Dear Carolyn: About four years ago, my husband and I decided to have another set of babies. Our older two were 9 and 7 at the time and my husband and I were very young when we had them — 23 and 20 — so we thought we'd have another go at babydom. This was after many lengthy conversations about how my husband was going to have to be a lot more helpful this time.
When my older boys were little, I was responsible for 99.99 percent of child-related tasks, which as you know takes a huge toll. I was naive and chalked it up to the fact that he and I were both so young at the time that we didn't know what we were doing, had no friends who were in the same place in life, etc.
He said, yes, things would be different this time. He would help at bedtime, bath time, mealtime, diaper-changing time.
Well. Guess who didn't rise to the occasion? Our Littles are now 1 and 3. I am back to doing 99.99 percent of the child-related tasks, but with a catch. My husband is a fantastic older-kid dad. He takes the Bigs fishing, hiking, boating and to all of their sporting events.
So I'm thinking only another two years until I'm back on Easy Street! Problem is, Easy Street is ANOTHER TWO YEARS AWAY!!!!! And I'm so tired. I stay at home and these Littles are killing me. I resent the fact that my husband isn't more help even though I probably should have seen this coming.
How do I get through the next two years?
Carolyn says: There's no magic here. You just switch. "I'll take the Bigs to their sporting events today; you stay with the Littles."
Not just once, but alternating. Every other time.
If your husband balks: "Remember your promise going into this, and why you made it."
If that's not enough: "I'm as responsible as you are for letting it get to this point. For things to be 'different this time,' as we agreed they'd be, I needed to be different, too, and I wasn't. I was too quick to step in.
"But now it's time to fix that. I'm burned out, you and the Littles need to bond, and I need to spend catch-up time with the Bigs."
Take the issue to a marriage counselor or parenting class if you must.
But do not back down. You are good at wrangling Littles and he is not, but not because he's incapable and (by your account) not because he's a disengaged or negligent father. Unlike you, he simply had you to default to, never got the experience you did, and so never built the confidence, either — and people who aren't confident tend to drift into spectating hard work as the confident people take over. It's an old story.
Would it have been preferable for him to have sought that experience and confidence on his own initiative? Obviously. But these are the personnel and circumstances you've got, and apparently they indicate the best way for him to step in and get this experience is for you to say, "Your turn," and then step out of the way.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at email@example.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.