I had a bit of a wake up call this week. I was discussing my husband and his illness with my mother. And, in a perfectly kind, non judgemental and non critical fashion, she pointed something out. I talk down to him. On occasions, I treat him like a child.
I have been so focused on his condition, his ‘issues’, his challenging behaviour, how hard it is and how unreasonable he can be, I have missed something both fundamental and important. I have been failing to treat him with the respect he deserves. I have been thinking so hard about the speck in his eye I have failed to address the log in my own.
A few days ago, he was trying to tell me something. My four year old interrupted, with a noisy toy, and he told her to wait. She waited as patiently as any four year old does. He appeared to have finished – I asked if he was and he said yes, so I said she could do whatever it was. He took the toy away from her. I was so angry with him at treating her in what I felt was a cruel and unfair fashion, I sent him to the shed.
That’s right. I essentially put a grown man on the naughty step. Oh, I have excuses – I didn’t want to undermine him in front of the girls, I didn’t want a shouty argument with them around, and I wanted him to cool off. The shed is his man cave where he makes models – so not a nasty place to be. But that is not how you treat an equal.
I can be forgiven, you might think, for being under a lot of stress. His condition infantilises him. All well and good, but it wasn’t this incident my mother was referring to. It is something I have got into the habit of, over time, and from time to time. He enables it – if you act the child you get parented. He is happy for me to be the grown up. But successful relationships are built on mutual respect. And one of the big issues that has contributed to the depressive element of his condition is a huge lack of self esteem. He thinks I am more clever, more successful. His mother brought him up with zero expectations for his future. Therefore he has no expectations. And unwittingly I have been continuing this.
I felt mortified. In general I believe I am up for debate about most things, even those where I have strongly held views, and am willing to listen. I even change my mind sometimes. But when it comes to things like parenting, I think I am right. I may ‘listen’ to his views. But I am rarely prepared to accept I could be wrong. Yes, I do a great deal more reading and research. Being at home all day means I am in many ways the expert. That does not mean I am always right. He is an adult. I should consider what he has to say. I shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Our children are half him too and I was impressed enough with him to pick him to procreate with twice over.
I got very upset a while ago because I felt that he was treating me as ‘lesser’ than him. I felt downtrodden. His needs were always more important than mine. I had to beg him to take the girls out while I was suffering from mastitis. Unwittingly, in a slightly different way, I have been treating him with a similar lack of respect.
His condition means, actually, for now, this will continue in a small way. But that respect needs to come back. If you treat someone like a child, they will continue to behave like one. He too can and should be an expert on his own children. I plan to start asking his opinion more – and taking it into consideration – passing some decisions on to him. Treating him as an equal.