Pregnant woman pulls career bait-and-switch

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I’m pregnant and have come to the realization that I need to be a stay-at-home mom. My husband and I had planned for me to go back to work, but I now realize staying home with the baby is something I need to do.

My husband is not being supportive at all. He said that if he had known he’d be supporting three people, then he would have waited to try to start having children until he was in a better place in his career. I think that’s cruel — he’s effectively saying he doesn’t want the child I’m now carrying, he wants some future hypothetical child in some future hypothetical time when his career is better.

I know men can’t understand the emotions of a pregnant woman but are there words of wisdom I can give him?

— Ready to Quit My Job

Yes, please, anything that replaces words of emotional blackmail and hyperbole. He’s not saying he doesn’t want the child you’re carrying, he’s pointing out that you bait-and-switched him on going back to work.

Which is also not helpful, even though it’s closer to the truth than what you’re charging.

You two had a plan; that’s good. You conceived a child; that’s great for you both, congratulations. In the process of your pregnancy, your perspective changed; that’s normal, though it can often mean introducing some strain to existing plans and the people who made them. These are all fine and normal things.

So please treat them as such instead of as plot points in an opera. Start by doing some repairs on your language:

You did not realize you “need,” “need” (duplication yours, not mine) to be a stay-at-home mother, you realized you want to. Your husband is not being “cruel”; he is responding to your change of perspective with a concern he has about finances. It is not a crime against feelings or babies to say out loud, “This could be a problem, since we made this plan based on two salaries, not one.”

I could even make an argument that it was cruel of you to respond to his concern by accusing him of being unsupportive just because he didn’t immediately embrace your new plan. The guy’s trying to tell you a truth about how he feels! He’s under different and substantial pressure now.

Again, this happens sometimes, people evolve as circumstances change. But to deny people their feelings in response to such changes, and to deny them the time they need to process it all, is unfair.

If you’ll indulge me in the fiction that I’m advising you both, then I urge both of you to back away from your own catastrophizing impulses, and work to be more flexible in your thinking. You both now are much better informed about your own needs and desires than you were just months ago — so, recognize that, and start doing the difficult, loving, patient and necessary work to reconcile your new visions of how your family life will be.

And, not for nothing, “men can’t understand the emotions of a pregnant woman” (!!!) has put me off my knitting, too. You are not a category, and you are not a hormone vessel. He is not a neuron-deficient man-brute. Sentient beings unite.

Washington Post Writers Group

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