These days there’s a lot of discussion in the media about the unfair division of household labor. And a lot of moms I know sigh over the fact that their spouses and partners don’t seem to carry their full weight when it comes to taking care of the kids.
Of course, a lot of those same moms are the ones who butt into every baby-related decision Dad makes and who find him incapable of changing a diaper correctly.
I know, because I’ve been one of those mothers, with disappointing results. And after fourteen years of motherhood, during which my husband and I have come to a nearly fifty-fifty parenting split, I’ve come to realize: Ladies, often the problem is us.
“I have to let go and LET him be an amazing dad. The biggest hurdle we work to overcome everyday is my tendency to ‘just do it myself’. It’s a combination of my realizing that I’m a better parent when I let him help me and his stepping up and telling me when I’m being overbearing.”
Yup. I understand the tendency; I have it myself as do many (most?) mothers I know. But we really can overcome those supermom urges, and LET our spouses and partners be the fantastic dads they are meant to be…by simply getting out of their way. Here are 7 simple ways to start:
1. Avert your eyes.
So he’s applying that diaper a little differently than you would. Or his “burp the baby” method seems unorthodox. So what? The only way any of us can figure out how to do this parenting thing is to be given some space to figure it out. I understand that it might drive you crazy to see things done “the wrong way,” so do yourself a favor: look the other way.
Photo of Mr. Curry with daughter Ever, courtesy of Maggie May Ethridge at Flux Capacitor
2. Choose your battles.
Sometimes you just don’t see eye-to-eye with your co-parent on a parenting issue. And if, like many moms, you’re the one who does the majority of kid-related reading and research, you may feel that you have the right to veto power.
But consider carefully before you put your foot down. Is this issue worth a fight? Could it be that his perspective – even if it’s coming right off the top of his head, rather than out of the baby-care volume you adore – has merit? Is there a middle ground? Is there a way that you can both win?
3. Offer encouragement.
Everybody wants to hear that they’re doing it right. I personally love it when my husband tells me I’m a great mom or that I handled a situation well. So why are so many moms reluctant to do the same for our spouses and partners?
I’ve learned that criticism gets me nowhere. But a well-placed compliment or encouraging word makes a huge difference in the way my husband and I relate to one another as parents and people.
4. Share your struggles.
When we moms tell each other honestly about our insecurities and difficult parenting moments, it helps all of us feel less alone and more normal. Well, dads are no different.
While your spouse might not be up for hours of behavioral analysis, when you share that you don’t know what to do about your three-year-old’s sudden penchant for the F-word (where did he hear that, anyway?) it gives Dad a chance to brainstorm and become part of the solution. Plus, by letting down your guard a little, you let him know that you don’t think you have all the answers and shows him his ideas are valuable.
5. Let him do what he’s better at.
The great thing about having a co-parent? The pressure’s off of you to be good at everything! Whether it’s teaching your five-year-old to tie his shoes or getting the baby down for a nap, your kids’ dad has strengths you might not share. Appreciate them, and take the opportunity to focus on something you’d rather be doing instead of feeling bad that you aren’t the one teaching your daughter how to ride her bike.
Mark with kids India and Jafta; photo courtesy of Kristen Howerton, Rage Against The Minivan
6. Go away.
For an hour, for an afternoon, for a week… Honestly, the best thing I’ve ever done for my husband’s relationship with the kids and his involvement in the home was to start going away on business trips. With me out of the picture, he was free to figure out his own way of doing things…and found out that he really could handle this Dad business. Plus, he was forced to realize just how much work goes into keeping a household running, and figured out the best ways he could help.
The result: a huge jump in confidence and more day-to-day involvement with the kids for him, plus regular breaks for me. Win-win-win.
7. Get over yourself.
Moms, we are amazing. And I know that I am irreplaceable in my kids’ eyes. But…at some point, I had to admit that the anxiety I felt over leaving my kids with my spouse was largely due to hubris. Yes, I’m great at the job of managing the household. My kids love and need me. And yet…the world would keep on spinning if I wasn’t in it, and my little (big) family would keep on chugging, too.
Realizing that has been both humbling and freeing. It means that while I can still place a lot of importance on my role as a mom, I don’t have to shoulder all the responsibility for how my kids turn out. (It also means I can’t take all the credit.)
And that leaves a lot more room for Dad to do his thing.
Even if it nags at the old pride now and then, in the end, isn’t sharing the load the best thing for everyone involved…especially the kids?
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