When Mark Vander Ley’s wife went out of town, he manned up and got help caring for his four children
Several months ago my wife started preparing me for the inevitable. A long time friend was getting married and she floated the idea of attending the wedding. She would be a plane flight away while I stayed home to care for our four young children. My normal response in these situations is silence. I am trying to remain calm, and avoid totally betraying the feelings of anxiety and frustration that immediately crop up.
I love my kids, I am a very involved father, and I am passionate about impacting the lives of my children. When it comes to parenting alone for a weekend however, I am a mess. I really desire for my wife to have time of her own, I desire for her to connect with old friends, and I have had many chances to take such trips.
My problem is that I get overwhelmed; there is just so much to do. There are moments when things are going fine, and then there are moments when it feels seconds away from implosion. As I move through the days doing my best to stay one step ahead of the chaos the feeling becomes more powerful and out of control.
So, with this trip on the horizon I asked for help, my mom came into town and my sister and her pre-teen daughter spent time lending an extra hand.
Somewhere in the middle of the weekend I started to wonder if I was betraying my fellow man. I have read several articles lately and am aware of a pretty significant movement of dads looking to improve the image of fathers. I have felt that I am a part of this movement. I desire to demonstrate that men are capable parents. So, I wondered if asking for help made me a sell-out? Had I become a hypocrite in the world of active fathers?
After some reflection I have decided that no, I am not a sell-out or a hypocrite, I am just me. I am laid back, low energy, low structure, introverted, reflective, and male. When I enter a group of people I hang around the edges, observe for a while, and then settle into a conversation with 1 or 2 warm personalities. My wife is outgoing, high energy, high structure, extroverted, logical, and female. When she enters a group of people she jumps right into the mix, moves from group to group, and meets many new people.
I am struck by the fact that our different personalities also reflect our different styles of parenting. She is perfectly comfortable managing and directing the crisis of taking four children to the grocery store. She responds quickly in many situations and is adept at moving from child to child, while maintaining focus on the task at hand. My reflective personality causes me to respond more slowly. I want to think things through. I wonder how my words in this moment may impact the future development of a fragile psyche. I analyze motivations, body language, and tone changes all in the hopes of responding perfectly as to avoid any further complications.
Isn’t it amazing how who we are as people, so totally impacts who we are as parents? I am very thankful that my wife is not like me. I am also thankful that I am not like my wife. Our personalities and parenting styles are complementary and we have become a really great team. She is a force of energy, passion, excitement, and structure. I am steady, thoughtful, calming, and relaxed.
I am beginning to realize that my anxiety and frustration with parenting on my own may not be the result of deficient skills. I think it is more like losing a valued teammate. I think I am a better parent in the presence of my wife. We work well together and support one another. She gives me strength and I give her stability. Asking for help is like inserting a sub, the new player can never replace the trusted veteran but neither does it reduce the value of the remaining player.
The weekend with my wife away went much better than I expected. It was a nice opportunity for my children to spend time with their grandmother and cousin. I enjoyed having new team members at my side and am thankful to have learned a lesson about accepting my weaknesses and strengths.
Oh, and my wife points out that it took three of them to replace the one of her!!
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Photo: corsinet / flickr