Saturday, October 15, 2011

Make Room for Daddy

I am a parenting hog. I want all the control. I want to make all the decisions. And I want my husband to do exactly what I do. I would hate being married to me.

Fortunately, I unwittingly picked a guy who is pretty much willing to go with this program. Despite the fact that I have more masculine traits than he does, (we once took a test that we found in a paperback book in a used book store, the quasi-scientific equivalent of a Cosmo Quiz—I came out leaning towards the masculine side, and Kevin the feminine) we have settled into very traditional gender roles. Kevin takes the morning train. He works from 9-5 and then, he takes another home again to find me waiting for him. (Lines totally stolen from Sheena Easton, but, alas, true. Please don’t sue me, Sheena.) Meanwhile, I take care of all things Sophie—from baths to doctor’s appointments, from laundry to preschool drop-off. This is not to say that Kevin doesn’t pitch in. He does. We do her bedtime routine together almost every night. He plays with her while I cook dinner. And in the mornings, whenever possible, he’ll help with her shoes or brush her teeth or make sure she eats.

There is a price to pay for this—for the control. For one, if I want it done in a particular way (say, I want her to sit in her chair while she eats and she wants to sit in daddy’s lap, stroke his beard, and chew each bite with glacial slowness) I need to either 1) leave the room and what will be will be or 2) do it myself. If I stay and watch, the tension builds up inside my body and becomes so great that I say something I regret, or I have to take over.

I wish this wasn’t true. I wish I could let it go. Parenting together is the hardest thing.

The other morning, we were all sitting around the breakfast table and Sophie told us about a negative interaction she had with a peer at school. The other child had told her she didn’t want to be her friend anymore—she wanted another girl to be her friend. Sophie tilted her chin to her neck and looking downtrodden, said, “I felt left out.” It is a phrase I taught her in an attempt to give words to her emotions during a similar incident. Though I believe her feelings were hurt in this instance, there was also something melodramatic about the presentation. It seemed to me that she was trying to evoke a particular response from Kevin and me.

So, I tried to treat this admission with lightness. Sophie has a tendency to get locked into routines. I could see this becoming a daily drama. I took a very problem-focused approach: “Well, if she says something like that, just go find someone else to play with. She gets moody sometimes. So do you. It will blow over.” I saw a look in Kevin’s eye that led me to believe he didn’t agree with my approach.

Then, Kevin, who is very attuned and takes great care to ensure that Sophie’s feelings are acknowledged, leaned in and said, empathically, “it really hurts your feelings when a friend says something like that to you.” Sophie nodded.

I felt that twinge, the discomfort that arises from disagreement. A tightness in my chest. But then, I overrode it. It was almost as though I had stepped out of my body and was watching the three of us having this complex interaction. I saw Kevin’s intent, his sweet parenting style, his very different way of conceptualizing this moment, and I stopped judging it.

I let it go.

And, since that conversation, she hasn’t said another word about it. Maybe all that she needed was a father’s feminine touch.

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