Fifteen months since becoming parents, and I still turn to one of the first pieces of advice I received before going into labor.
“When you bring your baby home, create a sacred space between you and your husband where you both have equal opportunity to find your way as parents. Be cautious of visitors coming by who, in particular, will laugh at your husband and tell him that he’s doing something wrong. If you tell a new dad enough times that his way is inferior simply because he is dad, he will stop helping.”
They were right. This notion is everywhere. If a dad dresses the baby, it’s horrendous and must be done again. When a new dad nervously holds a newborn or tries to change a diaper, it’s a laughing matter that needs correcting. When a new mom is seen at the store by herself, she is called “brave” for leaving “dad the babysitter” with the little one.
Then we as mothers run ourselves to the ground because somewhere along the line we will have stepped into being the “default” parent, carrying the bulk of the mental and physical load of parenting because our way is “better.” Yet, in order to find a more balanced partnership all we have to do is stop and believe in the one we married – believe that they are just as capable (and also recognize that things like mismatching clothes are really not worth the battle).
I admittedly remember feeling a sense of superiority as the parent because I was the instinctive mama bear. I did connect with my newborn more at first because I was the food source. I knew his hunger cues and I was the only one who could fulfill that; and my husband did prove some stereotypes to be true in those early months. He put on his cloth diapers backwards and dressed him in outrageous color combinations that I would never pick out myself. He – and I – were nervous the first few times I left them alone, and I would come home to him tangled in the purple Mei tai wrap.
As easy it was in those instances to laugh – which I did for a good five minutes – I also made sure to never, ever, EVER use his bloopers against him. The truth is that I have bloopers too. I mean, I was the one who bonked my baby’s head on the car door while trying to install him in his car seat the first time. My husband never held that against me, so why would I treat his mistakes as unforgivable in turn?
I believe this advice is part of the reason why I have re-gained evenings to myself – something often unheard of for moms – because my husband has the confidence to handle bath and bedtime solo. I only listen from the bottom of the stairs because it melts my heart to hear him serenading our son to sleep with father-son concerts. The first time I heard him blasting music in bed, I wanted to shut it down because the baby books say nothing about obnoxious music and everything about white noise. But guess what? His way works quicker than my way ever did with the stupid white noise. So I let them be.
The hard part about all of this, though, is that it requires constant reminding and constant work. Any sort of balance we found in month three only lasted for month three because the next phase brings a new dynamic. The ways in which we bond with our son are ever-growing, and the ways in which we help each other have to be re-visited parallel to this growth. We figure things out, and then we have growing pains, and we have to figure things out again. But it’s worth it.
I don’t parent my husband. We parent together. Sometimes this involves biting my tongue when he dresses our son for the day in mustard yellow pants and a bright green shirt, and trusting that the loud bang I heard from upstairs is nothing more than memories being made between them.
When I stop helping my husband be a dad, I allow myself to focus on being mom. He deserves the opportunity to script fatherhood with his own words, and I deserve the freedom that comes with surrendering control. Most importantly, our son deserves to grow up with two involved parents – one who can dress him with serious style, and another who can put on a good concert at night.