Parenting Alone In A Two-Parent Home: How to Get Your Spouse to Step Up
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
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There’s two parents here, right? So why does it often feel like you’re doing this all by yourself? How can you inspire your significant other to take on a more equal role in raising your kids?
(I hear this complaint about unequal parenting most often from women about their husbands. But the problem certainly could apply to mommies from the daddy point of view, especially if the man works at home while the woman works away. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll speak to this issue from the woman’s point of view.)
So what’s happening here? Why don’t men see what needs to be done and then do it? How can you fix this situation to feel less put-upon and less stressed?
As always in this sort of thing, it’s a good idea to look at ourselves first. So how do you see your own parenting role? Do you see yourself as the only one who can parent correctly? Are you uncertain that your husband knows what to do?
If you think this way, then you’ve set two hurdles in your path: you might expect your husband to do everything your way (and you may even criticize him for doing things his way) and also you may feel that you cannot leave the children with him because you are the center of your children’s lives (and no one knows how to do what you do). These are hurdles you have created. You can also dismantle them.
Fathers learn how to be parents on-the-job, just as mothers do. So they’ve got to have freedom to try things out and see what works. Mother’s-way is not the only way. Dads might do things differently and that’s just fine.
In addition, you and your children are not two halves of a single being. Children will adapt to nursing from a bottle now and then and they will settle down soon even if they cry for you when you leave. Recognizing this will permit you to have a life of your own and pursue your own interests. It will permit you to leave your children in their father’s care for an afternoon or even an entire day.
Your Partner’s Role
How does your husband see his parenting role? Does he believe his role is confined to being the bread-winner? Is he waiting for the kids to be old enough to need coaching in sports? If he sees his role in a limited way and you’d like to expand his possibilities, then you’ll need to have a little talk. Actually, many little talks.
If you and your hubby haven’t talked pleasantly about your roles and responsibilities, then that is your first step. Someday when things are going well and there’s a space for conversation – maybe in a family walk around the neighborhood – bring up the idea of engaging more in the children’s lives. Without being critical or complaining, point out how great he is with your child. Tell him you’d like to make it easier for him to have a bigger role.
“You know, honey, little Clement loves being around you. It’s so cute the way he wiggles when you come by. I’ve been wondering if you’d maybe like to feed him in the evening…”
Then see what he says. Take it from there.
Realize that if your man isn’t doing much with the children now, one conversation might not have much visible effect. You’re planting the seed. More pleasant conversations, matched with increasing pleasant opportunities for Dad to step in, will need to follow. See if you can shape your guy’s behavior and make change over the next several weeks, instead of expecting instant results tomorrow.
When your husband takes some initiative, be careful to be only positive. If he asks for directions, be happy to give them but feel free to make it clear there’s not only one good way. Do not act as his evaluator and critic. How he does things is how he does things. Never try to catch him in a mistake or gloat when things go wrong for him. Never say “I told you so.”
If your man was raised in a household with rigid gender roles, so that he has no observed experience of the sort of behavior you’d like, then your job of persuasion will be more difficult. If he has inherited attitudes towards “woman’s work” that block his perception of a more progressive viewpoint, then you may need some help in encouraging him to change. Depending on your level of weariness with his behavior, marriage counseling (if he will go with you) or personal counseling (if he won’t) may help you deal with the reluctance you’re seeing.
For Most Of Us…
We women create this single-parenting problem by being too critical, being too directive, and being too tied to our children. This is a natural extension of the protective feelings we have for newborns but we hang onto these feelings longer than we could. And then we complain about feeling stressed and stretched even as we make it hard for anyone to help out.
The solution in large part lies in re-envisioning our parenting role and along with that re-envisioning our husband’s parenting role. Talking, sharing, solving problems.
And being pleasant and encouraging is the way to do all that.
© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.