We were sitting in a circle on floor mats, our newborns sleeping on us, discussing the recent event that had utterly altered life as we knew it. There was so much solidarity in the exchange of diaper rash remedies and feeding tips that mummy group had become a highlight of my week. Usually, the advice and ideas morphed into sanity-saving anecdotes about things like inappropriate comments from strangers, the horror of trying on new clothes, etc. The story I still remember – probably because it topped any other for sheer improbability – was about the first time one dad “babysat.”
“You’ll never believe what Mike did the other night. He put the baby to bed for me, but when I picked him up for his night feed, his sleeper was soaked right up to the arm pits. Mike had taken off the dirty diaper and forgotten to put a new diaper on. Who does that? How do you forget to put a diaper on a baby?” Laughter and incredulity followed, and now that the topic had been opened, it was carte blanche.
“The only time my husband will hold the baby for more than two consecutive minutes is when he’s watching hockey and she is asleep.”
“Dave will not change a diaper. He will literally let the baby cry until I get back home.”
There was an endless supply of stories, and we aired them and laughed over them for the rest of the session. And yet this is the one mummy group I clearly remember, and it is with some unease.
It’s not that there is a problem with finding humour in new-parent foibles. It’s not like I didn’t have, or share, my own arsenal of daddy tales. In fact, I may have posted a picture of the infamous, disastrous “daddy diaper” on Facebook for all our friends and family to enjoy. It’s just that this trend of daddy-bashing seems to have backfired. If anything, the constant stereotyping has made it socially acceptable for men to be boys and dads to be duds. Instead of being affronted, men often sheepishly agree with the jabs and retreat to their man caves – whatever form that may take – leaving who, exactly, to raise the babies? Is it possible that, although we want our kids to have these legendary father figures, we are slowly deriding their efforts at each step?
Sarcasm and deprecating remarks don’t typically encourage growth. In an effort to back away from this culture of thinly-veiled hostility, here are a few practices I am trying to adopt.
Draw my daughter’s attention to his amazing strengths as a daddy, especially in his presence. The truth is, when I feel even subtly criticized, I withdraw. So I can hardly blame my husband for doing the same. And somehow, my critical attitude filters down to my little girl, even if not articulated. Verbally identifying his strengths (of which there are many) forces me to take stock, helps my daughter appreciate her wonderful dad and builds an atmosphere of encouragement around his role.
Use proactive coaching. I suspect many men appreciate a little help as they’re getting their daddy legs. After all, our culture doesn’t ply boys with dollies and mini strollers/cribs/bottles from the moment they emerge from the womb. The crucial factor here is wording: “What if you tried . . ?” is proving to be a lot more helpful than “Don’t . . .” James actually thanked me the other day for offering parenting suggestions (note that the thanks did not follow one of my critical rants).
Try to learn from his parenting style. One thing I hope for my daughter is that she doesn’t turn out exactly like me. That’s part of the reason I chose the man I did: because he brings to the table a set of characteristics I woefully lack. So it would be foolish to try to conform his parenting to mine. Instead, I’m on the lookout for unique traits and strengths his parenting encourages.
Pray for wisdom, for both of us. Who are we to interpret our daughter’s true needs, her heart? I need as much wisdom as James, and that levels the parenting playing field if nothing else does.
My husband has a lot to learn about parenting; he’s only been doing it for two-and-a-half years. Then again, so have I, and so do I. In the grind of everyday life, it takes a little work to realize that although different from me, he brings to parenting all the gifts that have turned him into the beautiful man that he is.
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