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The Downside to Amazing Dads

Photograph by Getty Images

I’ve treated every area of my life like a competition: School, dance, sports. You name it, I tried to win it, even if there was no prize. Something inside of me—personality, hard-wiring, genetics—compels me to compete to be the best in the same way my lungs compel me to breathe in and out. And this served me well in law school and in the professional world. But it’s not serving me well in parenting.

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And I’m not competing with other mothers, because I figured out early on that I would be miserable if I tried to live up to the standards that it looked like other mothers were living up to. It only took a few months for me to give that up completely.

But I compete with my husband, which, it turns out, makes me as miserable as trying to catch up to the “perfect mommies” at the park and in the carpool line. It’s not overt, like I’m going to kick your booty at parenting our children, but it’s there. And because we are 100 percent committed to co-parenting, I am starting to be miserable more often than not.

I try not to focus on him, but I can’t help it. He’s got more patience, creativity and aptitude for every aspect of parenting other than nursing. If parenting were a marathon, my husband would be an elite runner from Kenya; I would be a couch potato from middle America who gasps her way to the finish line.

I secretly long for the kids to choose me to put them to bed, instead of fighting over which one gets the prize: daddy.

This feeling of competition has been brewing in me since our first child was born, and it has only grown more intense, as now my kids are involved. They are now old enough to express their preferences, and guess what? They continue to prefer their parent who rolls up his sleeves, gets down on the floor with them, and has an endless reserve of patience for answering questions or brokering peace when squabbles break out.

On the one hand, I am flooded with gratitude that my kids have such a hands-on, engaged father. I would want nothing less for them (or me) than that. There’s no question that my husband’s parenting approach is good for our whole family.

But on the other hand, I wanted to be the parent who was “the natural” at parenting. There’s a little voice in my head that screams at me: “Mothers are supposed to be the better parent!” and that’s just not the case in our family. I secretly long for the kids to choose me to put them to bed, instead of fighting over which one gets the prize: daddy. I fantasize about the day that “mommy’s home” is as exciting as “daddy’s home” for my kids.

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Until then, I do my best to focus on the blessing that my kids have such a great father, and I inch myself out of the constant competition zone, because parenting is hard enough as it is, without always trying to “beat” my co-parent at the imaginary popularity contest.

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