Today’s post is more for the mothers in the audience. I just finished reading Master Waldorf Teacher Jack Petrash’s “Navigating the Terrain of Childhood.” It is a lovely book in which he equates childhood development to driving across the United States and seeing the sights and provides many insights. In the chapter entitled, “The Challenge of Driving – Together and Alone,” he writes: “Both marriage and parenting are transformational undertakings. To successfully grow and work together, it is essential that we remain open to learning. In particular, we have to be willing to learn from our spouse. Contained in their perspective is a point of view that completes and enhances our own.”
Yes, this is the challenging thing about parenting, is it not? When there are two of you, you both have to parent like it! One cannot make all the decisions unilaterally, decisions within a household need to be made as a team and with a bigger focus in mind. Once you have been involved in parenting long enough, there probably will be instances where you feel regretful about the way one thing or another was handled (either the way you handled it or the way your partner handled it). The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and go on – the children do go on, they really do a much better job of it than we do!
One thing I can offer is to be as compassionate and easy with yourself and your partner as possible. We so often expect “perfect parenting” out of ourselves and our loved ones, often with the notion that if we do everything right, then our children will “turn out right”. Yet there are essential differences between mothering and fathering, between men and women, and a child reaps a truly positive advantage by being exposed to both.
Yet, there are often challenges for fathering just as there are in mothering. Fathers often do not have the same support network we have developed, they often have less moments and occasions of interactions with the children than we do and therefore the situation may be newer to them, they often have not read as much and obsessed as much as we do! On top of it, they have work stress, commuting stress, and switching gears from office politics toward dealing with wee ones can be tough. They themselves may be the only dad they know parenting the way they do – which may bother them (or not). When I remember all the things my spouse is dealing with that I am not, it helps me to see he needs me to also consider him. His needs and feelings are also valid and while we so often put our children first, our spouses cannot be last. Knowing your husband’s temperament is also a huge help. For example, when his need for peace is not being met, is it likely he will take it in stride or is it likely he will yell? Is he a person that is passionate and highly reactive to things or does he see the world calmly and evenly? How was he parented as a child? Who are his role models for fathering? Does he have any?
Knowing these things about each other can help sustain an alliance of sound parenting as partners. While hopefully you both are on the same page about the big things, there should be a difference between the way you handle something and your husband handles something because you are different people. Some parents sit down and write parenting mission statements. Some parents talk about the qualities they hope to see in their grown-up children and use that to guide their decision-making in the childhood years. If you have adjusted your rhythm to having your small children in bed early, then you hopefully have the time to talk to your partner regarding your children and discuss issues and challenges ahead of time so you are both a little more prepared and can act as a united force within your home. Perhaps you can map out how to respond to things gently and with love, with humor. Perhaps you can just spend time together and put love, time and tenderness into your Marital Bank Account. If you put nothing into your marriage, your partner may be reacting to that issue even more than to whatever behavior your child is currently exhibiting! Parents who are true partners, lovers and friends have a much better chance of being on the same disciplinary page than those spouses who never see each other and never have time to talk. There are stages of development in a marriage, just like the stages of development our children go through. Just as we would never leave our small children to figure out everything on their own, we should not leave our marriage to just “be” with no thought or investment.
This sounds so old-fashioned, but taking care of your husband is really important. If your husband feels like he is always last on the family list, he may feel unloved and grouchy and this can come out within family interactions. Our hormones change with pregnancy and breastfeeding; a man’s hormones do not drastically change with advent into fatherhood and so the way they handle life and situations can be the same as it always was with no relaxing hormonal influence!
Pointing out all the things your spouse does right helps too – I love the creative way you handled that with the kids! I wouldn’t have thought of that! And be sincere and mean the good things, the positive things and focus on those. I think most dads who are involved do want to do things right, so to speak, and love to hear when something they have done has met the needs for the whole family. And quite frankly, (I am thinking especially of high needs children here), some children just require more from both parents, and it can be difficult when the dads have to actually do a lot of the parenting and be consistently creative and compassionate. They are being stretched and made to grow as fathers and human beings. I think in those cases, for both parents to look at the children while they are asleep and see how truly small and innocent they are is helpful. Part of being human is we try, and we all make mistakes, but hopefully we try again and again to help guide our children and our ourselves along this journey.
Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.