Let Dad Parent His Way

Before we were married, I adopted Brutus. He was mine, and I raised him up from a scrappy stray puppy to a (mostly) well-behaved mature dog. He turned four years old during our first year of marriage, and as the saying goes, I believed that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. My husband tried effortfully and fruitlessly to teach Brutus tricks, to follow commands, to engage in new routines like sitting at the door before walks to be leashed. My memories of that first year together are mostly of me sitting on the couch and saying, “He won’t do that!” or “He doesn’t understand what you mean!” or “Just do it my way!” My husband, as earnest and determined as they come, always responded, “Let me try it my way.” It took years, but Brutus can do some tricks. He follows some commands. He sits at the door every single time he’s ready to go out, without being told. My husband’s way and my way merged, and the result was a better Brutus.

Fast forward to this week. Brutus is now seven, and our first baby turned one on Monday.  As I reflected on this past year, our first year of human parenting together, I realized that I treated my husband much the same way I treated him during our first year of dog parenting together. I knew my way, I was confident in my way, and was too busy explaining why my way was “right” to see that there might be another way to do it.

The first year as parents is so hard. So. Hard. I read a lot of articles about “the things no one tells you” when I was pregnant. You know, pooping during labor, postpartum physical recovery, the sheer exhaustion of parenting. I didn’t read one article about the challenges you face in your marriage when you’re a new parent, and that has been the greatest challenge of all the challenges we’ve faced. I did nearly every diaper change, every bath, every meal. I nursed a wakeful baby back to sleep four, five, six, seven times, every night. I didn’t get my haircut. I didn’t buy new clothes. I didn’t go out to the movies (or anywhere). I did it all for Forrest and did nothing at all in the way of self care and bore the brunt of the parenting work because I refused to let my husband try it his way. I had the hardest year of my life, and my marriage suffered for it.

It took me this whole year to realize that parenting is instinctive and intuitive for everyone, but everyone’s instincts and intuitions are different. I wish that I had spent less time judging my husband’s reactions to cries and more time observing his solutions. I wish that I had snapped less and listened more. I wish I had trusted in his love for our son enough to go to that yoga class by myself. I wish that I had backed off instead of crying to him about needing more “help.” I wish I understood then that Forrest needed care, I needed care, and our marriage needed care, too. I made myself the captain of the parenting ship and it is a miracle that I survived the year without a mutiny. This week, as we celebrated the anniversary of our baby’s birth and the birth of our parenting relationship, I made a promise to myself and to my husband. I’m done asking for help. I don’t need help anymore, because this isn’t my job. It’s not my burden to bear. This is our shared experience, and in order to make it so, I need to let him try it his way. So instead of asking for help, now I’m going to yoga. And just like with Brutus, I know it will take time. I know some of his ways will stick where my will fade, and I will see, just as with Brutus, that our child, our marriage--our family--is made all the better for it.

I struggled with this in my home as well - heck, still do. How about you, mama? Like Arielle, I wish I had spent more time observing how my husband was reacting and less time criticizing and judging him for not doing it my way. How do you have you found the co-parenting experience to go in your own home? Please share in the comments below.