Jack Dominian outlines some classic flashpoints of parent-partner conflict

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Baby in the bed makes three

Taking the baby into bed at night because it is having sleep problems and because children often hate being left alone. Wives won't send the child away, so husbands complain about getting no sex because women in particular tend to be much more anxious about making love around a sleeping baby. Men feel that women won't give their sexual relationship a high enough priority.

THERE are no perfect solutions. But I take the view that the man-woman relationship has to be safeguarded, and in the long run every child has to learn to sleep in its own bed. Taking the baby into bed other than in exceptional circumstances is not a long-term solution.

Troubles that must be

talked through

Parents beginning rather tensely and with raised voices to discuss some problems of their relationship - probably the wife has at last got him to agree to sit down and listen. Their child, aged about eight, disturbed by their raised voices, says 'What's going on? Why are you so upset?'

The parents are determined to and need to explain themselves; the child, distressed, refuses to leave the room. If a parent goes with it, the chance for discussion is probably lost; yet it is surely wrong to reject an anxious child.

REASSURE the child that the parents are not splitting up. A lot of eight-year- olds are afraid of this; the child needs to be reassured that the mother isn't going to announce she's leaving. Try to get the child to express its fears, and when it has done so and been reassured then it must be packed away and the parents should continue talking.

Adult relationships need sustenance

A couple decide to go away for the weekend together: perhaps because they feel they have lost touch, they need to re-establish their previous tender, personal and sexual contact. They make all the arrangements, fix up a babysitter (grand- or god-parent) to stay with the children, and the day they are due to leave a child gets ill with a temperature of 103. What should they do?

THAT'S a really difficult one and it does happen. There is no perfect answer. They may have to cancel the weekend because there is no point in having a wife demented with anxiety: she is not going to be able to enjoy a quiet weekend with her husband. Or they may delay their departure by 24 hours till the child feels a bit better and they can enjoy the rest of their weekend.

Full-time work, part-time fatherhood

With more people having difficulties getting jobs or selling houses, an increasing number of fathers work in a town far away from where they live, and only go home at weekends. When they do, they are aware that the children are more demanding, having not seen them for five days; and the husband is wracked with guilt because he would like to give them time, take them to the park or a football match . . . but, at the same time, the wife is exhausted from single-mothering all week and she needs his attention too, and some adult pursuits - a meal out or a drink at the pub. How does the man reconcile these conflicting and legitimate demands? You can't expect children to agree to defer things, but the mother also needs time and support to carry on coping alone for the rest of the week.

THIS is a very real problem, he has to be everything: he must play the role of a father with the children and take them to the park; he has to spend time with his wife. He has to divide his time entirely proportionately between the children and her so that everybody feels they have had a bite of him. Peace and quiet he is not going to get.

A younger woman in the family

Pubescent girls, beginning to explore their femaleness, want a lot of time and attention to 'practise' on a safe male - often their father. He may recognise that his daughter is trying to set him against her mother. (The same scenario in reverse is possible, but less likely, with boys.) It is a necessary part of trying to get the feeling of your male or female identity with a person of the opposite sex who is safe and understands the boundaries; but the partner often feels threatened.

The daughter wants this man's attention; she may even unconsciously want to take him away from her mother. The mother is jealous of this attractive, emerging young woman.

THE husband has got to spend time with his wife, reassuring her so that she can relax and allow her daughter to enjoy her husband. The husband has to explain. As a parent he has to carry out his duties to his daughter; as a husband he has to explain to his wife what's happening. If he has a very sensitive, jealous and paranoid wife, he may have to cut out the daughter. The nightmare is if the daughter is spending time seducing him, sitting on his knee, caressing him, and he doesn't really explain to his wife. Daughters do these things; some know they're doing it and some don't.

It is a time when sexual abuse is likely to occur. The daughter sits on the sofa with her skirt up to her belly deliberately drawing attention to herself and the mother says, 'Pull your skirt down]' and the daughter says, 'Why?' . . . that sort of exchange. The husband and wife have to be in excellent communication with one another because their relationship will safeguard everybody.

The father must not take the daughter on alone; he must co-operate with the wife so that, although he is the target, wife and husband are working together. It doesn't happen so often with teenage boys because they are much more easily embarrassed. The relationship with the mother can accept more physicality than that with a girl and her father . . . it is much more acceptable in our culture.

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