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My Secret to Being a Better Mom? I Started to Think Like a Dad

Photograph by Twenty20

Whenever I’m feeling frazzled and having a mommy meltdown, I ask myself a question: "What would Dad do?" Not my dad, the kids’ dad.

"WWDD?" is the quickest way to take me from fully freaking out to calming down. Why? Because, almost without exception, asking “WWDD?” leads to a very simple answer: "Less."

Dad—their father, my husband—would simply do less than what I’m doing. Less prepping, less stressing, less planning, less worrying. Less. And if it works for him (and it does), why shouldn’t it work for me?

I pride myself on being thorough in my work and always doing more than is asked of me. It's a trait that has carried over from childhood and my obsession with getting straight A's. This perfectionist trait has, unfortunately, also carried over into motherhood. I’m driven crazy by the little details that shouldn’t matter, like when my kids' pajamas and socks aren't paired up, when dinner isn't on the table at precisely 5:30 p.m., when my kids aren't as polite and quiet as I'd like and when I don’t have my eyes on them every moment we were out in public. It’s exhausting. Then I started paying attention to how my husband felt about these things that were driving me crazy. Truth? I wish I'd started thinking like a dad when my kids were born!

The kids are a little louder and dirtier, the house is a little messier, but we're all a little happier and less stressed.

What does it mean to think like a dad? It means the kids’ clothes don't have to be paired up. In fact, they don't even have to match. It means having a window of time for meals instead of an on-the-dot schedule. It means jumping in the car to run errands without thinking of every potential contingency beforehand. It means "ball parking" those things that stress me, things that no one else even notices. It means the kids are a little louder and dirtier, the house is a little messier, the schedule is a little more flexible—but, most importantly, we're all a little happier and less stressed.

It's not that men are always less precise than women, or that women are always stressing about everything. But society gives men more leeway to be less precise while women are expected to stress over the details. We (us type-A moms) need to stop holding ourselves to such a higher standard than we hold everyone else.

Learning to pick my battles and stress over only the big things is an ongoing process. What I think is a "big" thing, such as making sure the house is tidy before I go to bed, isn’t necessarily a big thing to my husband or even in the bigger picture. But it’s a detail that makes my evening more relaxing and my mornings more peaceful, so I continue to fold the blankets on the couch and tuck the toys into the basket by the door on my way to bed. But other things? I’m learning to see beyond them and not worry too much. Sometimes that means gritting my teeth until I’ve let go of whatever is nagging me. It’s worth it, though.

At the end of the day, I’m not an exhausted, stressed-out mess, crying tears of frustration. Thinking like a dad makes me a better and happier mom—and that’s worth far more than the desire to be the perfect mom.

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