I have this great idea for a comedic television show. It’s totally original and never been done before. I’ll call it Chief Executive Dad.
The protagonist is a very successful businessman who is not so successful at home. Through totally screwball circumstances, he ends up having to take on more responsibility for his kids, while his wife goes to work. Hilarity ensues!
Our guy is totally incompetent, and his wife is totally stressed and humorless as she tries to make it all work with her zany husband.
Oh? You’ve heard this idea before? You’ve seen a show like this? You saw five commercials today with the same story line?!
Huh … maybe it’s not such a novel idea after all.
I’m sorry, fellas. I’m sorry you’re still portrayed on TV as incapable parents and partners.
I’m sorry, ladies, that we’re still portrayed as frigid stress balls of reason that have to mother our kids and our husbands.
I’m sorry because for many families (including my own), this storyline is not true, and it perpetuates the myths that men are less capable parents than women, and women are less fun parents than men.
And I’m sorry, because for some families, it hits very close to home.
Now, the roles might be reversed, with a mom who’s a workaholic and a stay-at-home dad who’s trying to keep the family afloat. Or the characters may look different, with two dads, or two moms, or a girlfriend and boyfriend, or parents who are no longer together — but the basic story is the same: Two parenting partners are not quite on the same page.
If you can relate, try these four approaches for a better partnership.
Episode 1: Think of parenting like work, because it is work.
Define the term “good teammate.” Think of qualities you’d want in a co-worker who’s assigned to work on a project with you (or hearken back to the days you were assigned a partner in English class).
Maybe you’d answer, “Good teammates listen and compromise, share the workload, don’t need to be micromanaged and don’t micromanage, and set aside their own wants to act in the best interest of the team.”
Now consider those qualities in the context of your role as a parenting partner.
Are you listening and compromising? Do you share the workload? Do you have to be told exactly what to do? (Sure, I’ll pack our daughter’s lunch. What do I put in it?) Do you micromanage what your partner does? (You have to cut the sandwich diagonally, and wrap it in a paper towel before you put it in the sandwich baggie.) Have you been setting aside your own wants for the best interest of the team?
Episode 2: Talk about talking. (aka “Nag” is not a four-letter word.)
If you start to type the word “nagging” into a Google search, you’ll get the term “nagging wife” in the dropdown menu. (Clearly, either partner can nag, but I’ll stick to the “nagging wife” since it’s the pervasive stereotype.)
Nagging is a form of communication that takes two people. It takes one person saying what they want or need over and over and over, and it takes another person refusing to address that want or need over and over and over.
If you are stuck in the nagging pattern of communication, both partners need to accept responsibility for it. One of you is talking too much, and the other is not listening enough.
I know a lot of women in my generation who attempt to avoid the “nagging wife” label by not communicating their needs at all.
“I don’t want to nag my husband, so I just stopped asking him for help with anything. It’s easier to do it all myself, and silently seethe with rage while I do laundry and he watches cartoons with the kids.”
Maybe there’s a middle ground. Maybe we can find a way to not be a nag and also not be resentful of our partners at all times.
Talk to your partner about how they’d like to communicate. “I need your help and I don’t know how to ask for it without feeling like I’m nagging you. How can we talk about this stuff?”
Or, if you are on the other end, say, “I feel like you’re frustrated with me all the time, and I’m not sure what I’m doing to annoy you. Can we find a way for you to tell me what you need, before you get frustrated?”
Episode 3: Check your assumptions at the nursery room door.
It’s good to know what unconscious bias you hold about parenting.
Do you think women are better parents than men? Do you think men are naturally nurturing or patient? Are there certain parenting jobs that you subconsciously assign to specific genders (i.e. moms take kids to birthday parties, or dads discipline kids)? Do you think there is a right way to parent?
It’s great to recognize your assumptions about parenting, because then you can begin to understand where they originate, and assess their validity.
If your mother always told your father how to parent, you may find that you assume your husband needs to be told what to do. If your father was the breadwinner, you may feel pressured to be the breadwinner.
I don’t believe the assumption that women are better parents than men. I don’t buy that we are more patient or more nurturing by nature, but we may be more patient or more nurturing by choice. Or we may be more patient or more nurturing because we don’t have a choice – if our husband “can’t handle” a crying baby, then we have to handle it.
It’s pretty convenient for a dad to think, “Women are better at this stuff,” as he hands over the tough times to his wife.
I know some great fathers raising kids with their husbands. I know some great “stay-at-home” dads raising children with their wives. And I know a great dad raising kids with me, who are slaying the whole “women are better at this stuff” myth.
And it’s a myth that there is a parenting map, and that women have it. All of us (moms and dads) are blazing our own trail through parenthood. There is no right way. We’re all learning as we go.
It’s helpful if you and your partner find your way together.
Episode 4: Remember that somebody’s gotta do it.
Instead of thinking, “Do I want to do this?” think, “Do I want my partner to have to do this?” Whatever “it” is (washing bottles, emptying diaper pails, making dinner), if you don’t do it, your partner has to do it.
Parenting is more work than it is fun. But the fun stuff is crucial because it makes the work worth it.
Think of the mom who spends all day cooking a Thanksgiving meal, and then cleans the kitchen while everyone else is outside playing family football. Or, there’s the dad who makes the homemade ice cream that’s eaten up before he’s finished cleaning the ice cream maker.
We all resent the parenting work sometimes, but when we have time to play with our kids or watch them eat the ice cream we made, we’re renewed.
Look out for your teammates. Make sure they’re getting a chance to make a basket sometimes instead of just passing the ball up and down the court.