Step Aside, Mommy! Letting Daddy Lead

Big Guy started a new job in December and is heading off this week for an overnight in Virginia. It is the first time he’ll been away for the night and leave me home with the kids. I have been away several times and left him home, and we’ve been away a few times and left the kids with relatives, so it’s a bit funny that this will be my first overnight alone. He seems overly concerned that I’m not going to survive.

Big Guy and Bug on the Beach
Big Guy and Bug on the Beach

My husband didn’t go into parenthood with as much enthusiasm as I did. He also didn’t have as much experience with kids. I had babysitting experience, and had spent time with my nieces, so I had the basics down. He had never been spit up on and was wary at best about even holding an infant. When our son was born, I decided that it was time for a little crash course in baby care.

In the hospital, I encouraged Big Guy to attend diapering and bathing classes. I suggested that he watch the nurse change a diaper and then try it the next time himself. I knew he was nervous and figured that the best remedy was practice without me hovering over him with a critical eye.

It is now 3+ years later and he’s a pro. He does dinner, bath and bed with minimal or no help from me. He gets up in the morning and dresses the kids. It’s all part of the division of labor we have in the house, but sometimes I feel a bit guilty. I have absolutely no idea what the kids’ bath time routine is (I haven’t given a bath in over a year, I think) and Bug is always a bit put-out when daddy isn’t there to do his bed time rituals correctly. If I disappeared, my husband would be just fine. Of course, the kids wouldn’t get luxuries like lotion and diaper cream and they may have too much sugary cereal and hot dogs, but they would be clean, dressed and fed. And, they would feel completely safe and nurtured by their dad. He knows them just as well as Mama does.

This is not the norm. Most of my mom friends (and relatives) have husbands that can “watch” the kids in time of need, but seem either incapable or unwilling to actually co-parent their children. I’ve always been a bit resentful of the imbalance in this type of parenting relationship, thinking it symbolizes some sort of gender power issue in the home.  But, upon closer scrutiny, I don’t think that’s entirely true. I think that some moms take a certain pride in their ability to care for their offspring better than daddy does. Sure, they gripe about having to do everything, but when it comes down to it they aren’t willing to let go. They hover over uncertain daddies and complain about things that aren’t just right and seem convinced that, if left to their own devices, daddies would let the kids drown in the tub or choke on a piece of candy. And, to be fair, most of the dads in these situations are more than happy to let Mom do the work. And who can blame them? Unfortunately, they miss out on some of the special moments that only primary caregivers get to experience. It’s a shame for dads and for kids.

If you’re a mom who truly wants her partner to have just as special of a relationship with the kids, here are a few tips:

Let Daddy do it his way, even if it makes you cringe. The kids may be dirtier, louder, mis-matched or otherwise not quite perfect, but who really cares? Is a matching outfit really more important than a close relationship with your dad?

Try to avoid criticizing his actions. If you giggle when he messes up his first diaper change or give him a hard time if he’s too rowdy right before bed time, he’s going to stop trying.

Let him make mistakes. Many of us have put a diaper on backwards, forgotten the bib or chosen the story that’s just a bit too scary before bedtime. As long as the child isn’t in physical or emotional danger, let it go. Just make sure that Daddy is responsible for the repercussions. He’ll learn the lesson on his own.

Put your own issues aside. Yes, it’s nice to be needed and, yes, it can feel good to know that the you’re the only one who can get little Johnny to sleep. But it’s even nicer to move past that to allowing Dad to become a great parent that your children can rely on if you are sick or need to be away.

As Big Guy prepares for his trip, I’m a bit anxious. Of course, I’ll miss him just being around, but it’s more than that. He has a role in our household, not just in our lives. And, of course, I may have to actually give a bath!

Leave a reply