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Building a Better Dad

People often tell me how lucky I am to be married to such a hands-on dad. And I couldn’t agree more.

I see friends with husbands who refuse to change diapers. Or dads who would sooner spend their entire weekend playing golf than spending time with their kids.

And while I never experienced that with my husband, he wasn’t always so involved.

It certainly wasn’t for a lack of interest or effort, really. When I was pregnant with my first baby, he attended every single Bradley Method birth class with only minor complaining. And I couldn’t blame him. Even I didn’t like giving up Saturday college football to look at vagina diagrams.

I was a new mom. I wanted the best for my baby, which I somehow translated into giving her all my attention all the time, at the cost of many things: my health, my sleep, even my relationship.

And when our first daughter was born, he changed her diapers and gave her baths until he returned to work. His busy schedule had him gone before the sun came up and home long after bedtime. And between his need for sleep to properly and safely do his job as a military pilot and our daughter’s need to be attached to me at all times, his involvement decreased.

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When he’d try to hold her, she’d scream, and so he somehow decided that she didn’t like him, when really, she just wasn’t used to him. And so I had to choose between getting a few minutes of respite and listening to her yelp and him struggle, or just intervening and handling her myself. It seemed like the logical solution, even though that meant that I was the one doing everything.

I’m the first to admit that I was pretty ambivalent about being the primary caregiver. As much as I thought I wanted a break, I also liked being in charge. My Type-A personality happily adopted a “Mommy Knows Best” motto, and I was doing way more than I should, which wasn’t healthy for me, my husband or my daughter.

But “everything” for one kid is nothing like “everything” for two, three or four, which is exactly what kicked both of us swiftly in the butt.

I distinctly remember our first outing as a family of four and watching, in shock, as my husband entertained, fed and cleaned up my daughter (then 2 years old), while I tended to our then newborn son.

It took a bunch of kids for me to let go of the parenting reins I had been holding so tightly. I learned that it wasn’t actually the best for me, my husband and most of all, my kids.

When it was just the three of us, it was much easier for me to just take over and care for our daughter. But with two kids now, it was physically impossible. And because my husband is not someone who would just sit around as my daughter tosses food around and dumps her drink on the ground—while I try to breastfeed the baby—he helped.

No, he parented.

That was a significant moment in our parenting relationship because I finally realized that I could not do this alone. With one kid, we were able to scrape by. But as we added more kids to our brood—a third and then a fourth—it became humanly impossible.

What I wish I had known when I had my first is what I only learned after adding a few more kids to the mix: kids are resilient.

But I was a new mom. I wanted the best for my baby, which I somehow translated into giving her all my attention all the time, at the cost of many things: my health, my sleep, even my relationship.

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If someone had told me that she’d probably stop crying with my husband after a few minutes, maybe even an hour, I might have gotten some much-needed rest. I’d have tried harder to give her a bottle and let her fall back asleep on her own.

And I would have let my husband get his hands dirty as a new, first-time, scared parent just like me.

It’s easy to let a spouse or partner off the hook when there’s only one kid running around, but when you’ve got four, it’s all hands on deck.

It only took a bunch of kids for my husband’s true parenting instincts to kick in. Like a soldier who’s prepared for any emergency, but doesn’t pop into action until duty calls, he was certainly ready for the challenge, but just needed the right situation to show his skills.

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And it only took a bunch of kids for me to let go of the parenting reins I had been holding so tightly. Because as much as I wanted to do it on my own, I learned that it wasn’t actually the best for me, my husband, and most of all, my kids.

There’s a reason why he’s called “the dad” and not “the babysitter.” And it’s not just the dads that need the reminder. We moms do too.

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