By: Cristina Moreno, Bilingual Outreach Specialist, Penfield Children’s Center
Although as a whole, the world is starting to leave behind the idea that women are the primary caregivers of children and are embracing the idea of fathers or other family members being more involved in the day-to-day details of raising them, for the most part, it seems like mothers are still the ones making the bulk of the decisions. To be honest, in my household, I like it that way. I like being in charge and knowing exactly what my son is eating, knowing that the toys he is playing with are appropriate for him, and knowing that I am doing everything I can to give him a safe and carefree childhood. This sense of control gives me comfort because I try my best to inform myself about different child-related topics and feel pretty confident in my instincts when it comes to caring for him. This sense of comfort came to an abrupt halt when my husband suddenly took on a much more involved role in our daily parenting. My husband has always been very involved in some aspects of parenting, such as spending time with him and important decision making, but he was happy to trust me with the details such as choosing when he began solids and what foods we gave him, making decisions regarding the types of baby products we used, choosing a pediatrician, etc. However, when my husband’s work began to slow during the winter and he was spending more time at home with our son, instead of taking my son to childcare, it made sense that he would begin to take over some of that decision making.
I should be grateful every day that I have partner I can count on when it comes to raising our son, but honestly, I recognize that at least half of the time, I feel more annoyed than appreciative. If I am being very honest, I am quite positive he feels the same way. The reason for this conflict in my house is not that I do not trust his capabilities or that he does not have our son’s best interests at heart, but rather that although I am a pretty laid back person when it comes to other areas of life, I am having a hard time giving up the tight grip I had in basically all decision-making regarding our son. To go from leaving precise quantities of milk and food measured and ready to be given and taking my son to every single doctor’s appointment, to my current situation in which I do the bulk of caregiving in the evenings, but count on my husband to be in charge during the day, has been an exercise in flexibility and trust to say the least.
I recognize that dealing with my constant concerns is not a piece of cake either, which I know because he has told me so. However, as much as we try each other’s patience and nerves, we both know that we are working together to raise our son the best we can, and in order to achieve that goal we have to work together. While we do not always agree with each other’s decisions, or we may think that we have a better way of doing things, we try to look at the bigger picture in order to give our son a solid foundation and consistency. We know that we both do what we do because we love our son, and that helps us bite our tongues when we see something we want to pick at, which happens quite regularly. While all situations are different, if you happen to find yourself in a situation similar to mine, here are a few things you can ask yourself to help put your feelings in perspective:
1. What is truly upsetting me, and is it worth getting upset? In my case, I originally would have said everything, from the time my husband let my son wake up (11am! which meant he would be up late at night), to the way he warmed his bottles, to giving him too many sweets (it was not as many as I imagined). However, when I really took the time to think about it, while all of those things did matter to me, they were fairly small issues and able to be resolved through having simple conversations. I am a bit embarrassed to say that the true sources of my upset were resentment and envy that my husband was able to spend all of this time with our son doing all of the things I wish I could. They got to do all of the fun outings together while I got to maneuver dinner time and bed time. Understanding the source of those feelings and knowing that my husband has no fault in them helps me to at least keep negative feelings at bay and try to not let them seep into the way I interact with my family.
2. What is the benefit to our situation? The first time my husband took our son to the doctor without me, I sent him a note full of questions I wanted to ask about, and was frustrated when they were not all answered. However, it was nice to know that I did not have to take extra time away from work because he had it covered. It has also helped for our son to feel that he does not always need to rely on me to comfort him and has actually led to him being more independent in many other ways and has allowed me a little more freedom to do things at home without having him constantly glued to my hip.
3. How will this affect our relationship with our child? I actually grew up in a very similar way. My own dad worked in construction for many years, and I remember that during his work season he was often gone by the time I woke up and did not get home until just before it was time for me to get ready for bed, but the winters were wonderful because I got to spend all day with my dad! Remembering the way I felt as a child and how happy I was when that time of year came, put me in my son’s shoes and allowed me to understand that having his dad around in the winter is something he will one day remember fondly as well, and that it does not mean he will feel any less of a bond with me. I also do not want our son to remember that as the time when his parents seemed to always be bickering.
While it is taking some time for all of us to adjust, the truth is that there are many benefits to my husband having a more equal share in decisions and responsibilities affecting our son. While some days are better than others, we try to remember that we are a team and that as long as we trust that we are each keeping our son’s best interests at heart, nothing the other does is actually that bad.
How have you managed to co-parent successfully?