Soon after my son was born, we found ourselves doing this little dance with the baby.
Parental Unit 1: “Do you want to hold him?”
Parental Unit 2: “Sure, if you don’t want to.”
Parental Unit 1: “No, I do want to. I just thought you might want him.”
Parental Unit 2: “I’m ok, but I thought maybe you wanted a break or something.”
Parental Unit 1: “I’m fine, just asking.”
You get the idea. So after the 8th time having that conversation, we realized the problem that our politeness was causing, and struck upon a simple but effective system. If the current babyholder required two hands for a task, was covered in fluids, or just needed a break, they just said “Take this baby.” It sounds a little harsh. People overhearing us would often comment, but this way there was no confusion and no hurt feelings. If this was an optional, “Do you want some time with our child?,” then it was in the form of a question. This had the secondary effect of giving both of us an easy tap out when the stress was building up. No one ever felt stuck with the baby. Of course the receiver of the child could refuse, but that rarely happened. When your spouse was asking for help, you accommodated. I also found I became more judicious about passing him off, not wanting to impose unless I really needed to.
Our son is now two and baby #2 is nearly here, and we’ve recently run into a similar problem. A 2 year old does not need to and probably can not actually be held, but he needs to be supervised. Without realizing it, we had gotten into the same kind indirect communication habits. When someone needed time for themselves, whether that be a yoga class, time to fiddle in the shop, play video games, or write blogs, we danced the dance of “do you?,” “do you?” until ambiguity and confusion had tempers raised to a boiling point. Thankfully I am married to a wonderful and smart woman who figured out what the problem was. We resolved to now treat personal time with the same directness we had practiced on holding the baby.”I need an hour.” “That doesn’t work for me, I need you here. Can you wait until after dinner?” etc.
Time is becoming a premium and no doubt the next few years with baby #2 will be trying on all of us. But, as long as we remember to ask for the help/time/space we need, I think it’ll be ok.