My wife prioritises our kids over everything – I’m thinking of leaving her

6 May 2024

"I love my children very much but haven’t been getting on with my wife for the past year and don’t know whether I should leave.

We have two young children, aged four and two, who I adore: being a dad is the best thing and I’m lucky enough to have lots of time to play with them (I work shifts with some evenings, so I am around a lot in the day).

Rich, 37

It’s good to hear the positives in your life: two young children; a wife you love, who cares about you and your family. I’m also hearing that you feel smothered, claustrophobic – even trapped. If you imagine life five years ago, I bet it feels like a different world.

While you’re wishing that you’re free to come and go, your young children are relying on you and their mum absolutely. Children love consistency in order to feel safe. I wonder whether it’s completely hit home that your responsibilities as a dad involve being a solid, unwavering parent. If you’re craving the freedom to come and go as you please, is your wife left holding the babies?

I’m not suggesting you abandon your sense of self, nor that you’re present at all times, but ask yourself how you can be a loving father and husband while leaving space for your sense of freedom and expression? It might feel like a compromise, but scheduling time for yourself would help you get space (something all adults need, by the way) without being inconsiderate at best or – worse – unreliable.

This isn’t about you being wrong, nor needing to sacrifice your life, but about an important, sometimes intense new role, fatherhood, where you learn on the job. None of us are expected to know how to do it immediately and it’s a constant learning curve, from the adoration of toddlers to teenagers who will challenge you with their questions and surprise you with their brilliant ideas. Through all of those ages, they are in need of trusted grown ups to guide them through and support them.

 

Who were your fathering role models while you were growing up? Did you have a stable and able dad at home? So many men want to be fathers and to protect their children, but some haven’t had a family unit that’s shown them how.

I feel you’d really benefit from the experience of other dads. Many people believe they’re going into parenthood with their eyes open but find the reality is a shock: some feel trapped and like they’ve lost their lives. Please seek support, whether it’s friends, colleagues or a men’s group, to find out how they navigate such a vitally important role. It’s not one that comes with a manual, and talking about parenting is so important – especially as it can feel, at times, overwhelming.

You say that you and your wife are fundamentally incompatible, but what would compatibility look like? Is it simply that you weren’t truly ready for fatherhood and are now unprepared?

 

I was struck by your partner’s wish for you all to sit down for meals because, dare I say it, it sounds quite normal; there’s something sacred about family mealtimes. At the moment, the children might feel a handful with flying food and tantrums, but this sets a routine that will last their whole lives. In time, family meals will be a place where everyone talks about their day, their dreams and can chew over problems – where you can be a valuable guide. Sit together, grow, learn from them and they can learn from you.

Her wish to co-parent is probably her reason for perpetually talking about the children. What support does she need in raising the children? Is it bath time and bedtime? Laundry and household chores? Understanding and support as she wakes to tend to them during the night, while you’re at work? I suspect that exploring both the domestic load and your need for time as a couple, and alone, will help you grow stronger. You might find your wife chats less about the children as you develop into a supportive partnership.

Is there anything you need to hide from her by not telling her what you’re up to? If there is, maybe this is the time to choose a life path with your children in mind.

I wonder if you feel you and your wife missed out on the early stages of your relationship. I’d recommend that you create a loving space, beyond being parents, with the help of babysitters or family. What would you like to do with her?

 

Consider what you love about yourself, what you love about your wife – and what you used to love about your relationship. Maybe you currently find it difficult to tell your wife that you love her because you don’t love yourself enough to feel love for others, or maybe you feel that she’s needy of your presence and attention and you don’t find her as attractive as before having kids?

Neediness can be unattractive and might turn you off, though it might come from her basic need for security and stability. Neediness often comes from a place of abandonment: if she feels like she’s been left holding the baby then it might be helpful for you to show her, through considerate actions, that you care. I would expect that the more you step up to this chapter in life and help her create a secure, stable home, the less needy you’ll find her.

Love can’t be expressed unless it’s true but I feel sure that you still love her. I’m not really sure that this is even about her, but more about your life and your freedom. For that reason, I’d recommend changing the questions you’re asking yourself: instead of wondering whether to leave your wife, ask how you’d like to express love in your life so you can all grow?

If you give energy to the way you want things to be, and share this with your wife, then you’ve got every chance of a successful relationship. I believe you have a wonderful opportunity to grow into your role as a dad, without sacrificing your true nature or rejecting what – reading between the lines – feels like a trap that you find yourself in.