I can remember the day vividly – my invitation to motherhood. Mike and I were visiting his brother and sister-in-law in Madison, Wisconsin and I was feeling more exhausted than normal. I was a few days “late” but we were using birth control, so surely I couldn’t be pregnant.
A drug store pregnancy test confirmed it. We had just gone off my husband’s health insurance as we were both completing graduate degrees. Not a good time to have a baby. When I told my husband the news, he took a nap. I remember lying on the hotel bed, my mind racing with what this news meant while Mike snored away his stress.
It’s funny. Moms have no choice but to accept the invitation to motherhood. Her body swells and stretches to make room for this new life. But a man; he must be invited again and again into fatherhood.
When the baby is born, it’s mom whose body is flooded with oxytocin, bonding her to the infant. It’s mom who feeds, who cries and worries, who bears the proof in her body that she is forever linked to this helpless creature.
In the drama between mom and child, the father is often uninvited. Mom never says it overtly, but she ignores his advice, laughs at his awkward attempts to bond and then criticizes his lack of involvement.
Throughout our nineteen years of parenting, I have found myself guilty of uninviting Mike in the parenting process. As much as I wanted him to be an involved father, I discouraged Mike’s parenting if he didn’t handle things exactly as I thought he should.
Mike and I have disagreed on everything from what to feed the boys to what age they should be before getting a cell phone and everything in between. Every stage of parenting seemed to present more challenges for us to be united as mom and dad and as husband and wife.
I want to share with you three paradigm shifts – three keys that help me as a wife and mom to willingly invite my husband into fatherhood.
At the core of my frustration as a mom is the fact that my husband is not at all like me. The Lord has been showing me that my “ideal” would have been for Mike to approach parenting exactly the way I do. In my fairy tale world, we would agree completely on when to give grace and when to be firm in discipline. We would see eye to eye on homework, healthy meals, and entertainment. Ironically, I want my husband to become a mom.
As a psychologist, I know the research indicating the most significant contributors to the healthy development of a child. Do you know what is one of the most critical factors to academic, emotional, behavioral, spiritual and even physical well-being of a child? Having a mom and a dad.
Dads parent differently than moms by God’s design. While a woman naturally nurtures her children, a father challenges and validates them. Just think about what typically happens on a playing field when a child gets hurt. Without thinking, mom runs out of the bleachers to make sure her son or daughter is ok. Dad sits back and watches saying, “Tough it out. You’re ok. Rub some dirt on it!” While I cradled my kids after a fall, my husband would often say, “You’re bigger than the pain!”
In reality, my kids need both. It became apparent to me during a very difficult time in our family’s life. We were moving from Ohio to Colorado, leaving all of our extended family. At the time, our oldest son was 11 years old. Mike and I heard him crying in his bedroom. As the mom and psychologist, I went in to comfort our son. Within ten minutes, we were both sobbing!
Mike came in, took one look at me and said, “Juli, leave us alone. I’ll handle this.” Within a few minutes, I heard Mike and Michael giggling and wrestling. Surely, there is a time to cry and a time to laugh. I’m grateful that my boys have a parent who specializes in getting them to do each one.
It may sound like an obvious statement. Few women would outright say, “I’m always right when it comes to parenting,” yet that is how most of us treat our husbands. Ironically, mothering brings out the greatest insecurity in a woman, but you wouldn’t guess it by how we treat our husbands’ efforts at fatherhood.
To be fair, I think guys are way outmatched when it comes to parenting. A woman has the biological advantage of bonding with her baby even before birth. And from the moment a woman is pregnant, other women begin offering parenting advice (mostly unsolicited). From day one, mom is prepping to be a mom while a man is typically relegated to painting the nursery.
The average mom is convinced that while she may not know much about parenting, she knows a lot more than her husband does.
I’ve been confronted by my arrogance as a mom more times than I can count. And I’ve been shocked over and over again to learn that my husband is often right. At the very least, his perspective is a needed balance for my personality and parenting approach.
Oh, how God loves a humble, teachable heart! And oh, how I need to keep asking Him to give me one.
Most moms like to control, largely in response to our fear. We intuitively know what can go wrong with our kids and respond to our fear by grabbing onto formulas. I’ve seen a multitude of “parenting formulas” go in and out of vogue. Homeschooling, all organic foods, no technology, always playing classical music, and so on.
So when darling husband steps in with pizza and video games for the kids, we flip out. (Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience here.) He’s messing up the formula!
When Mike and I were constantly butting heads on parenting styles, I was struck by a truth that completely changed my approach. The most important thing I can give my kids is not making the right decisions, but being the right person. In other words, my three boys will be far more impacted by what we model than by what we decide.
I thought of two scenarios: In the first one, I get my way, and my husband acquiesces to all my controlling demands for the “good of our children.” In the second scenario, my husband and I learn to flow together as mom and dad, meaning that I compromise much of what I think is best for the kids. What would be better for our boys?
Far more important than what they eat and where they go to school is that our children grow up watching a mom and dad determined to love each other. I realized that no decision we make could be more important than the relational environment we create together. Would it be good for the boys to see their dad henpecked by their mom? Or their mom intimidated by a demanding husband? I think they would benefit more by us making what could be the “wrong” decision together rather than watching us fight about who is right.
This doesn’t mean that I never disagree openly with Mike or he with me. Some things are worth making an issue of. But I choose those battles very carefully and prayerfully, and I ask my husband to do the same. Even when we disagree, the greater goal is to model humility, compassion, and forgiveness for the boys. That’s what they will remember years from now.
I believe that most men are waiting for their wives to “invite them” into parenting. I’m not talking about asking your husband to “babysit” his children. I mean truly validating that you need him just as he is and that your kids need him.
For many years, inviting Mike into parenting was a conscious and sometimes difficult choice. It meant giving up control and facing my fears when he handled the boys so much differently than I would. But now, I thank God for the influence and blessing Mike is to our three sons.
How about you? This Father’s Day, would you consider inviting your man into Father’s Day? Not with a list of instructions of how he should parent, but just as he is.