It took me a while to trust Marvin to be a dad. I know that sounds kind of crappy. It sounds like Marvin needed my babysitting or hand holding when it comes to our kids. I don’t mean it like that. I don’t mean I didn’t trust him to handle things properly. I mean that it took me a long time to trust that Marvin could be a dad (a REAL dad) and still love me. That he would still love us and want to come home after work. That he could see the hard, do the hard, LIVE in the hard and still choose us.
I had good intentions. I knew how hard parenting was. Real parenting. It was exhausting and messy and constant and I wanted to save him from that. I had to save him because surely he could only love us if life was easy and we didn’t ask much of him. He couldn’t love us through the ugly. And parenting IS ugly. We’re not talking drive-by parenting here (where the dad comes home and gets to kiss freshly washed children and throw them around a bit and then send them off to bed and call it a day). Real parenting. Parenting in which the kids are fighting and no one wants to eat what I’ve cooked for dinner and there’s wet, dirty clothes every where and mom is heading out the door because (as I was shocked to learn) moms ARE allowed to leave sometimes– even GOOD moms! In real parenting Dad is there to step in. Really step in. He can do homework and bath time and the feeding and the rocking and the breaking up of fights. He can do it all. Because, you know what? They’re his kids too.
REAL parenting was only for me. I could handle real parenting. I could do the hard and still love my family.
My thought process had little to do with Marvin and everything to do with my insecurities. We all have issues from our past that we carry into our current relationships and friendships. My insecurity was waiting. I was always waiting. Waiting to meet the real Marvin. Waiting to see a glimpse of the Marvin who had a secret life or cheats or hates his family or or or. That’s the way my brain works. There’s no way a human being that good and that kind and that CUTE could really love me. All of me. The bad me. The moody me. I wasn’t worthy of that kind of love. Eventually the other shoe would drop and I’d be all alone and it would be all my fault because I’m too much and “can you really blame the poor guy”?
So, I hid. I didn’t hide the crazy me or the moody me. That would be way too hard to do. I’m too impulsive to hide those parts of myself. I hid parenting away. It was all mine. He wasn’t invited to parenting. He couldn’t handle it AND love me AND stay. It was solely my job.
Having parenting all for myself served me well. You see, if I was the only one doing REAL parenting then I was the only one who could have REAL parenting tantrums. Real parenting tantrums are the tantrums where you lock yourself in your room or bathroom or wherever after a long and dramatic monologue entitled “How Much I Do and How Little I am Appreciated”. It was a self esteem boost. “Look at how much I do! Look at how much I juggle. See! I AM a good mom! Now give me a break. I deserve it.” And, maaaan, I needed that self esteem boost because I always seemed to be one mistake away from ruining my children. One mistake away from being a “bad mom”.
I noticed that the dads that did real parenting were worshiped. For moms, real parenting is expected. It’s our responsibility. No one freaks out when a mother brings her kids to the grocery store. That’s part of her job. It’s not even a fancy part of her job. It’s the bare minimum. No one even gives it a second thought. That’s a Tuesday. Now, if your kids are perfect robots and you’re dressed in real people clothes and you have make up on and smiling children with manners in your midst you may get a smile or two from fellow shoppers but that’s where it usually ends for moms. However, if a dad brings a child to the store or even (gasp) more than one child people lose their ever loving minds. I wasn’t going to allow people to fan over him. I was doing the hard. I was the one that needed all the credit. I needed everyone to think I did it all and, more importantly, that I did it all well.
If Marvin did real parenting then I would be vulnerable to judgment. Judgment I wasn’t ready for or strong enough or secure enough to handle. You see, him DOING takes away from me. When he’s seen being a father, when he’s seen doing, people are quick to wonder why I’m not doing. Surely the mothers-in-law of the world would make comments about how their husbands never helped in that way. Those women did it all. Without a problem. Their baseboards were always clean and their kids’ clothes were always ironed–with pleats nonetheless and they had no one to thank but themselves, thankyaverymuch! They would always make sure to say how lucky I was. Always the word “lucky”. If they said the word “lucky” their comment was disguised as a compliment–it no longer sounded like a dis.
I loved being able to have the “your husband does WHAT?” conversation with my friends or (sadly) even with strangers. “My husband can’t even make toast, yours cooks?” This is a conversation where we compare and contrast what our husband does (or, really, doesn’t do) against the other husbands in the world so we can feel better about how we’re doing more than most. It’s a stab at the men in our lives, but it’s not even really about them. It’s about us. We use them so that we can feel better about ourselves. About how much we do. Why? Because doing more means caring more. And caring more means being a good mom. And at the end of the day we all just want to be good moms.
Kids tend to learn real quick which one of you is doing parenting. There’s trust there-trust that’s been built. It’s an unspoken rule: “The real parent can answer these questions and can help me with whatever I might need. The real parent knows the rules. The real parent is the boss–even of the other parent.”
Once I invited Marvin into real parenting my love for him grew. The kids’ affection for him and trust in him grew and I’m fairly certain his love for us grew. Marvin is now invited into decision making. What should we do with Dane’s speech issue? Should I bring Juliet to the doctor for this rash? Should Elaina play basketball in Lake Charles or Sulphur? These are real questions I ask now. Before they were conversation fillers. They were questions I asked out loud to him, but only so I could weigh the pros and cons of my own thoughts against one another.
I learned so many things after Marvin joined real parenting. I learned he shouldn’t have had to be invited by me afterall. He had a right. And I was taking his right from him. I was unfairly putting myself in a position of power. I was also cheating my kids out of another perspective–out of a real relationship with their dad. “Man, who is the only creature on earth that God willed for its own sake, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.” (Mulieris Dignitatem) I was keeping him from making a sincere gift of self to our children and thereby keeping him from growth, from knowing himself. Parenting is a partnership. Two brains are better than one. (Even when I’m one of the brains involved.) Surprisingly, my ideas are not always the best ideas. There’s more than one way to do things. My way is not always the right way. These realizations were groundbreaking in our home. Groundbreaking and necessary and long overdue. I was definitely thrown off my high horse.
It turned out, I wasn’t doing anyone any favors. Not Marvin and not myself and certainly not the kids. I was cheating Marvin out of parenting. Cheating him. I wasn’t saving him at all. I was robbing him, robbing everyone out of real, hard, pure love. Love is hard. It isn’t always easy, in fact, it’s rarely ever easy in the ways that count. Things worth doing are often hard. I’m lucky (see, I use that word too!) that I’m married to a man so willing to jump completely into parenting. I needed to stop holding him back. I needed to move myself out of the way to allow Marvin to really get to know the kids and to allow the kids to really trust Marvin.
To experience real love, to really love someone, you have to allow yourself to be loved. That was a tough lesson that I’m still working on learning. I don’t have it all figured out. Not even close. I am a work in progress.
Now and then I’m still guilty of downplaying what Marvin does and up-selling what I do. I still find myself comparing him to other dads and husbands. I still let the wrong comment slip from time to time. My mouth always works faster than my brain and my tact.
I’ve realized people (at least during my lifetime) will probably always praise men as fathers and husbands for doing just a little bit more than the bare minimum. It’s not an attack against me or my motherhood. It’s just genuine surprise. Not every guy is the same and some women (even after inviting and inviting and begging and re-inviting) are met with partners who do not wish to take part in real parenting. When these women use the word “lucky” they genuinely mean lucky. They’re serving as a reminder (maybe a Divine reminder?) to be grateful for what we have. A little appreciation goes a long way–we’ve learned that through experience, haven’t we?
We should not be comparing our husbands. We just shouldn’t. We have to stop doing this–let’s agree right now. Can you imagine if guys got together and in front of our FACES dissed us (like we tend to do)? Or compared what we do with what another mother or wife does? (God forbid that mother be HIS mother. Those are fighting words!) If it’s not ok and if it’s not nice for them then it shouldn’t be ok for us, right?
Like with any change, when you take a long-standing dynamic and decide to tweak it there may be some push back. If you go from handling all-the-things to needing or asking for help there will likely be confusion. Be patient. Ask. They don’t always know. I know that’s mind boggling for us. “How can they NOT know?” But, it’s true. I’ve learned it may take a while for the anticipation of the need to come into play with dads, but it’ll come and it’ll come faster when he’s built up rather than torn down. When they jump in and help and anticipate your needs or the needs of the family DON’T criticize the way they’re helping. Bite your tongue. Write it down and then throw it away. Set a timer and don’t talk until the timer dings. Do whatever you need to do, but keep your pie hole shut. Walking on egg shells is not a good way for him to learn initiative. He will figure out his way (not YOUR way, HIS way). Just like you had to figure it out. It takes time and patience. Be patient.
Change is hard. Relinquishing control is hard. Opening yourself to criticism is hard. Being vulnerable is hard. But, things worth doing are sometimes (often?) hard. Your children deserve two parents doing parenting. Don’t let your insecurities, expectations, fears or need for perfection rob them of that. It’s not your place.