My husband and I were married in a small Catholic church in Lucca, Italy. Before the wedding, we attended Pre-Cana, a weekend counseling course engaged couples must complete. For two days, we hung out with other men and women discussing our wonderful visions for life, our attitudes towards money, work, pets, conflict and more. We drew pictures of our future family and talked about how many children we wanted. One thing we did not talk about was parenting style.
Cut to: twelve years and three kids later. All those glossy-eyed visions we had of starting a family have been replaced by cold, hard reality. My husband and I discovered shortly after the birth of our twin boys that we have vastly different approaches when it comes to raising children. To say this leads to passionate conversation in our household is an understatement! He grew up in a rough-and-tumble, Italian-American town outside New York City. I had a suburban Norman Rockwell upbringing in the South. He came from a split home, my parents are still together. He believes in tough love. I believe in cuddling and calm. Somewhere between our two styles is a happy mix, but finding that mix is an ongoing and difficult process. Often, when we disagree the question arises: who is right?
My husband and I aren’t the only ones who deal with this, of course. Plenty of couples experience conflicts when their approaches don’t mesh. I’ve noticed that in cases where the two parents disagree, dads are often overridden or vetoed by mums. There are assumptions about “mother’s intuition” and in many families Mum spends more time with the kids, so she becomes the primary decision maker on day-to-day stuff. Besides, mama knows best, right? Well, maybe not always . . .
When I was a new mum, I thought I knew best. We had a night nurse for our first month with the twins. We called her the Baby Whisperer and she talked us off the ledge more than once. In those early days, my husband, who had barely ever held a baby, did a number of things I deemed questionable. He left the babies too close to the edge of the couch, he didn’t hold them properly, he bathed them in the tub instead of the sink, he put them face down on a pillow for tummy time! What if the baby fell? What if the baby dropped? What if the baby can’t breath? I was so on his case! Our night nurse smiled and took me aside. She said she saw dads do that kind of stuff all the time and nothing bad happened. In her own gentle way, she was telling me to lighten up and let my husband be a dad.
It took me a long time to figure out how to do that, but I can tell you my boys are now eight and they did survive all the precarious-dangerous-rough-and-tumble things their dad may or may not have done. Now that I’ve relaxed a bit, I can look at the parenting picture and see that Dad is the one who throws my kids up too high in the air at the pool, takes them on motorcycle rides around the block, forgets to put on their sunscreen, and neglects to feed them lunch until he gets hungry (around 4pm). He is also the one who amuses them with tales of his youthful misadventures, enthralls them with Revolutionary War history, teaches them how to use power tools, and how to chop garlic like a real Sicilian.
For me, it is comforting to know these Mom/Dad differences are not unique to us. As proof, there is plenty of online riff and rant about the topic. Here are three articles worth checking out:
• Dads Are From Mars, Mums Are From Venus by Harry Harrison Jr. – I love this article written by a guy—funny, well-written, and sooooo true!
• Fatherhood, Manhood, and Having It All by Conor P. Williams – This personal take tells how one dad’s kid-care choices get criticised by women he meets in public, and why we should change our views on masculinity and dads.
• Co-Parenting: Allowing Dad To Help With Baby – This article offers new mums some pointers on how to loosen the reins and let fathers take over a bit.
As mums, we may not always agree with what our men do or how they do it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great for our kids. I want the freedom to “mother” in my own way, and my husband deserves the same poetic license. In the end, our kids get the best of both worlds.