Who says Mother knows best? Let Dad give it a shot
If you embrace 50/50, your kids will get the benefits of two parenting styles. Even if you and your spouse are in agreement on the big stuff, rarely will you approach your children in exactly the same way, and that’s good (and often more fun) for your whole family.
“I think it’s really wonderful for Ben to have two really different points of view about life,” says Maggie, his mom, an intensive care nurse. Maggie’s husband, Marc, is a writer. “Marc won’t realize we’re missing food in the house,” says the practical-minded Maggie. But she values his freewheeling approach to problem solving with their son. “I’ll ask Ben, “Why would you do that?’ Marc asks the opposite question: ‘Why wouldn’t you do that?”
When dads get involved, kids get twice the range of interests. For example, one 50/50 dad we talked to said, “I know reading to the kids is important, but it’s not my thing. If I do story time at night, I fall asleep. But my wife loves to do it. On the other hand, I love playing chess and math games with the boys. And my sons and I go skateboarding (while my wife worries too much that we’ll all end up in the ER!).”
“In general,” Maggie says, “I think men are more spontaneous with children.” Playful, inventive, comic—that’s how many 50/50 wives describe the fathers of their children. In fact, we’re often envious of our husbands, because they don’t seem burdened with the sense that there is a “right” way to parent. This means they can have more fun with the job. Christina found a note in her kindergartner’s backpack. “Please help Joel memorize his letters. He’s not quite where he needs to be.” Christina’s first instinct was to head for the store and buy books, puzzles, and flash cards about letters—all things that her son had no interest in. Christina’s husband, George, had other ideas. Why not make letters out of pretzels or trace them in the air with their son’s prize possession—his light saber? Guess whose method worked? Joel and George combined learning with laughter, not drudgery.
Sharon’s son insisted on doing a particularly time-consuming puzzle right before bedtime. When she told him it was too late, his face fell and his shoulders sank as he told his mother, “If we can’t do it tonight, I…Well, I will NEVER do it!” Sharon tried to reason with Max but he just dug in.
Then Max’s dad walked in with a different approach. Steve glowered and began stomping his feet on the ground, chanting, “If I can’t do it now, I’LL NEVER DO IT!” Max tried to keep frowning. “Or,” Steve went on, “you could do it like this.” Steve started jumping up and down, saying, “If I can’t have my way right this very second, I’ll NEVER, EVER, EVER DO IT!” Max lost his composure and laughed, bouncing up and down with his dad—puzzle forgotten and meltdown averted, thanks to his funny father.
In When Mothers Work, author Joan Peters relates the story of her young daughter who came home sad after fighting with a friend. Peters wasn’t home and her husband consoled their daughter. Unable to get her out of her funk, the girl’s father switched on Winnie the Pooh. When Peters got home, she was not pleased—did they want to teach their child to drown her sorrows in TV? “What’s wrong with escape when you feel bad? You and all your women friends never miss one emotion. The worse you feel, the more you have to dwell on it,” her husband said, defending his methods. “I don’t want her to be a girl in that way. I’d rather she had more of a buffer.” Peters later admitted he had a point—and that his way had worked.
It’s hard for us to face, but sometimes dads see things clearly that we moms just miss. The good news is that our kids benefit from two different mind-sets. “Let go and let Dad.” This is the motto we’d like to suggest to all mothers.
To make 50/50 work, you have to remember that taking on more than your share as a parent (even though you’re the mom) will skew the division of labor, interfere with your husband’s experience as a parent, and shrink the common ground you have as a couple. Resist the urge to take over and do it all (or most of it). Resist the instinct to be a control freak. It’s normal (particularly among new mothers), but if you don’t encourage and support your husband in his efforts to do his share, then you’re undermining him and setting yourself up for a difficult solo journey.
Originally printed in Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All, by Sharon Meers & Joanna Strober (Viva Editions 2013).
Photo Credit: PixaBay