Sometimes Moms Need to Let Go

The more I watch NBC’s Up All Night, the more impressed I am with it. The show, in case you’re not familiar with it, stars Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, and Maya Rudolph and deals with what happens when two new parents with successful professional careers decide that mom should keep her job while dad stays home with the baby. Sound familiar? Late last spring is when I first heard about the show when started generating buzz in the dad blogger community. Even so, given mainstream media’s track record with TV dads, however, I had my apprehensions. To my pleasant surprise, however, I didn’t need to be.

One of the things I’ve liked most is that it’s not all one sided. As the mother, Reagan (Applegate) struggles in her parenting as much as her husband Chris (Arnett) does as a new father. Together, though, they figure things out both as new parents and in their reversal of traditional roles. It’s a healthy dose of reality-based neuroticism without over-the-top buffoonery to detract from the message. In other words, I think we can all say we’ve been guilty of the same related behaviors portrayed in the show, and especially so when it comes to dad is the primary care-giver.

Thus far some of the issues covered include the mother’s feelings of guilt over being away from her child(ren), the isolation of being a stay-home-dad, the father’s struggle with giving up a successful career for his family, and recently, the need for mothers to sometimes relinquish control when it comes to domestic and parenting duties. It’s this last topic that really impressed me.

A regular complaint I hear from dads, both at-home and working, is that their wives dictate how parenting situations should be handled, and it’s discouraging for them to the point that they don’t even like being around. Given how society has so ingrained traditional parenting roles, it’s easy to understand the two perspectives here. Generally speaking moms feel that because they birthed a child they are closer to it, and therefore, better understand how to care and nurture it. At the same time, though, dads have their place too, and so to assume that that the mother’s bond also correlates to the one and only way to parent is a fallacy.

I’ve seen this happen a lot with stay-at-home dad, particularly with those that were forced into the role due to the economy. It may have been that the mother was carrying most of the parenting load up to that point, but then dad steps in. Dad has his own way of doing things. Dad’s way is different from mom’s. Mom doesn’t like dad’s way, but just because she doesn’t like it, doesn’t mean that dad’s way is wrong. That’s where moms need to let go.

I remember going through this with my wife as we settled into this transition. She had been a single mom raising two girls on her own—not an easy situation by any means. But then I come along with my way of handling things after being laid off, and for a while, there was some confusion and contention. For example, in the mornings before school, if my wife happened to be around, she’d let the girls eat breakfast before changing out of their PJ so they didn’t spill food on their clothes. Me? I made them change clothes first because, if not, the kids would fart around for 20 extra minutes and we’d end up being late for the bus. Varied approaches, each valid.

It’s been four years now, and over that time, my wife and I have worked out in which situation our various approaches work best.  Give and take. That’s what I like about Up All Night. It shows this in a funny, yet real way (see the video clip). In this same episode (10) titled, “Week Off,” Reagan gets to be a full-time mom and Chris tastes the passion of his old job as a lawyer for one week. The switch causes them to reevaluate their original family arrangement, but it’s Chris who gets the most annoyed as Reagan completely alters everything at home. Hilarity ensues.

Ultimately, though, an understanding is reached, and in the final scene Chris explains something surprisingly profound to Reagan when he tells her that she has to let him have this (the primary parenting and home duties) because, although he may have been an ace lawyer before, his role now as a stay-at-home dad is his identity. Beautiful. That’s the bottom line for some moms out there, regardless of whether your husband stays at home or works full time, you need to give up control.

Or in the words of the great General George S. Patton:

Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

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Ron Mattocks is a father of five (3 sons, 2 stepdaughters) and author of the book, Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka. He blogs at Clark Kent’s Lunchbox, and lives in Houston with his wife, Ashley, who eternally mocks his fervor for Coldplay.

Video clip: Hulu Photo Credit: wiki commons for promotional purposes only

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