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Ask Dr. Helen: Do Husbands Owe Wives Post-Childbirth 'Push Presents?'

Today, a married reader writes in to share his disgust of “push presents”:

Dr. Helen,

My wife has recently informed me that husbands are now expected to give their wives “push presents.” Quite frankly, the idea and the term disgust me. She is not pregnant, nor is she materialistic, shallow, or prone to feeling entitled to anything. To the contrary, she is an exceptional woman, and I don’t believe she was motivated to tell me this out of materialism. Thus, I found this somewhat out of character for her. I tried to convey my disgust to her, but she just did not seem to understand what I found so offensive about the idea.

To me the very term “push present” evokes materialism and a confusion of priorities at such a momentous time. It also seems to elevate the role of mother over the role of father right from the start. No doubt pregnancy is much harder on women than it is on the men that support them through it, but the idea that she is entitled to a gift (which is not the true spirit of gift giving) is just odious to me. It is likely that I would have been moved to give her a token gift as a celebration of her becoming a mother if and when that ever happened. However, as for now, I just don’t feel that way given the context in which I have learned about the practice. It seems like something right out of that model of aspirational female behavior, Sex in the City.

I am not asking you to agree with anything I have said, and it is possible that I have this all wrong. I am just looking to hear that someone I don’t know personally at least understands my point of view even if she does not necessarily agree with it. You have written about issues that are at least tangential to this subject, so I thought you might be interested in it.

Dear Reader,

First, let’s start with what might have motivated your wife to bring up the idea of push presents and then I will give you my thoughts on men giving women push presents in general. You allude to the fact that you do not yet have children (gleaned from your statement, “if and when that ever happened”) and I wonder if your wife brought up the “push presents” to get a sense of how you would feel about having kids in the near future. When she heard how upset and offended you were about the “push presents” (with good reason, I might add), she may have responded in a manner not characteristic of her because she felt that you were not responsive — that is, your statements about the “push presents” may have represented to her that you did not want her to become a mother at this time and she was hurt or upset or both.

I don’t know if the above fits your situation but it is something to consider, given that you say she is exceptional and is generally a caring person. That said, maybe she does think “push presents” are a good idea — and you asked for my opinion, which is as follows:

Apparently there are a number of women who, like your wife feel that push presents are expected for having children:

That’s “push” as in, “I the mother, having been through the wringer and pushed out this blessed event, hereby claim my reward.” Or “push” as in, “I’ve delivered something special and now I’m pushing you, my husband/boyfriend, to follow suit…”

A recent survey of more than 30,000 respondents by BabyCenter.com found that 38 percent of new mothers received a gift from their mate in connection with their child. Among pregnant mothers, 55 percent wanted one. About 40 percent of both groups said the baby was ample reward.

Well, at least a number of women felt the baby was enough. My problem is with the sense of entitlement. Should a present be expected? I say, “hell, no.” A husband is expected to be supportive of his pregnant wife, and help her with things like maybe going out and getting her some favorite foods, or rubbing her back or feet if they hurt, showing up for the birth to lend support, and of course, taking care of the baby afterward. But a husband should not be expected to give some kind of gift to pay his wife off for having their child, something that sounds so utterly unfeminist and dishonest, I don’t even know where to begin.

What a woman is saying when she expects a gift is that sex — and by extension, child-bearing — must be compensated by a man. This exchange boils down to legal prostitution (nothing wrong with prostitution in my book, but call a spade a spade). The problem here lies in the fact that wives who want this type of exchange often think of themselves as above being a prostitute, but indeed, they are not — they are just dishonest prostitutes who are pretending to be something else. And what about the act of paying for children? A diamond in exchange for a child? Isn’t this a little sick? And if this kind of exchange is okay for women, why not for men?

Perhaps husbands should start expecting “pro-presents” when they get a promotion — wives should be expected to get hubby a new car or perhaps some kind of fun technology he has been wanting, that new big screen TV, perhaps? If the wife has no money, surely there are other things she could do to show how much she cares that her husband is moving up the career ladder. I’ll let the guys fill in the blank here.

If women find the above suggestions insulting, then think how men might feel when women expect gifts from them for having their children. Something that is precious, amazing and part of the human experience has now been turned into a business transaction. Any man who feels pressured into giving a push present either has low self-esteem and/or fears his wife or perhaps the wife is just taking advantage of his chauvinistic attitude — he sees women as bearers of children who have to be reimbursed for their suffering. Neither of these is a good attitude to have in a marriage. In an equal partnership, there would be a sense that having kids is a shared activity, not something that one suffering partner does and the other reimburses her for. What happened to being a loving partner who does not expect her partner to pay her off for having sex and then kids? Surely that should not be too much to ask.

I understand that for some women, having kids is hard and painful, but so is passing a kidney stone and I doubt the majority of women think they should get diamonds for that (or maybe they do). And certainly, if a man voluntarily wants to give a nice gift to his wife for becoming a mother, that’s sweet, just as it is sweet to present the husband with a gift voluntarily for becoming a dad, but it is the expectation that one is to be reimbursed for the act of child-birth that is troubling here.

So readers, what do you think of “push presents”? If male, should husbands be giving gifts to their wives as payment for having kids or, if female, do you feel entitled to a “push present” from your husband, and if so, why?


If you have a question you would like answered, please leave it below or email me at [email protected]. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question — if you want me to use your name, tell me, otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader,” etc.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at drhelen.blogspot.com. This advice column is for educational and entertainment purposes only and does not purport to replace therapy or psychological treatment.