Shanon Cook bristled when her husband called their baby "sweetie," her special nickname
Therapists say baby jealousy is a normal part of adjusting to parenthood
Communication and alone time are essential to getting past the phase
Editor’s Note: Shanon Cook is an entertainment contributor for CNN and has interviewed Peter Gabriel, Sting, Britney Spears, Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and Yo-Yo Ma. Cook grew up in Australia and now lives in New York with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter @ShanonCook.
About a week after we brought our baby girl home from the hospital, my husband called out from the nursery: “Sweetie, what’s this?”
I marched in ready to offer inexpert parenting advice to my overwhelmed spouse. But there was Daniel, grinning and waving a little blue hippopotamus-shaped rattle in front of our slightly cross-eyed bundle of joy.
It turns out I wasn’t the “sweetie” he was talking to. No, the sweetie was our adorable, albeit blobby, projectile-pooping newborn (who, I might add, had no idea what a hippopotamus was).
Well this is new, I thought. After 10 years of being my husband’s No. 1 gal, he’s now trying out my special nickname on our daughter.
And what’s that uncomfortable sensation in my chest? That slight pang followed by a dull ache. Heartburn? No. Could it be … jealousy?
“Yes, what you describe is definitely a case of jealousy,” Gerrod Parrott, professor of psychology at Georgetown University, told me. “It’s a completely normal reaction. Jealousy is a response to a perceived threat to an important relationship. Part of our feeling of who we are comes from how others treat us, and when one special person seems to shift that treatment to someone else it is normal to feel insecurity and a loss of identity.”
Oh boy. So not only do I suck at folding onesies; I’m capable of feeling jealous of my own baby. And if I’m honest, those feelings started to creep in some time ago.
“How’s my girl?” Daniel would ask when I was still pregnant, clearly a reference to the unborn in the room – dude, my eyes are up here! Then there was the time he returned from a work trip in Taiwan with a cute little gift for me, and a really awesome gift for the baby – a plush, pink pig toy that I immediately wished was mine.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s wonderful to see my husband so enthused and enamored with our baby. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But there’s definitely a slow adjustment at work here. Even as the baby approaches 18 months of age, hearing Daniel call her “my princess” makes me contemplate putting his shoes in the dishwasher.
“Romantic love and parental love are overlapping systems,” says Parrott, who has studied jealousy and envy for more than 25 years. “Both involve strong attachment and dependency. Infants in particular receive types of physical attention that overlaps with romantic interactions and for that reason are usually withdrawn later in childhood.”
Makes sense. Ever watched parents with their little ones? There’s an awful lot of cuddling, kissing and sickening lovey-dovey speak going on.
“No, it’s not sexual,” says Parrott. “But is it intimate? Certainly!”
It’s not just moms who can feel a little bent out of shape when their husbands dote on their daughters. Psychologist and host of VH1’s “Couples Therapy” Jenn Berman says it’s more often dads who complain about feeling jealous as they lose their wife’s attention to the new addition to the household. But the only complaint from Daniel is that I keep dressing the baby like a boy. (I swear that’s simply for practical reasons; dresses and crawling don’t go well together.)
“I think a lot of women feel what you feel but are afraid to say it out loud because as women we are raised in this society to be selfless and to be givers,” she says. “I think it takes a lot of courage to admit when you feel a little replaced.”
OK, so I’m courageous. I’ll take that. But what do I do about these occasional feelings of jealousy? They’re not very pleasant. And I’m so excited about this coming Mother’s Day that I’ve already picked out my outfit, including accessories. That can’t be healthy, can it?
First of all, says Berman, I have to accept that as new parents my husband and I are still figuring out how to manage our relationship in this vastly different context.
“It takes a while to get the balance down,” she says.
And, big surprise, talking about it helps.
“Remember it’s OK to be less than perfect,” says Parrott. “If you really like being the only sweetie or princess in the house, you might try saying so in a way that makes your husband feel that it means he’s special to you just as you want to be special to him.”
Got it. And my husband gets it, too. When I pointed out that the whole “How’s my girl?” thing was a little jarring, he started saying, “How are my girls?” (never underestimate the power of a strategically placed “s,” sweeties).
When I bemoaned not feeling like his princess anymore, he told me I’d actually been promoted – to queen. Upon hearing this, I had to stick my head out an open window to get some air. But the title is slowly growing on me.
But regal nicknames aren’t necessary to remind moms they’re still special on the 364 days of the year that aren’t Mother’s Day, according to Berman, author of “SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start In The First Three Years.” Nor do dads need to buy expensive gifts.
“Basic, focused face-to-face time without the TV on, without BlackBerrys, without iPads, without any of that stuff – that is really one of the best gifts,” she says. “It is emotional money in the bank.”
To get the dad’s perspective, I spoke with Brandon Wheeler, a father to three girls (gulp) who lives in Atlanta.
“I do buy flowers and small gifts for (my wife) sometimes, but honestly those things have way less of an impact than me doing the dishes randomly, putting the girls to sleep or helping to enforce the rules,” he says.
But if he gives his wife too much attention, Brandon says his youngest daughter, 8-year-old Juliet, gets jealous of her mother. She even suggested dad work up a schedule so he knows which of the two ladies he should spoil at different times.
“If (Juliet) is sleeping then I am allowed to spoil mom,” Brandon says.
Will someone please get Brandon a beer? What a balancing act!
Of course, there’s a lot to be grateful for in my situation – not the least of which is that I have a delightful daughter who I’ve fallen head over heels in love with myself. But I’m one of the lucky ones who has a husband – and a co-parent – who wants to be involved.
If Daniel knocks me out of the way in his haste to empty the Diaper Genie, who am I to complain? If he encourages me to hang out with friends while he enjoys his special daughter time, then watch me put my coat on and head for the door!
And deep down I know I’m still his main girl. The look on his face when I recently debuted a shrink-wrap tight dress told me so.
Perhaps it really is possible to have two adored women in the house. Two sweeties, two leading ladies, two princesses (or one princess, one queen). Her Majesty certainly hopes so.
How about you? Ever felt jealous of the attention your partner shows the kids? Leave your experiences in the comments section below.