After two days down with the stomach flu, I am more thankful than ever for my husband, who has been taking excellent care of me and our two babies as we get better. Watching him cook, clean, and just generally take care of us, has reminded me of how important it is to acknowledge that Dads/Husbands/Male Partners can be great caretakers.
Now, before I dive into my main point here, I should be clear that, of course, not all men (or women) are good caretakers. That’s obvious; some people of all genders are abusive or incompetent or unwilling, etc. However, if your partner is committed to your family and competent, well then, I argue that what you have on your hands is a great caretaker, or at least, a great caretaker in the making.
Many moms, myself included, often shoulder more of the responsibility when it comes to caretaking, including caring for the children, the home, and our partners. We often sacrifice self-care to take care of everyone else. In the past, I thought this was just how it had to be, so I tried to be supermom, superwife, and superworker. But that left me superexhausted and superoverwhelmed!
Even though I realized, years ago, that I needed to give him some credit, I still struggle with this, and sometimes default to trying to do everything myself, completely ignoring the fact that my husband is a competent adult. So for 2012, I resolve to Give Dad Some Credit! I invite you, lovely MomsLA readers, to also give the dad in your life some credit.
If you want to Give Dad Some Credit for 2012, here are some things I find helpful to remember:
- Different is not necessarily better or worse. One of the reasons I tend to jump in, whether it’s fixing the kids’ lunch, or doing laundry, is because he does it differently. But my way is not better just because it’s mine! When I reflect on our different approaches to child and home care, I usually find that while we do things differently, we each do them well. Sometimes, his way is actually the better way.
- Problem-solving is a team effort. When a problem arises, my first instinct is to fix it. But often, he is willing to fix it or we can fix it together. When there is a scheduling problem–we both need time to write, for example–my default is to just give up my time. However, that solution is unfair and will leave me feeling as if my work is not important. If I ask him what we should do, instead of jumping in with the solution, there is often a compromise available that will serve us both.
- It’s not “helping me” when he parents or does housework; it’s parenting and cleaning. This is a hard habit for me to break. I tend to say, “Can you help me with the girls?” or “Can you help me with the house?” This implies that I am the one whose responsibility it is to parent and clean and that he is just “pitching in.” It diminishes his role in the family and makes it seems like I am the sole parent in this two-parent household. That’s not fair. Most unfair is that this language sometimes represents the same way of thinking about our roles. I do sometimes think of him as just “helping out” akin to when people ask dads if they are “babysitting” their own children. That’s garbage. Instead I need to remember to do what he does, and ask, “Would you have time to clean the yard this week?” or “Would you be able to watch the girls Tuesday, so I can work on a project?” It’s much more respectful.
- He deserves the opportunity to be a caretaker. We moms know that it’s hard work to raise kids and keep house and cook and work, and the rest of it. We also know that it is rewarding and a deep source of pride. When we exclude our husbands from the “domestic” realm, we deprive them the chance of feeling that pride. Many men are more than willing to do these things, but they need to be given a chance.
- Save it for later, or let it go. Dads will never gain the confidence needed to caretake with moms breathing down their necks. Sometimes, when I watch my husband play with the girls he will do something that makes me a little nervous, like let them run a bit further than I would. However, unless it’s actually a dangerous situation (in reality, not just in my paranoid mind), I need to save it for later or let it go. If the issue is one that I shouldn’t/can’t “let go,” then, in private, I can tell him, “you know, that thing earlier was making me uncomfortable. What do you think of changing it?” He is usually open to discussion. But if I call him out in front of the kids it feels like, and actually is, me picking and nagging. Especially if I were to call him out in front of other adults, it would be embarrassing and demeaning. It would make him feel like I didn’t trust him with our children, when the reality is that I do trust him.
- Be appreciative. I know that I need to feel appreciated, so I try to remember to show my appreciation to my husband for the small and large things he does for us.
- Just do it. I have often heard moms say that “Dad can’t put them to sleep” or the like. And, yes, I know that kids can be difficult and maybe the kids won’t go to sleep for him. But so what? If there is a good reason for mom to be away at bedtime (I would count a much-needed moms’ night out as a good reason), then Dad can handle it, even if the kids don’t go to sleep. Maybe they cry, or yell, or run around, or end up watching television until 10pm, or whatever. He can keep them safe, at the very least. In this case, I’d say, just do it. With enough practice, the kids will probably learn to go to sleep with daddy. Except for nursing, I have learned that my husband can do anything I can.
If like me, you are still struggling to do some of these things, I hope you’ll join me and me and Give Dad Some Credit for 2012.
If you do, I’d love to hear how it goes! You can email me stories of success or woe at firstname.lastname@example.org Just be sure to title your email “Give Dad Some Credit” and if I get enough responses, I can run them in a future post. I’m not a relationship expert, by any means, but I’d also be happy to take questions and see if between my husband and me, we can’t come up with some decent advice!
For other resources on getting dads more involved in caretaking check out:
Equally Shared Parenting This couple really breaks the traditional mold and divides their workloads equally across the board.
A NY Times article with an imperative for support of fathering.
Evolution of Dad Movie Trailer The blog has just about run its course, but its archive is a treasure trove of materials. Also, the movie looks amazing!
Happy 2012, moms and dads!