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My Husband Gets the Short End of the Parenting Stick

Photograph by Twenty20

After finally getting our 2-year-old and 6-year-old to bed at an hour so late it was competing with our own bedtime, my husband looked broken and defeated. “What’s wrong?” I asked, already knowing the answer and not really wanting to hear it. “The kids are just so hard right now,” he moped. “I can’t wait till they’re a little older.”

Conflicting emotions battled in my mind. Part of me agreed with him, because things will totally get easier when our kids can put themselves to bed and don’t need us every second. But part of me resented him. How dare he wish a moment of their precious childhood away? I also pitied him, because although our kids are pains in the ass sometimes, mostly they’re awesome. Why couldn’t he see that?

The answer came to me after our 6-year-old dragged her daddy out of bed for one last tuck-in: His parenting experience is very different from mine.

During the week, my husband only sees the kids mornings and nights—and, as every stay-at-home mom knows, those are the hardest times of the day. In our house, mornings are a fire drill of rejected breakfasts, panicky lunch-making, sunscreen tantrums and yelling about lateness. Evenings—aka the witching hour—are even worse, a shitshow of bad behavior, urgent post-dinner cravings, stalling tactics and refusals to go to bed. Since that’s all my husband gets to be a part of, no wonder he thinks our kids are nightmares!

But they’re not always so challenging. In between the sometimes hellish bookends of our day, Dad is missing all the good stuff with the kiddos. That day, for instance, I’d brought the older one to camp and been treated to an energetic rehearsal of her summer play. (My favorite part was watching little sister watch big sister on stage, awestruck.) I took the toddler to Mommy & Me dance class, where we giggled shaking pompoms and I snapped photos of her racing around the room in her tiny pink tutu. Later, we went out for ice cream, just because.

And nobody complains while they’re having ice cream.

Meanwhile, Daddy misses out on the fun and mainly sees our kids at their worst.

Not every day with my kids goes that smoothly, but there’s usually enough joy to temper the hard times. Meanwhile, Daddy misses out on the fun and mainly sees our kids at their worst.

My husband joked that he’d trade places with me “in a heartbeat.” But I’m not giving up my job and we’d starve if he gave up his. Instead, I started brainstorming ways to make his time with our kids better. Like, I could become one of those moms who always packs lunches the night before and who sets an alarm instead of letting the toddler wake the family. Would mornings be more leisurely and less shouty?

I could try giving baths before dinner and being more regimented about bedtime (never my strong suit). Maybe if the kids went to sleep at a reasonable hour, quantity of time with Dad would go down but quality would go up?

These seemed like good goals, and I’m working on them, but the answer proved far more simple in the end. I put aside my mixed feelings and tried just agreeing with my husband when he complained.

“Yes, it’s really hard right now,” I acknowledged. “Yes, it will get easier someday,” I admitted. I have never seen him look so relieved.

As it turns out, the man I married can put up with a lot of nonsense, as long as he feels understood.

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