from her job as an attorney, her husband is usually the one to stay home with Ava, 8. "I know he's very capable of caring for her, but I want to believe I'm better at it than he is -- even though I'm not. I think it's the whole 'I'm the mommy and I can fix anything.' It's almost like a savior thing."
Working mothers aren't the only ones who long to be saviors. Sarah Mock of Tualatin, Oregon, quit working as a high school teacher when her second daughter was born. "When you've made this decision to stay home, you've given up this side of you where you can shine as your own person. Instead, you feel pressure to shine as a parent," she explains. Which can make it frustrating when your husband is as much fun with the kids as you are. "Recently John helped them make their own version of Candy Land. I thought, 'Why can't I think of things that are more creative?' " she says. "It seems he's doing very well at work and then when he comes home he's doing very well with the kids, so it's like he's doing great everywhere and I'm running to keep up."
*Names have been changed