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Reality Check: Sharing the Responsibility

Q  When we visit family and friends, I trail my 1-year-old to keep him out of mischief, while my husband enjoys himself. We spend the drive home bickering. How can we resolve this?
A First of all, you have a right to feel resentful. (The nerve of your husband trying to have fun! Like a guest!) By minding your child you're merely behaving like the responsible parent that you are. And why are you so responsible? Yes, because somebody has to be, but also because you feel compelled to be. And that's because (and this is a truism learned with great difficulty): The mommy is the mommy is the mommy. In other words, with the central role of mother comes not only authority but also an inordinately large sense of duty and (this part's the hardest to take) the innate skills to follow through.

This, of course, doesn't mean that your husband is off the hook at social events. Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Menninger Clinic, in Topeka, KS, suggests you and your husband take turns being on child patrol. When it's mostly your friends or family that's gathering, he's on duty. When it's more his group, you're in charge. Or split the event so you both can look forward to some adult socializing at every party. But "if Dad absolutely hates watching his toddler at parties or is just lousy at it, Mom shouldn't be rigid," Lerner says. "Let your husband pay back by, say, cooking dinner and cleaning up the next night. Fair doesn't mean everything has to be fifty-fifty all the time."

I've resolved the problem by taking the direct route: When I get sick of watching our two girls, I just bring them over to their father and say, "Watch them. I'll be back in a while." And if I get to finish one conversation and one glass of wine, I consider it a good night out.

Contributing editor Trisha Thompson, former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk magazine, writes often on health and family.