The first time I left my daughter and husband alone together was when she was 5 weeks old. And despite the fact that my husband is frequently a better parent than I am, I carefully made a list of all the things my husband could do to calm her down. Even as I wrote the list, I realized it was ridiculous. Half of the items on the list – holding her arms down, snuggling her head in the crook of your elbow – were things my husband discovered. Plus, the list was futile, since her fussing didn’t fluster him. She could scream in his face for hours and he’d gently rock her the whole time. I made the list anyway – and added instructions for thawing and preparing breast milk and emergency contact information. My husband could barely suppress his eye rolls.
While study after study reveals that despite the fact that most women now work outside the home, women are still responsible for the majority of the child-rearing. But is this problem a result of our male-dominated culture? Or are moms themselves the cause of this inequality?
Dr. John Duffy, clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent, believes the main reason mothers have such a hard time ceding control is because of the overwhelming societal expectations. Dr. Duffy cites studies that showed that women felt better about themselves if they were their child’s primary caregiver, while their self-esteem plummeted if they were not. Dr. Duffy explains, “If women feel better about themselves when they are primary caregivers of their children, why would they relinquish their role?”
When you add in the fact that many mothers are working, guilt becomes a major factor. Dr. Fran Walfish, a child and family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, notes, “Because so many moms must work to help support their families, they are exhausted and feel guilty about not being there with their kids. When they are there, they do not want to fight and can’t bear when their children are angry with them. Therefore, mothers are not setting boundaries and not asking their partners and spouses for help sharing the child-rearing responsibilities.”
Is this desire to mother and the guilt associated with leaving our children created by society, or is it science? Tina Feigal, a parent coach and author, believes the connection between mother and child goes beyond just societal expectations. She defines the bond between mother and child as spiritual, biological and emotional, which is why it’s so hard for mothers to leave their children, even for a 15-minute run to the grocery store.
So, if the reason mothers are clingy is because of our biological makeup, does that mean men aren’t genetically coded to be nurturing? Hogan Hilling, author of two books, Pacifi(her): What She’s Thinking When She’s Pregnant and Rattled: What He’s Thinking When You’re Pregnant, vehemently disagrees. “Look at the rise in at-home dads,” he says. “That alone should be proof that men want to spend time with their kids.” Yet, despite their desire to be part of the process, Hilling says many men feel left out of the childbearing and childrearing process. So fathers give up trying to help because they are told they aren’t doing it right or their wives just redo their efforts. Says Hilling, “Moms forget that they make mistakes several times during the day. It’s just that no one is there to point them out. But when a dad makes a mistake, the mom is there, over his shoulder, telling him what a failure he is.”
“You trusted him enough to date him, marry him and have a child with him,” says Hilling. “Why can’t you leave the child alone with him?”
I’m sure my husband would agree. Although he’s changed countless diapers, I still find myself hovering over him, reminding him to wipe front to back and telling him that he put the onesie on backward (he didn’t). While he’s gracious enough not to do the same to me, we both know I would flip my lid if he stood over my shoulder criticizing everything I did.
Whether it’s biological or societal or something else, the truth is, my husband is an excellent father – if only I would get out of the way.