There were maybe three pieces of mothering advice anyone gave me before I had kids that were right on, and one of them is this. “Don’t correct your partner when he parents—even if he’s doing it all wrong.”
Sometimes as mothers, we get a little high and mighty on our own authority. I know this happens when one of my sons is sick and my husband is freaking out and I think deep down, “I know he’s fine, because I’m his mother.” But I don’t pull that card out too often, because I know how it sounds. Why would I know better than his father? (Because I’m the mother, that’s why.)
Part of the reason I try not to rely on the “because I’m his mother” line is because it can easily swing back and hit me in the face. Being the parent that knows better and knows more can be flattering at times, but it’s not smart. For every protective “I’m his mother” there’s a dismissive “but you’re his mother,” one that means “It’s your job, not mine.”
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We’ve all been there—when we say, "I'll just do it" instead of waiting for a partner to help us or taking the time to coach the other parent through a particular process. And it's time we moms stop saying that.
Domestic work and childcare often fall more on one partner’s shoulders than the other (especially in heterosexual partnerships) and many of us get used to taking care of the house and the kids a certain way and feel oddly protective of the tasks we’re saddled with. I know many women who hate being in charge of signing their kids up for class, or doing laundry, or putting away children’s clothes, yet, would never delegate the task because they’re convinced their husbands would just screw it all up.
It’s smarter for both parents to know how to provide house and childcare, not just for the sake of a more equal relationship, but just in terms of common sense.
However, this attitude just helps reinforce a prison cell that can be frustrating to try to escape when you want to or have to. So, this is why it’s not necessarily smart to critique—even jokingly—when your partner puts on the diaper backwards or makes a huge mess feeding the baby or lets the four-year-old wear 3T winter clothes in June. To do so gets you one step closer to permanent “I’ll just do it” status, because you’re telling your partner his work is actively less than helpful, training him (or her) to stay away.
I don’t want to be the only person who knows what to put in my son’s lunchbox or how and when to sign him up for ice skating lessons. So I harp sometimes, which I don’t love. I hate how I sound when I say things like “Did you see that I put out the new parking pass for the YMCA?” Boring and naggy. But that’s also a step away from me being the only one who takes the kids to swim lessons because I’m the only one who knows where the boys’ swimsuits are and where to park and where we keep the key fobs and where the locker rooms are and who the teacher is.
It’s smarter for both parents to know how to provide house and childcare, not just for the sake of a more equal relationship, but just in terms of common sense. What if one parent has to be called out of town, or there’s a medical emergency? It’d be a bad time for someone not to know where the extra diapers are or how to work the washing machine.
But more importantly, it’s important for kids to see parents working towards an equal partnership—I’m not sure when it’ll ever happen that women and mothers don’t take on more "emotional labor," but we can at least make a show of it. My friends and I discuss this all the time—how, despite our education and our feminist beliefs, we still sometimes feel more like a 1950’s housewife than we’d like to—and if we feel it, you know the kids are attuned to it as well.
The other day I asked my son what he thinks my favorite things to do are. His answer? “Cooking and cleaning.” So we had a little talk. I told him what some of my actual hobbies are and blew his mind when I told him I don’t actually like cleaning. And not long after that, I spent the night at a hotel downtown, with my husband caring for both kids while I binge watched "Orange is the New Black" and binge ate Trader Joe's chocolate covered peanut butter stuffed pretzels.
It was a win-win: my husband got to enjoy all the caretaking that comes with being a wife and mother. And I didn't.