During the week, I stay home with the kids while my husband works. I change their diapers in the morning, get them dressed (sometimes), feed them breakfast, find lost tennis shoes, change more diapers, clean up toys, throw balls, kiss chubby cheeks, fill sippy cups, check butts, wash hands, locate clean socks, and kiss ouchies. I take care of their needs. I keep them fed, happy, and safe. I learn their rhythms and establish routines.
In the midst of never-ending motherhood, sometimes it’s hard to remember to step back. Because I’ve got all the answers, right? I know my kids. But the thing is, so does my husband.
When my son falls, hits his giant head on something, or skins his knee, I rush in. I want to be the one to comfort and console—even when my husband is right there. Sometimes my son wants me, but other times he’s perfectly content to smother my husband’s neck with his wet cheeks. And I struggle with not stepping in and taking over. My hands slip around him and I pull him free and into my own embrace. My husband will try to wave me off, saying, “I got this.”
When my son lunges across the room to smack my husband with a pillow, sometimes I cringe when my husband gets to him first, knocking him to the floor. As the room erupts with giggles and shrieks, I find myself hovering in the background wondering if the play is too rough.
When my husband scoops my son into his arms and throws him effortlessly into the air, my son’s smile stretches as wide as the distance between him and the floor. My husband catches him amidst crazed laughter, and lofts him high into the sky again. Sometimes my insides tie in knots, fearing the height is too great, the fall too far.
When my husband goes grocery shopping with me, he’s always careful to find new snacks for our toddler. From peanut butter crackers, raisins, granola bars, Goldfish and fruit snacks, he keeps our pantry full. Sometimes, it annoys me. We have a routine—I know what our son likes and doesn’t like. Why do we need to find something else? But then the next week our toddler decides to spontaneously stop eating bananas, and our full pantry saves my sanity.
When my husband starts doing something I have done with the kids (and let’s face it, as a stay-at-home mom, I’ve done a lot), I find myself interrupting with suggestions and advice on better ways to do it. I share how I do it, what works for me, but then he’ll do it his way, and more often than not, our kids are just as receptive. Sometimes, it works even better. He pushes our kids further, they reach new milestones, and skip unnecessary steps.
When my husband disciplines my son, sometimes it’s hard not to step in, give hugs, and smooth things over. But then my son actually listens, responds, and stops doing the same bad behavior that’s been driving me crazy all week long.
Sometimes, when I step back and silence my worries, I’m brought to tears watching the beautiful bond my husband and son share. As my husband and son exchange smiles and laughter, my love grows and I’m even more grateful to be married to this man. As my daughter buries her head in his chest, reaches out to stroke his bearded chin, or grins beneath ticklish kisses, I realize there are gaps I can’t fill.
I’m an amazing mom, but I can’t do it all. I need to learn to trust my husband’s instincts like I trust my own. I need to give him breathing room so I can catch my own breath. Parenting is exhausting. In the midst of mothering, I need to be careful not to shut out my husband’s fathering. We are better as a team.
Children who grow up with active fathers have “positive cognitive, developmental, and socio-behavioral child outcomes, such as improved weight gain in preterm infants, improved breastfeeding rates, higher receptive language skills, and higher academic achievement.” (FatherhoodFactor) Having active fathers is critical in their development. “Research shows that even very young children who have experienced high father involvement show an increase in curiosity and in problem solving capacity. Fathers’ involvement seems to encourage children’s exploration of the world around them and confidence in their ability to solve problems.” (Fatherhood)
Statistics also show the importance of fathers. “Individuals from father absent homes were found to be 279 percent more likely to carry guns and deal drugs than peers living with their fathers.” (FatherhoodFactor) Our children are more mentally stable, have greater confidence, and achieve higher academic performance levels when they are supported by their parents.
In a world that sometimes victimizes boys as being intrinsically bad, and points out all the things men are doing wrong, we are hurting our children by forgetting all of the things men do right.
Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University and Co-Director of the National Marriage Project Dr. David Popenoe says, “Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home. Involved fathers—especially biological fathers—bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring. They provide protection and economic support and male role models. They have a parenting style that is significantly different from that of a mother and that difference is important in healthy child development.” (Focus on the Family) Our differences are important. Our approaches yield well-roundedness. “Fathers encourage competition, engendering independence. Mothers promote equity, creating a sense of security. Dads emphasize conceptual communication, which helps kids expand their vocabulary and intellectual capacities. Moms major in sympathy, care, and help, thus demonstrating the importance of relationships. Dads tend to see their child in relation to the rest of the world. Moms tend to see the rest of the world in relation to their child. Neither style of parenting is adequate in and of itself. Taken together, they balance each other out and equip the up-and-coming generation with a healthy, well-rounded approach to life.” (Focus on the Family)
When I let fear take over, I prohibit growth. When my husband roughhouses with my son, he is showing him that even though he is bigger and stronger, he is purposefully holding back. My husband is teaching him appropriate social interactions of give-and-take. Our toddler is learning how to read body language and engagement. It improves our son’s cardio vascular health and fulfills his needs for nurturing touch. (Rough and Tumble Play)
It is important to let my son be a boy—to let him throw balls, run around screaming, play naked in the water, and bury dinosaurs in the dirt. It is essential for my daughter to grow up secure in her father’s love. It is pivotal that she learn by example how she should be treated.
Not all masculinity is toxic. We need to let our husbands be fathers.