Stepping back to leave room for just dad, can be difficult for a full-time mom. You have a rhythm, a way of doing things, preferences as to how to get things done at home, and it all gets thrown off when you let go the reigns. This isn’t just an issue in relationships with children, but in many long-term unions. We chose the part we will play as part of defining who we are together; i.e. I’m the funny one, he’s the serious one, I’m the organized one, he’s always late. Re-examining our choices in our relationships as we age can be frightening, because we are examining how our partners see us, and in the desire to have things stay the same, it makes us hesitant to do things differently. But when a choice made by one person has started to adversely affect the other it’s time for a change. Add kids to the mix, and an unbending role in your relationship with your partner, may also have a negative impact on the whole family.
I am a bully in the kitchen. I don’t mean to be this way, cooking is just an activity I enjoy. It was also once my profession and for me, remains part of my identity. For many years I thought I was doing Miguel a favor by always being the one that made dinner so he could relax before work and play with the kids. What I did not realize, was that I was being a total control freak. On nights that I was not able to make dinner for one reason or another, “Dad Dinner” was announced. My husband is a very capable cook, he also has a background in restaurants and makes wonderful cocktails for a living, but he has some standard dishes he likes to lean on; burritos, lasagna, and veggies dogs. All of these dishes make the kids happy because they don’t include kale. All of these dishes, I have made inappropriate cracks about, because I am also sometimes an insensitive jerk.
Several weeks ago, I came home to find Miguel had made a dinner based on the color white. This isn’t technically true, the actual design was based on everyone picking their favorite dish. The meal included biscuits with gravy, mashed potatoes and green beans. The green beans were surprisingly eaten first and all I saw were the starches. My control-freak twitch began to vibrate and I forced myself to smile. The kids were happy, my husband was happy and just because it wasn’t a combo I picked, it certainly wasn’t so unhealthy to deserve a frown.
In my case, part of my inability to sometimes step back, is a guilt factor. Choosing to manage a house with one stay-at-home parent and one working parent sounds like the conventional ideal for raising kids. However, the dynamic can be very difficult for both parents. Feelings that I’m not contributing to our finances, cause me guilt as I watch him work so much. And although he has never said so, I imagine that he must feel guilt for not being around more. Hard little nuggets of resentment roll about my stomach occasionally when I watch him leave the house in nice clothes for a night of being an adult among adults. But, the look in his eyes, as he says his goodbyes to me and the girls while we play on the couch, reminds me that resentment goes both ways. The backlash of this is trying to be sure that my role is 100% the home-base person. Laundry, cooking, shopping, bill paying, yard work, dog walking, floor mopping, dish washing, (you get the point), are all my territory. If someone were to have told me that when I had a family, I would set feminism back fifty years with a June Cleaver routine that would shame my grandmother, I would have responded with a lewd insult, but that is what I have done. Doing so makes me feel that I’m pulling my weight and it eases the guilt of being married to a partner with long hours. Yet, I know from experience that when I do step back, the sky does not fall, the dishes get done, and as long as I keep him away from my personal belongings in the laundry, most everything I usually do, gets done without casualty or complaint.
In addition, he takes extra time that I often don’t while in house-work mode, to include the kids. Where as I, will often just do everything myself as part of my not so super-secret plan to die a martyr, he will get the kids to help clean. He will let them wash dishes and not be anxious they will break the glasses. He will let them “wash” the floors with rags, not because they actually get them clean, but because he recognizes their desire to be useful and values it over just getting things done correctly. He lets them make different mistakes than I do.
It has taken a while, but I finally recognize that letting my husband be in charge of the things I have strived to control, makes me a better parent, makes our kids a bit more normal and makes our relationship with each other stronger in our appreciation for one another. I am lucky that I married someone very different than myself. I’m a pleaser, he’s a pot-stirrer. I overthink, he likes to dream. These particular things about us may never change, it makes us who we are together. But, how we chose to define this in our daily lives may occasionally need some adjustment. A few more Dad Dinner nights is just the thing we need right now. Who knows, perhaps this will eventually turn into Kid Dinner nights, but only after Miguel makes me one of his cocktails to calm my twitch.