A Lack of Self-Respect

I struggle a lot with self-respect, with recognizing my worth and requesting that other people treat me accordingly. This has been a big issue in my marriage; I am never sure of what I deserve and what I should expect of my husband. I am quick to give him what I know he wants, and rarely demand he give me what I need.

What ends up happening then, is I take on the brunt of the childcare and become the default parent, because I don’t value my own time enough to make my husband step up and do his share. I become the parent that handles 95% of the night wake-ups, who gets up with the kids on weekends mornings 9 times out of 10, who deals with all the baths and bedtimes, who attends all the doctors appointments and teacher conferences, who handles basically everything.

I do all of it because I believe it is my job, as the woman, as the mother. I do it all because I watched my mom do it all. I watched my mom devalue her own time and her own needs and do everything for us. I internalized that role and I took it on myself. And now, even when I find myself entrenched in resentment–and I recognize it’s my own doing–I don’t know how to have enough self-respect to demand my husband step up and do more.

I have a lot of amazing women friends who don’t seem to have a problem with this. Their significant others are much more equal parenting partners than my husband is. I’m sure this is partly to do with who their SOs are as people, but I also think my friends’ attitude contribute to their success in dividing the parenting more equally. They have the self-respect to know, deep inside, that they shouldn’t have to do it all, and they value themselves enough to demand their partners do their fair share. I watch them in wonder and awe.

Recently I found out my in-laws had blatantly disregarded a safety concern of mine and turned my son’s car seat around without telling me. I am certain they knew I didn’t want them to do that because they have commented many times that he seemed too cramped facing backward and I repeatedly told them not to turn him around, that he would be fine for the short trips he took in their car. And then this morning I took him down to help him in and found his seat turned around. I don’t even know how long ago they did it.

Evidently my husband saw it and didn’t mention it to me either. He says he just forgot about it after they gave him a ride, that he wasn’t trying to keep it from me. 

I understand this isn’t a big deal, in the grand scheme of things. I get that he is 3 years old and most 3 year olds face forward in their car seats. But I’ve read articles about how there are vertebrae in their spine that don’t fuse until 4 years old and if a car is rear-ended and a toddler’s head jerks forward it can cause horrible damage. It just seems like an easy precaution to take, especially since he doesn’t seem to mind sitting backwards.

And honestly, I’m not so much worried about anything happening to him in their car, as I’m worried he’ll decide that if he doesn’t have to face backward in his grandparents’ car, then he shouldn’t have to in our car either. 

The worst part about the whole situation is I probably will never say anything to them about it. I am not sure enough of my own stance to tell them how disrespected I feel, how dismissive of my concerns their actions were. I wonder if I’m over reacting, if I’m being too controlling. All I can think is that I ride my bike with my kids and surely that is more dangerous and how can I ask them to keep the car seat facing backward when I’m doing something as blatantly dangerous as riding around with my kids on a bike.

I know if one of my strong, self-assured friends were in the same position they would raise hell with their in-laws. I know they would stand up for themselves and demand that the car seat be turned back the other way. But I won’t do that. And I’ll feel that much smaller for conceding this to them.

Another example: For the last two nights I’ve been alone with the kids. After just two days away from their typical routines they are super dysregulated, and getting to bed has been a nightmare. Tonight, I informed my husband that I would be working out while he put the kids to bed. It is such a legitimate expectation after two nights alone with the kids, and yet I’ve spent the entirety of my time fretting that it was a bitchy thing to do, wondering if I should have helped, at least a little. I don’t know how to tur off that inner monologue, the one that tells me I should do more, should help others, should put the needs of those around me in front of my own. 

I know this is work I have to for myself, but I have no idea where to begin. Self-respect can be hard to come by. 

15 Comments

  1. I struggle with this, too. I don’t like to see things not getting done, and I especially don’t like sitting around relaxing when there is work to be done. My husband, of course, doesn’t care. And so I end up doing everything. What I really want is for him to tell me “relax, you’re tired, I’ll do that.” But that never happens and I keep doing it all.

    It’s important not to blame yourself entirely. Surely your husband can see this happening, and he should know to sometimes step in. But at the same time, your responses to him probably do make a difference in whether or not he does more. Im working on this balance now.

  2. There are some of these things I do as well. I am the default parent, do all the appointments, teacher conferences etc. However I know I do it bc I want to be in control however the one situation that infuriates me is that my husband is allowed (as in no fuss is made) to do his things whenever he so chooses and in 4.5 years he has not been able to cover the kids at bedtime for me to have a girls night. I certainly would have made a huge fuss if the in-laws had went directly against my voiced wishes (and they are very aware that I will stick up for my children)

  3. Like B said, I really like being in control. I like being there one who knows every detail of what’s going on with the kids. Our kids’ conferences last 15-20 minutes, being only in preschool, and this year, I didn’t consult with Brian on his schedule so he could be there. I just didn’t think it was important and there I was, in the signup line, and had to pick a time before the good times were taken. I was so wrong. He wanted to be included and was hurt that I disrespected him. I still feel bad about that. I’m not controlling, but I like to be in control. I don’t feel a need to control what we do, but I like to keep control of the situation once we’re doing it, and that includes the everyday crap in parenting.

    What your ILs did is not ok. I would be having a pretty terse conversation with them. BUT, I am not at all afraid of confrontation (as you know) and probably am TOO confrontational. That is my need to control rearing it’s ugly head. At work, I was always praised for my assertiveness, but there is such a thing as being too assertive and I have crossed that line a lot. Not good.

    You do need to offload more to your husband because YOU feel a need for more you time. It sounds to me that this is your assessment and not the opinions of others (I have friends who tell me what I need and I hate that), and because it’s important to you, you probably should say more to him about it. I am proud of you for the other night, telling him that he had to take bath time. I don’t say it, I just go and hide. 😉

  4. Full disclosure: we turned the Beats around in their car seats this summer. We did so for a couple of reasons, first being that they had found the seatbelts and we were very worried about them strangling themselves (they were pulling them and attempting to wrap the belts over their heads). The second being that even through we would have liked another year with them rear-facing, there is also a big advantage to having them forward facing (easier commute, easier load/unload, etc).

    That all said, Grey and I made this decision together. No one else made it for us. And I would be seriously pissed off if anyone circumvents my parenting decisions. My kids are my responsibility. And until the state deems me otherwise unfit, I have both the benefit/privilege/responsibility to make decisions that I deem in the best interest of my family.

    I think your husband both owes you a huge apology for being silent and then owes you an early Christmas gift of speaking to his parents about their decision to undermind your parenting decisions. If they can’t handle it, find other childcare arrangements. Shame on all 3 of them for being so fucking selfish.

  5. I read this. Then took some thinking time out.
    I disagree about your diagnosis of not enough self-respect. You feel/felt disrespected which means you do respect yourself.
    Ideally you would be able to request husband ask his parents A) why they did this and B) how they thought/think makes you feel and C) why this was not part of their decision process. ( Just maybe possibly they had a problem they ‘solved’ in this manner; but we all doubt that…but maybe possibly. And, it was still ill-advised also they should have told about it anyway AT ONCE).
    But in reality your husband’s family is SO Conflict Adverse he/they will not be able to do that. They prefer ‘subtle under minding’ as a conflict resolver. And, you get stuck dealing with this in your relationship with them as well as in your life with your husband.
    As part of this conflict avoidance program, your husband has spent his relationship with you teaching that ‘he can’t x,y,z and that you therefore need to do it’. It is easy to fall into that game because it is what we were taught as children as were our parents and grands etc before us. Male/female gender/marital roles.
    I do not know how to get out of that.
    I do know that when I listen to my peer group that even my most outwardly outspoken married women friends STILL fall into that game, resent it and, only now in their 70’s+, are they able to allude to the fact that it is/was part of their marriages. BELIEVE ME, in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s such admissions NEVER crossed their lips. Too risky for many reasons. And, nope, even after a life time of trying they are STILL losing the same battle over and over and over.
    Yes, SOME marriages are becoming more equal among those in their 30’s and 40’s today … even in those with children (but children seem to create more sex gendered stereotype role behaviors even in ‘equality marriages’) but these are still relatively rare ~~ even when both partners are equal income producers. Corporations still expect traditional marital divisions of labor, and see parental responsibilities as ‘creating productivity problems’ and a valid reason for pay discrepancies between genders … even with no children in existence.
    So: you are wrongly beating yourself up again and incorrectly assigning a lack of self-respect label to yourself. You are actually resenting cultural roles that are dismissive of you and your role and your marriage. I do not know how you can change this, but labeling it correctly is the beginning and vital for your own mental health. I do not know if your in-laws dislike you actively, but they totally disrespect you; your husband prefers to ignore this rather than challenge them. He may have valid reasons, not just a life time of conditioning, that cause this. Next, maybe, using the labels in calm discussions with your husband without requesting action on his part might become safe and possible… or not. Eventually, maybe, he will change his perceptions if not his actions. But probably not his behavior with his parents, so don’t set yourself up for that expectation.
    I AM SO SORRY.
    I hope you can enjoy Christmas. I hope you and your husband get some alone, awake, time to laugh and love each other and share joys. I hope you have enough break time to really celebrate yourself and refill your own spirit. And, I hope your husband’s envy of your break and resentment that he does not get such a break from his job does not diminish your hard earned and economically uncompensated ‘break’.
    Huge hugs to all of you! I am so proud of you and what you are doing in your lives and the changes in the world you are creating!
    SO VERY PROUD OF ALL OF YOU!

    1. I largely agree with this analysis of the relationship. Marital patterns are hard to break. Sorry you have to deal with this.

      My 3 year old is still rear facing and I get annoyed when my MIL mentions that he must be uncomfortable. She never drives him so her comments are of no consequence. I often think people should chill out and just let grandparents do things a little differently. But not with regard to safety, obviously. And, also, your in laws spend so much time with your kids so having different set of rules and expectations can actually have negative effects.

  6. I agree with the above posters saying this is much more of a gender role/societal expectations issue (plus your husband’s tendencies that feed into that) than any deficiency in yourself. In most areas of my life I have no problem being assertive but still have many times with my husband where I don’t know how much is “fair” to ask.

    As to not knowing how to start, you already did – by telling your husband he would be putting the kids to bed. I also mentally cheered for you in a post a little while ago where you mentioned that your husband had made noises about your daughter doing dance and you told him it would be on him to arrange it and then didn’t step in when he didn’t. So just keep going piece by piece like that.

    1. I agree with this, and a lot of purple and rose above. Its not a failing on YOUR part, and its not something that can change overnight and its NOT true that you are the only one with these issues, I see it time & again with my colleague & friends. GOOD FOR YOU telling him to put the kids to bed. Do it more often.

  7. And one more comment inspired by hearing a story just now about Diane Rehm’s (the public radio host) retirement. My perception of DR is of a very smart, no-nonsense lady but in her recent autobiography and her discussions around it, her husband came off as quite the tool in some ways (like giving her the silent treatment for days on end if she did something he didn’t like). That really was eye opening – if even someone like her has had to put up stuff like that it’s much more about men’s deficiencies than ours.

  8. Do you think you don’t ask your husband to step up because you feel an obligation to do everything or because you are afraid he’s going to say no or give you a hard time and then you’ll feel like crap?

  9. Happy holidays and End of Year Joy to all of you!!!! You each and all are such bright caring women, all reaching out in support of each other. Noemikjames: thank you for joining us together and for your patience with my longwindedness. I wish I had known you all when I was your ages! You will such important hope filled parts of my next 4 years…… THANK YOU!

  10. I agree with the above comments as this is not your fault. I would go even further to say that I’m not sure it’s even a matter of gender roles/ societal expectations. That’s because I am actually far more demanding than my husband is and he does likely more than his share meaning more than 50% of the household chores, and we are about equal on childcare. He’s never been one to assert, believe, assume, that those things were mainly my duty because of my gender.

    Yet I still end up being the person who researches, schedules, arranges, and remembers things like vacations, doctor appts, school meetings, etc.

    1. Yeah, I think the mental work almost always falls on the mom. I do have friends whose husbands do a ton of stuff. I have one friend who is mostly an sahm and both of her kids are in school most of the day and her husband spends Sunday mornings with the kids so she can have time to herself! The men I know who do a lot of childcare and housework have a deep seated sense of responsibility and obligation. They are the kind of men who always volunteer to help. But, even those men never register their kids for camp or schedule doctor appointments.

  11. Just wanted to chime in to say that I agree with the above commenters, and particularly with the astute diagnosis that you have recognized the issue and as such that it is not entirely (or even mostly) your problem. I too feel like I don’t stand up for myself as much as I should. I would be upset if my inlaws and husband did something like that without telling me. Agree that if asking doesn’t work, then perhaps you just leave him no choice in very reasonable situations such as the one you described.

  12. Before we even had kids my husband and I saw friends and how they dealt with parenting and when we saw couples where the husband never changed a diaper and the mother was doing much more than 50% of the parenting, I would turn to him and tell him that we were not having kids if it was like that. When my husband is not traveling he is definitely taking on 50% of the work. Right now it feels like less of that though since he can’t breastfeed! 🙂 That being said, I think that setting the ground rules before we had kids helped.

    As far as your in-laws, I wouldn’t leave it up to your husband to say something to your in-laws. My husband thinks that the backward-facing car seat thing is silly despite me showing him the videos/websites about it (which is frustrating) and was a big proponent of switching our daughter even though she was doing just fine backward facing. However, once my son came along we had to face her forward because she had to move behind the drivers seat and my husband and I are both tall; BF wouldn’t have fit.

    If this is something that you feel strongly about, then I would talk to your in-laws about WHY BF is safer and why as the parent, you should be the one to make that decision.

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