All right, I'm just going to say this: The vast majority of Dads don't do nearly as much as the Moms do when it comes to child-rearing. Sure, they're devoted and loving and all of that, they take their kids to baseball games and out for ice cream and roughhouse with them on the floor. But when it comes to the day-to-the-day, I'd say that for the most part, it falls squarely on Mom's shoulders, whether you're a working Mom or stay-at-home. (Of course, stay-at-home Dads are rock stars when it comes to parenting, so they're not included in this discussion.)
You could blame it on women's natural impulse to nurture, and men's natural impulse to provide. But I call bullshit on all of that. I think the reasons why Dads don't often pull as much of the parenting weight is because we let them off the hook too easily. And then we resent them for not doing enough.
Last week, we were on vacation with my husband's family, and he spent more concentrated time with our twin 1-year-olds than he ever has. It was totally exhausting, chasing after two toddlers, going two different directions, in a house without baby-proofing. He got to see for himself what I do most days of the week. But whenever our babies were cruising on teetering chairs that kept tipping backwards, racing towards the tangle of electrical cords, harassing the fearful dog, or charging off the stone steps, someone would inevitably turn to my exasperated husband and suggest he go take a nap. Oh, yes, thank you, well-meaning relative -- now is the perfect time for him to disappear and leave the baby-wrangling to me.
My husband though was clearly exhausted, ill-equipped to handle the twins chaos and constant baby-tending. He doesn't do it on a daily basis so he wasn't really prepared. Some vacation, right? And seeing him overwhelmed and annoyed, my instinct was to shield him, thereby playing Mommy both to my children and to my husband. I too suggested he go take a nap once the babies were down for theirs. I thought he might enjoy a minor league game with his brother while we ladies stayed back to watch the kids. I wanted him to be okay and tried to facilitate that.
So then what happened? Oh, I just became a raving bitch -- short-tempered, nagging, snapping at him, "Why didn't you take out the bottles?! Instead of just standing there, could you get their bibs, puh-lease?! Pick him up, he's crying! I'm tired too, I'm tired too!" Hey, I don't blame you if you're hating me right now -- I hate me too. And if you're not hating me right now, well, it might be because it all sounds so familiar.
But the father of your children isn't an idiot. He knows how to change a diaper, microwave some mac-n-cheese, pick your baby up when he falls down. He can read her a book, keep her away from the electrical outlets, put her down for a nap and remember the lovey. The problem is, we first-time Moms often just take over, for a few reasons.
First off, we can't help but feel like he's doing it all wrong. It's not the way we like it done or it's not how we usually do it, so we're afraid it might throw our babies into a tailspin. Thing is, every time I've left my babies alone with my husband, they miraculously seem to survive, even though he didn't cut up the green beans or bathe them for two days. Go figure.
Second, I think many women try to protect their husbands -- we think we can handle it better (we can), so suggest that our fragile husband, go, go, go have a beer and watch baseball. And then, as he sits there with his feet up, not only watching the game but watching YouTube videos on his iPhone as well, we stand there seething. It's like the, "No, I'm not mad" of parenting: we tell him it's okay to go and relax, but what we really want him to do is say, "Oh honey, you look exhausted too. Let me give little Johnny dinner while you go take a bath." Because that's totally, totally going to happen.
Finally, I think we hate to see our partners resenting our kids. Sure, it's okay for us to roll our eyes or pour ourselves a big glass of wine just to get through the witching hour. But, God forbid Dad seems frustrated or annoyed. We want to get that energy far away from our little ones, so we snap, "I got this, I got this, go take a walk," and are relieved when he does. Like your kids have never seen you get frustrated or annoyed?
I think we need to stop shielding men from the work of raising kids. What are we so afraid of? That our husbands are really going to run out for a pack of cigarettes and never come back? Not likely. Most men are better than that. What we're doing is enabling them, allowing them to take a backseat with parenting, and then angry at them for never, ever getting in the driver's seat. And our friends all tell the same story, so we sigh deeply and acknowledge that it's normal. But that doesn't make it right.
Sure, there are many men who refuse to help, even when we ask. But I think the majority are more than capable and would do it, if it didn't come with snapping and nagging and criticism from us. Maybe they won't remember the diaper cream, maybe they'll watch TV while the baby plays, maybe the baby will spend the whole day in just his diaper. But sometimes, I think we need to hand the baby off to their Dads and say, "Here, he's yours for the next two hours. Mama's getting a pedicure." Without Mom around to pick up the slack, Daddy's on deck and it's really, really good for him. Of course, the second he hears the key in the lock, he might be right there at the front door, holding the baby out to you. But he did it, he handled Daddy duty, you got a break, and everyone survived.
Parenthood is hard on a marriage, plain and simple -- there's a reason why comedians of both genders make jokes about the unhelpful, unappreciative husband and the nagging, critical wife. At the root of all of that though is underlying resentment, a lack of communication, saying one thing when you mean another. Ask for help, insist on it, and even if you only get it, say, 4 times out of 10, at least it takes some of the edge off. He's the Dad and if he's a good man (which I hope he is), he loves his child, and he loves you -- you just have to get him to share the burden.
Do you think you've enabled the father of your child to be not as helpful?
Image via David Boyle/Flickr