Dear Emuna,

I'm contemplating divorce seriously and want to know which scenario would be better for my kids (age 11, 14). My husband has addictions, used to gamble, and now focuses on spending endless hours on the Internet. He is a control freak and insists on making all the decisions for the family with no input from me. He has anger problems, blows up and screams uncontrollably, sometimes with no good reason. He refuses to go for counseling, while I've been in counseling for decades to learn how to deal with him. My kids see all this, and of course, many arguments between us. He also goes off on his own for a weekend when he feels like it and doesn't understand why I say it isn't normal for a family man. He seems completely irrational at times, even though he's very smart and successful in his career.

What is better for my kids - that I stay with him or divorce? I don't want them growing up believing his behavior is normal or that it’s ok to treat a spouse the way he does. Please don't suggest counseling again, because as I said, he doesn't think he needs it and questions why I can't just accept him the way he is.

Struggling

Dear Struggling,

While I admire you for trying to do right by your children, I confess to being a little puzzled by your question. You describe your husband as having serious addiction issues and anger issues, as spending very little time with the family and not making it a priority, and as being irrational. What’s the argument for staying together?

As you also describe, your kids see all this and many arguments between you. I’m sure this is frightening and emotionally destabilizing for them. I can certainly imagine multiple scenarios where couples stay together for the sake of the children but only if (and this is absolutely crucial) they can do it without constant fighting, without yelling, and definitely without abuse. If the home environment is toxic (and if your description is accurate, then yours certainly is) then the damages far outweigh any possible benefits of staying together.

Divorce is devastating and emotionally wrenching for all involved and I don’t in any way mean to downplay that but, in the situation you describe, staying together sounds worse – for everyone. Again, if your description is accurate, your husband needs to do some serious work on himself if he wants to live a healthy and meaningful life and be a good father and husband. Perhaps your filing for divorce will the impetus he needs to spur him on to change. That would be a positive outcome. But you can’t count on that.

For the moment you need to get you and your children out of a situation that sounds like is doing real damage to you and them.

New Mother, Hard Working Husband

Dear Emuna,

I love my husband dearly. He has a great personality, is a good provider and we enjoy each other’s company tremendously. When we got married, we agreed that he would be the primary breadwinner and that, when our children came, I would stay home to raise them and he would be free to continue running his business. He has a very successful business and he works hard at it. He is driven to succeed and I admire his ambition. We recently had our first child (an adorable little boy) and I confess I’m rethinking our bargain. He is rarely home and my days (and even nights) are exhausting and lonely. I would really like more of his help and his companionship but I don’t want to rock the boat. Please help.

New Mom

Dear New Mom,

This is not the time to make grand judgments or pronouncements about the future. You are exhausted and overwhelmed, with some anxiety thrown in for good measure. The first child is always the hardest. Everything is new and strange and you are completely inexperienced. This is not the moment to rethink your whole life plan. On the other hand, this may also not be the moment to adhere rigidly to your previously established pattern. It is very thoughtful of you to give your husband the evening to work but you are allowed to ask for help. In fact you must.

You are both the parents of this child and you need to acknowledge that this is a rough patch and you can’t go it alone. It’s the rare husband (or wife) who won’t respond to an honest request for help. Let him know that you see it as temporary but that you really need to catch up on your sleep, or having someone else take a turn burping your son or that you are desperate for some adult conversation. It’s not that he doesn’t want to help out or bond with your child (I’m assuming) but he won’t know what you need – or the degree of your desperation(!) – unless you tell him.

Don’t be a martyr and don’t wait until you really can’t cope. Ask now. Part of the bargain of your marriage is to raise your children together even if you are the primary caretaker and to expose your husband to the joys and challenges of parenthood as well. Hopefully with a frank and straightforward discussion of the situation, you will get the relief you need.

Just a small aside: post-partum depression is more common and more serious than most of us realize. If you feel you have a cluster of the symptoms below, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. It could save both of your lives – literally.

  • You feel overwhelmed. Not like “hey, this new mom thing is hard.” More like “I can’t do this and I’m never going to be able to do this.” You feel like you just can’t handle being a mother. In fact, you may be wondering whether you should have become a mother in the first place.

  • You feel guilty because you believe you should be handling new motherhood better than this. You feel like your baby deserves better. You worry whether your baby can tell that you feel so bad, or that you are crying so much, or that you don’t feel the happiness or connection that you thought you would. You may wonder whether your baby would be better off without you.

  • You don’t feel bonded to your baby. You’re not having that mythical mommy bliss that you see on TV or read about in magazines. Not everyone with PPD feels this way, but many do.

  • You can’t understand why this is happening. You are very confused and scared.

  • You feel irritated or angry. You have no patience. Everything annoys you. You feel resentment toward your baby, or your partner, or your friends who don’t have babies. You feel out-of-control rage.

  • You feel nothing. Emptiness and numbness. You are just going through the motions.

  • You feel sadness to the depths of your soul. You can’t stop crying, even when there’s no real reason to be crying.

  • You feel hopeless, like this situation will never ever get better. You feel weak and defective, like a failure.

  • You can’t bring yourself to eat, or perhaps the only thing that makes you feel better is eating.

  • You can’t sleep when the baby sleeps, nor can you sleep at any other time. Or maybe you can fall asleep, but you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep no matter how tired you are. Or maybe all you can do is sleep and you can’t seem to stay awake to get the most basic things done. Whichever it is, your sleeping is completely screwed up and it’s not just because you have a newborn.

  • You can’t concentrate. You can’t focus. You can’t think of the words you want to say. You can’t remember what you were supposed to do. You can’t make a decision. You feel like you’re in a fog.

  • You feel disconnected. You feel strangely apart from everyone for some reason, like there’s an invisible wall between you and the rest of the world.

  • Maybe you’re doing everything right. You are exercising. You are taking your vitamins. You have a healthy spirituality. You do yoga. You’re thinking “Why can’t I just get over this?” You feel like you should be able to snap out of it, but you can’t.

  • You might be having thoughts of running away and leaving your family behind. Or you’ve thought of driving off the road, or taking too many pills, or finding some other way to end this misery.

  • You know something is wrong. You may not know you have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, but you know the way you are feeling is NOT right. You think you’ve “gone crazy”.

  • You are afraid that this is your new reality and that you’ve lost the “old you” forever.

  • You are afraid that if you reach out for help people will judge you. Or that your baby will be taken away.

(from the website postpartumprogress)

There is nothing to feel guilty about if this seems to be describing you. Postpartum depression is not something we choose or could wish away. A responsible mother must get help.