I have a confession to make: sometimes I get frustrated with my husband when he cares for our son. Sometimes I get frustrated because he doesn’t do what I want him to do- bottles might go unfilled, laundry might sit in the dryer overnight. Of course, it might have helped if I had mentioned that I wanted those things done, that leaving those things undone bothered me. But my frustration is not always rational.
Sometimes I’ll even get frustrated because my husband did do what I wanted, what I had asked him to do, but not in the manner that I had envisioned. My husband will wash the dishes and bottles when he’s caring for John, but he tends to wait until after they finish lunch, rather than washing them after breakfast, like I do. My husband will read to John regularly, but not always before his naps, like I do. Of course, I don’t tell him how I do these things, and needless to say many of these details are insignificant. But my frustration is not always rational.
My husband and I have a rather unorthodox parenting arrangement for our son. We both work, and we both spend part of our week caring for John. John spends some of his days alone with me, some alone with Andrew, and one or two with both of us. These are our favorite days, the days where we’re all together, but sometimes they’re also the most complicated. When we are alone with John, we are responsible for everything- we feed him, change his diapers, take him for walks and/or to the pool, play with him. There is no question about who is responsible for what; we are responsible for everything because there is only us. But on the days where we are all together, on those days, things can be a bit more complicated.
More often than not, I am John’s primary caregiver on those days. I am still the one who feeds him, gives him his bottles, puts him down for his nap. Andrew would do anything I ask, and he’s more than willing to take over so that I can go for a weekend run, or take a peaceful shower, and even sit by the pool and read on occasion, but I think we would both still consider me the lead caregiver, if only because I dictate his schedule, even if I’m not the one to implement everything. I might be out for a run, but I know that John is eating breakfast if it’s 8:30am. I might be taking a quiet shower, but if it’s 12:30pm, I know Andrew is putting him down for his nap. I might be sitting by the pool reading after a long work day, but I know that John is either getting a bath or helping Daddy clean up after dinner, depending on who has bath duty that week, if it’s 6:30pm. Anyone who knows us knows that John is heavily schedule-driven, and I am the one who has created that schedule.
Weekends are our most enjoyable days, but from time to time they can also be the most challenging, especially if John is being especially frustrating. It’s easy to be in charge when John is being good, when there are no major decisions to be made. Sure, I might have a weak moment from time to time- like when I unreasonably get annoyed because something unsaid has gone undone, or unspoken details have gone unheeded- but usually our weekends pass without issue. But then there are those weekends where John decides to skip a nap, or refuses to eat, or is just in a particularly bad mood.
When these things happen during the week, I just grit my teeth and bear it because, well, what else am I supposed to do? There is no one to help me, no one to take John away for a few minutes so that I can take a few deep breaths, take a nap, or step outside for a few minutes to recollect myself. There is only me, and so I must push on, push forward until bedtime arrives. That is how it has to be when we are home alone with John.
It’s different when Andrew and I are together. While I am still the one who makes the calls- how John’s day will progress, when we will leave the house, and often what we will do while we are away- there are days where I want to give up that responsibility, a task that on occasion can become a burden. Andrew would certainly take that burden from me from time to time so that I might breathe easier, if only I would let him.
The modern view of motherhood suggests that in many ways, it is interchangeable with fatherhood. In fact, when we really get down to the core of the issue, motherhood has been reduced to the ability to carry a child to term, give birth, and breastfeed, and even those have been threatened especially in light of the transgender agenda. Motherhood and fatherhood have been reduced to “parenthood,” where gender roles are fluid, and we are told that men are just as capable of doing all the things that mothers provide their children, and just as well. In a vain attempt to make alternative methods of parenting appear equal to a mother and father raising their biological child, our modern culture has just left countless mothers and fathers more confused than ever.
Andrew and I are not strictly “traditional” in our methods of raising John. I work full-time, while Andrew works a part-time job, teaches undergrad Theology courses, and works on his dissertation. John does not go to daycare, but both Andrew and I spend entire days with John and entire days away from him. It’s been challenging, but until Andrew finishes his doctorate, it’s the best arrangement for us. Because of our situation, Andrew is just as capable of changing diapers, preparing meals, and giving bottles as I am, a feat that has impressed many people and made my life much easier.
Our culture tells me that it’s wrong to assume that as a woman, I have to be John’s primary caregiver, calling the shots and taking the lead. Our culture tells me that I shouldn’t have to be the one in charge if I don’t want to be. But listening to our culture’s advice just leads to confusion, and a lot of frustration on my part.
Over the past year, there have been countless times where I have attempted to take a backseat so that Andrew could take the lead in making decisions regarding John’s schedule. Oftentimes, this is done in the hopes that I might relax, and it’s especially common while we’re on vacation or taking a day trip that causes us to abandon our regular schedule for a day or more. We will attempt to switch roles for just a few hours, or a few days, but inevitably, we end up right where we started- with me calling the shots.
In some ways, I know that it can be chalked up to personality traits. I’m very type-A, and I thrive when I can operate according to a pre-established schedule. When there is no schedule, I instinctively want to create one. I’m that nerdy little kid who had a schedule for everything, even in the middle of summer, even when it was comprised of alternating half hour periods of swimming and reading, sandwiched between three meals, two snacks, and a shower. So when there’s a little person who also thrives on routine, my type-A personality wants to be thrust into overdrive. Anything to make me feel like I have even the littlest bit of control over this little person.
But in other ways, I think this goes beyond me. I think it goes beyond personality quirks. I think a type-B mother would still be tempted to take over in the care of their child, even when it’s not “their turn.” Even if a child doesn’t have a schedule to deviate from, I’m sure many mothers still find themselves inserting themselves into their child’s care, even when they’ve strictly been told to sit back and “relax.” As if I know what that word means (okay, maybe I should work on that).
I think that many women instinctively take the reins when it comes to the care of their child, and also struggle to let go and hand the reins over to someone else, simply because they are mothers. They are women, and the need to nurture is instinctive. We live in a culture that tells us that men are just as capable as women, but I think this question goes beyond mere capability. Yes, men are just as capable of changing diapers, preparing meals, giving bottles, and completing the countless other tasks involved in the raising of a child. I don’t think this is a question of capability though. I think this is a question of femininity.
Men are just as capable, but to claim that fathers are the same as mothers, that men are the same as women, is degrading to both men and women. There are certain gifts that men have been given that women lack, just as there are certain gifts that women have that men lack. We are so appalled at the suggestion that men might be something that women aren’t, can’t be even, that we never consider the flip-side of that statement: there are certain gifts that only women have. These gifts make us unique, make us different from men. These gifts comprise what John Paul II referred to as woman’s “feminine genius.” These are the gifts that allow all women- even those without biological children- to be mothers.
So the next time that Andrew and I are out with John, and I’m lamenting the fact that I’m once again the one “in charge,” I’ll have to remind myself that I find myself in this position not just because of my type-A personality, but also because of my feminine genius. And it’s a gift to have that role in the life of my son, to be his mother, the one who he goes to for comfort (he’ll go to Andrew for comfort as well, but he goes to Andrew more often to have a good time), the one who shapes his day and guides him through every moment. But I’ll also have to remember that the best way to relax might not be to take a “back seat,” as impossible as it is, but to take an actual break, away from my son. Lucky for me, my husband is very supportive of the occasional stress-free shower or hour spent reading pool-side this summer. I’m one lucky woman.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!