Friday, July 18, 2008

Can Dad take care of the kids as well as Mom?

A recent article by Carolyn Hax’s at The Washington Post really struck a chord with me. In the article, which Hax writes was adapted from an online discussion, an angry working mom complains about her stay-at-home husband’s parenting skills (he left the baby alone, in her playpen, to answer the mom’s phone call). A stay-at-home dad responds with his own story of micromanagement.

But what Hax’s piece really made me wonder about was this: How can moms complain that dads aren’t involved enough or nurturing enough if they don’t trust their husbands to be good parents without supervision?

When I went back to work after having my first baby, I was working days while my husband worked nights. He’d hang out with our baby during the day, then take her in to the office at the start of his shift. My shift ended when his started, and he’d hand her off to me and I’d take her back home for what I called my Second Shift with the kids (my first baby was also our fourth child).

I often said that the thing that made returning to work after my first maternity leave most manageable, for me, was the knowledge that my baby was spending the day with her dad instead of with someone I didn’t already know and trust.
We’ve all heard the jokes about how dads are clueless when it comes to their kids. Diapering the wrong end, dressing them in stripes and polka dots at the same time, letting them eat chocolate cake for breakfast (it has flour, milk, and eggs, just like pancakes!), etc. We’ve all heard stories of fatherly incompetence from our friends from time to time, and horror stories about neglectful parents, male and female.

And, goodness knows, there have been times when my husband has wholeheartedly given the kids permission to do something that I definitely would have vetoed (like playing “Rock Band” until 1 a.m. or watching Predator on cable). But, during the year and a half that our now-preschooler was home with my husband during the day, it never, ever occurred to me to micromanage his parenting.

Maybe it was because he was already a parent when we met — since he’d done the baby thing three times already, why would I have to tell him what to do with his fourth child? Maybe it was because I assumed that a nearly 6-month-old baby who loved to nap (three hours at a stretch! I miss those days) would be a piece of cake. Or maybe I was so worried about earning enough money to support our expanded family that it was a relief not to have to worry about who was taking care of her while I was at the office — even if it meant my husband and I were like ships passing in the dead of night for a while.

What about you? Do you feel the need to micromanage when your child is alone with his or her dad?

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