The best parenting advice I ever received was from a friend and neighbor with a son only a few months older than mine.
Living in military housing is a unique experience. Since rank and family size are the determining factors in the type of housing you are offered, you live surrounded by people in the same life stage. It offers you a wide variety of opinions and experiences to draw from when you encounter a new challenge. Such as deployment. Or a new baby.
At least four babies were born to families on that little alley in Hawaii during the three years we lived there. And there were toddlers and elementary age kids galore. Not to mention, all the friends at church having babies. (We announced that we were expecting just in time to extend an 8-year streak of continual pregnancies in our congregation.)
So the tips and tricks and words of wisdom were plentiful. But of all the advice I received, the one nugget that stuck with me, and that I pass on every time I get a chance was this: let him be Dad.
My friend assured me: “You will know the best way to comfort and soothe your baby, because you will spend all day with her. But your husband needs to figure out his own way. Remember, she’s his baby too.”
There’s no way she could have known how much we would need this advice. My daughter was born 8 days past her due date via emergency C-section. My recovery was painful, as is the case in that kind of situation. I also struggled with breastfeeding “failure” and postpartum anxiety that left me lying on the couch, stiff as a board, unable to relax even as my exhausted body cried out for rest.
For the first three weeks, my husband quite literally kept us all alive. While we were in the hospital, he changed every diaper. A few days later, at home, he was the one who sanitized the breast pump, dug the only bottle we owned out of the nursery closet, and made sure our daughter ate. He developed the best swaddling technique I’ve ever seen, and never managed to replicate.
I don’t know if my determination to “let him be Dad” made a huge difference in those early days. Maybe if I hadn’t heard that advice, things wouldn’t have been much different at that point. I wasn’t in a place, physically or emotionally, to jump in and take over.
But as I recovered and our lives settled into a new normal, I remembered that advice often. The urges did come to step in and take over when the baby fussed. Or to change her clothes after he dressed her in something I didn’t like. But I bit my tongue and let him be Dad.
And it has worked out beautifully. The relationship they had in those early days was amazing to behold. He was her favorite person in the whole world, and the way her face would light up when she spotted him was the most adorable thing I’d ever seen.
Over time, as I spent every day at home with her, she has gone through phases when she comes to me more often. But those have been somewhat rare. And the lessons he teaches me in the way he interacts with her are enlightening and humbling.
He expects more out of her (and gets it.) He trusts her with things I’m afraid to let her do, and more often than not, she rises to the occasion. He notices and calls out things in her behavior that I let slide because I’m too tired to address them. I get compliments all the time about how well she behaves in church, but I can take absolutely zero credit for that. 99% of the time I’m in the front interpreting, while he has spent almost every service teaching and admonishing her on his own.
And her love for him continues to grow.
I hear a lot of moms talk about how little their husbands help with the kids. I’m sure that is incredibly frustrating. I know the norms of our culture and of our families of origin play into this dynamic. I don’t mean to brag or make anyone feel worse about what I’m sure must be an exhausting situation.
Maybe I got lucky, and my husband is an anomaly. But I think it has a lot to do with that advice.
Just think about what our culture and entertainment industry tell men: “You’re a big doofus who can’t handle caring for a baby/keeping up with chores/doing the cooking.” That’s not only untrue, it’s insulting.
Why would we perpetuate such a demeaning stereotype in our homes with the fathers of our children, men we’ve promised to love and cherish? Why would we complain about needing help, and then criticize any attempt they make? Are we really so prideful that we think our way is the only right way? I don’t know about you, but motherhood is too demanding and exhausting for me to hold onto any notions of being SuperWoman. I can’t make him think he’s incapable, I need his help!
Trying something new can be scary and intimidating. When I’m in a new situation I feel awkward and unsure of myself. In that state, if someone immediately steps in to take over, or tells me everything I’m doing wrong, I will back right up and let them do it for me. I will feel stupid and embarrassed. And it is unlikely that I will ever take the initiative to try that thing again.
By letting him be Dad, I demonstrate to my husband that I trust his parenting. Because, seriously, we’re both novices! I’ve never done this before either. A lot of times, he has a better idea for how something can be accomplished.
I also relinquish the illusion of control, and the burden of feeling like I have to be the perfect mom. Because let’s face it: I fall flat on my face on a regular basis. I might spend more time with our daughter than he does, but God gave her TWO parents. He knows she needs what we both bring to the table. Why would I deprive her of that?
That’s not to say I never offer him any tips. When I do see a situation where I know something that could make things proceed more smoothly for him in the future, I address it kindly, and after the fact. I say something like “what I usually do is…” and then leave it up to him how to handle it next time. (And he does the same for me, by the way.)
Often, he takes my advice. But sometimes he doesn’t. And that’s ok.
We always say that we are a team. Neither of us is the coach. We are in this together. As we continue down this road of parenting, every stage is new. We have to lean on each other.
And there’s no one else I’d rather have beside me.
What’s the best parenting advice you ever received? Leave a comment below!