Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Q: My wife is on 6-month leave to care for our 9-week-old son. She seems to be ... I don't know how else to describe it, wallowing. She allows herself to look atrocious and actually seems to kind of enjoy it, like it lends credibility to her new-mom status. I REALLY don't believe it is postpartum depression: (1) She's been screened; (2) She seems happy as a clam; (3) I suffered from PPD a few years ago and have not recognized the signs in her.
At what point am I allowed to tell her it bugs me that she is going out of her way to look as sloppy as possible?
A: Any chance she's looking (childishly) for validation? If your PPD experience and her lack of it have turned into a mine-was-tougher-than-yours contest, then it's quite possible she believes grooming will put her at risk of being taken for granted. It's a common affliction between new parents, with each touting what s/he has given up and waiting for the appropriate accolades instead of looking with gratitude at what the other has done.
It can be a symptom of larger problems, but in some cases the problem isn't deep and the cycle can be broken with a choice to give praise whenever you feel the impulse to make comparisons. So, instead of, "You seem to enjoy looking like a troll," say, "You have such a nice way with the baby."
Oh, and beware of the loaded compliment: "You're so great with the baby, it's just effortless with you," or some other comment minimizing her effort.
If there's no serious problem, then let it go for a while. For one thing, her leave will eventually be up; self-resolving problems are good ones to ignore. And, it's still so early; she has plenty of time to stop wallowing on her own, and it is infinitely better for it to be her decision.
In the meantime, you can offer her "time to recharge," "you-time," "time for a long bath" — in other words, nurture for her versus nags that are all about you.
Q: Okay, my 9-year-old niece was staying at our house for a week, and walked in on my wife and me doing the horizontal mambo (really thought the door was locked!).
I wish I had a sister for whom this would be a good laugh, but this is going to be a HUGE deal. I think my wife and I handled the situation delicately. So how would you approach an overly conservative parent with this bit of news? How do you tell your daughter that her cousin probably isn't going to be visiting again for a while? How do I keep from laughing?
Hallmark has no card for this
A: You think your niece will report this? It's the last thing my 9-year-old self would have mentioned to Mom.
If she does, and if your sister calls about it (!), then give it no more hysteria than it deserves. "Ugh, sorry, I was so sure we locked the door." Done. If pressed, gently remind her that sexuality isn't evil, you handled it as sensitively as you could, and it can't be undone, so maybe the less fuss made the better.