A working mom reflects on her fears versus the reality of her husband as a stay-at-home dad.
My husband is a stay-at-home dad, and to poke fun at stereotypes, I am ‘Mrs. Dad’ having had a successful career for almost twenty years. “Stay-at-home dad” is how he self-defines, even though he’s also worked during most of his tenure primarily home with our girls.
My husband was always the more nurturing and domestic partner in our relationship. He used to clean our apartment when we were single and living together, and always took care of cooking. He also always nurtured everyone around us – like a big father/mentor figure to our family and friends. It was natural and obvious that he become the primary caregiver of our children.
When our oldest was born, they sent my husband home at 6 a.m. to get some sleep and told me to do the same. The nurse wheeled my newborn baby in an hour later and woke me up to breastfeed, even though the coach wasn’t due in for another few hours. The nurse handed me my daughter, and walked away with no instruction. I had never held a newborn before and was flooded with complete terror as I had no idea what to do. I had done tireless research on what to do once we got home – but how was I to hold a baby? Breastfeed? I quickly called my husband to get back to the hospital to be with me as I figured everything out.
He arrived with a bounce in his step the hour of sleep seemed to provide him, proud new father that he was. I had placed our daughter back into the hospital bassinet because I was so afraid of hurting her, but I did coo to her and rock her in the bassinet. My husband walked in and kissed me and then without the slightest pause he picked up our daughter like a pro. He changed the baby’s diaper and began rocking and singing to her like he’s been doing this forever (he had nieces and nephews, whereas I did not). I knew my husband was a catch when I met him in high school, but seeing him like this made me fall in love all over again. With his help, I got over my fears and my instincts eventually kicked in.
I had created a routine when I was on maternity leave – before our baby was born, I had researched everything about caring for children as I knew nothing about how to do it. When I returned to work, I was adamant that my husband continue to do things the way I had been doing them. I knew best, after all, I was The Mom. I have to admit, I was really nervous about leaving the baby with my husband all day – partly because it was a difficult thing to do, but also because scenes from the movie “Mr. Mom” kept playing in my head.
With this in mind, I insisted that my husband wake the baby at the same time every day (I say it was 7 a.m., my husband says I insisted on 6 a.m.) even though he worked until 2 am and was a night owl and even though our daughter was a sleeper from the start and would have slept much later. Bottles were to be served at specific times, and later meals and snacks must be eaten in the kitchen and at the table! Outfits for our little princess were laid out for her to wear by me the night before. There must be tummy time, play time, scheduled naps, walks outside as long as it was above freezing, exercise time, baby massage time … you get the picture. My husband humored me and did everything as I planned out for him, for a long while.
One day, to my horror, my husband stopped following my instructions. He began doing things his way and I was not pleased. I would come home from work to see our precious baby girl dressed like Dora the Explorer (no, Dear, pink and orange don’t go together); or, even worse, dressed like 90’s era Madonna (onesie snapped over her shorts), sitting in a pile of toys, eating Cheerios from a small bowl suctioned to the floor while the TV played “The Wiggles” in the background. Oh the horror! How could my husband not understand the importance of my routine?
As it turns out, they had developed their own routine. Yes, it included all most some of the check points from my well researched list of necessary child-rearing requirements, but it was done on my husband’s schedule and in his style. Was it different than the way I would have done it? Of course it was, and it took a while for me to become accustomed to his way of doing things – but it worked. Baby was flourishing, Daddy was thriving, our home was taken care of and I was coming home to a happy duo.
Four years later our twins arrived. I fell ill after their birth, and my husband did everything to ensure I got better and was rested. I heard the following story a few years after the fact from some moms at our daughter’s preschool: One night my husband brought our three kids out for pizza so I could get some sleep, the twins not quite a month old. While he was talking with our 4 year old, he would feed and engage with one of the twins, and then put her down, only to pick up the other twin and do the same. Apparently, the mom I spoke with was with a group of moms who were out to dinner and they were in complete awe of what my husband was doing. After a while they realized there were two babies he was feeding/caring for, and that is when he received their full attention.
At the end of the meal, he secured the girls in their car seats and got up, two carriers in hand insisting our oldest hold his coat while they walk through the parking lot. He looked down at the leftover pizza to-go box and surveyed his no-free-hands predicament. Without further hesitation, he scooped up the left over pizza box, put it under his arm sideways, picked up the girls and left the restaurant to a standing ovation from the mom club (when this mom told me the story she said they all realized after he left they should have offered help, not that my husband would have taken it). Hearing this story, I was one proud wife/mother.
When I returned to work after this maternity leave, I didn’t insist on the rigid schedule or the match-y clothes or any of the other rules I had made with our first. This time, I trusted my husband from the get-go to care for our children in the wonderful way that he always did. I had learned that my way is not necessarily the only way and that I can’t expect my husband to do things the way I do them – he’s his own person with his own thoughts and style, which is turning out three amazing children.
I realize that a lot of my issue was not that I felt I should be home with my kids (I love being a mom, but I flourish in the world providing for my family), or that I have to dictate everything. The issue was I had an intrinsic fear that my husband would not know what to do, in spite of who he has always been both before and especially after becoming a father. It turns out, we both know best – after all, we are The Parents!
Photo: Courtesy of the Author.
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