When our first child was born, my husband and I were model partners to each other. In the earliest days, he stepped in wherever and whenever he could so I could focus on trying to nurse the baby and catch up on sleep.
As we settled into a routine, we didn’t argue over who was doing more diaper changes or chores around the house. And I didn’t stand over his shoulder, criticizing how he cared for our baby. We were in it together, a part of the same team.
Three years and a second child later, we are still in it together, but I’ve promoted myself to coach and he’s remained a player. He called me out on this the other night, in a matter of fact way, saying I make decisions about our toddlers without considering his input.
He was talking about relatively small things: whether to take them to the doctor for the sniffles or wait it out one more day, where our daughter will go to preschool, activities in which I’ll enroll them (or not), and gift ideas for birthdays and holidays.
He’s right, and I know how we got here.
Practically, I’m the primary parent, so I have the authority to make countless decisions every day about our children, and I use it. I stay home with them, my husband travels for work regularly, and we don’t live near family, so I’m responsible for them. All of the time.
This makes me the foremost expert in our children, and I like it that way.
I need this identity. I love being an expert at things. Before kids, when I worked, nothing stressed me out more than changing positions within my company. Just as I was finally feeling comfortable in my old job, getting really good at it, they would yank me out into a “stretch” assignment.
Of course, this was a positive thing. They wanted to see me challenged and provide me opportunities for growth, but starting over at the bottom of the learning curve was exhausting.
I missed feeling like the expert, but now I’malwaysthe expert. Mother knows best, right?
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Plus, my career shaped who I was more than I realized. Losing that part of me didn’t send me spiraling into a depression, but the loss surfaced in subtle ways, like asserting myself as Lead Parent — not just when I’m on my own with the kids, but when my husband is around, too.
I did it to prove to my husband (read: myself) that I’m worthy of the title of expert and that I’m pulling my weight in the family, even though I’m not pulling in a pay check.
I also did it for self preservation. Each time my husband got on a plane for a business trip, the crazy and morbid thought flashed through my mind that if something happened to him, I’d be on my own with the children. I needed to know that if I had to parent solo, I could do it.
For all of these reasons, I stopped treating him like an equal parenting partner, which is so silly. It means I’m bearing a bigger parenting burden than necessary.
When he’s around, the kids should know their requests, demands and needs can be met by him just as well as they can be met by me. To make this happen, I need to back off and let him parent.
We have a pact to be a united front to our kids, and we do this. If Daddy says “no” to ice cream, then that’s what Mommy will say, too.
I’ve realized, though, that I undermine him in small ways. I butt in to answer questions that the kids have distinctly asked Daddy and I shoot down his suggestions on how to handle the latest toddler drama a little too quickly.
My husband is not just saying, “Put me in, coach.” He’s saying, “Let me coach with you.” He may find that this is a “be careful what you wish for” situation, but he can deal with that, safe in the knowledge he was right all along. I will keep the title of Head Coach because, realistically, that’s what I am, but his coaching role is no less valuable to me or the kids.
There’s a reason the offensive and defensive coordinators sit in boxes high atop the football stadium. It gives them an entirely different perspective on the action, and the head coach needs this point of view to make game time decisions on the field.
That’s what I need from my husband. Whether he’s high in the sky traveling for work or on the ground playing with our kids, he’s seeing our family differently than I am, and that will make our team stronger in the end.