With all the time we spent in lockdown this past year, my husband’s parenting style with our very young children became just as influential in our family as my own. As a mother, I have always taken the lead on parenting. I initiated most major changes and took on most of the responsibility for the hardest parts of raising babies and toddlers. Night feedings? That was all me. Sleep training? Me again. I endured the toughest days of potty training solo, and I decided how and when to start weaning my toddler from his beloved paci. It just seemed easier for me to do these things alone, and do them my way.
While I know that fathers have just as much right as mothers to make parenting decisions, I often hadn’t been willing to do the hard work of compromising. My husband Alex’s parenting style is more permissive than mine. He wants to keep the kids relatively quiet and happy and doesn’t care how he gets to that end. My parenting style is more authoritative: I set limits while remaining supportive and nurturing. The fact that I had taken on additional responsibilities for the children and did a lot more reading on child-rearing made me believe that my opinions about how to parent were more important than my husband’s. If we were in disagreement about a rule or boundary, I usually had the final word.
During the pandemic, Alex has had to do a lot more with the kids. I had my daughter Annabelle just before the pandemic started, a mere two weeks before lockdowns were put in place. And for most of the following year, we had no support from daycare or anyone else when it came to childcare. I also spent quite a bit of that time working from home. So when Alex was home, he had to make a lot more decisions when it came to caring for the kids — especially when it came to caring for our toddler, Miles.
I often found myself becoming very frustrated with the lack of control I felt when Alex was in charge. When Miles was at daycare, I knew what they were doing and trusted their experience to make the best decisions for his care. There was a lot of structure in place, no screen time, and set times for meals and snacks. When Alex was watching the kids, boundaries were loose. Cartoon time seemed unlimited, and the iPad came out earlier than I’d normally allow. Every time Alex had a snack, Miles had one, too. Juice was introduced and started to be requested constantly. Tantrums were becoming more frequent, too.
After a while, I knew I couldn’t continue to become upset by what was happening when I wasn’t around. Alex was the only person available to help with the kids when I couldn’t, so I needed to come to peace with the situation. He was doing the best he could. Miles was safe, his needs were taken care of, and he was mostly happy. Alex’s way of parenting was different from mine — but not necessarily wrong. Some parents are strict and some are lax, but for the most part, everyone grows up just fine. I know plenty of people who grew up with indulgent parents who are now successful, law-abiding citizens.
Also, it recently struck me that it may actually be a good thing for my children to see that their dad and I don’t always agree on everything. In the current divisive political climate, I believe it’s more important than ever for children to learn that people can disagree and still love and respect one another. They are going to encounter many different viewpoints from teachers and other adults in their lives as well as from their peers, and I don’t want them growing up to believe that their opinion is the only one that matters. I need to model this by acknowledging my husband’s parenting style and working to find common ground, rather than always trying to overrule him.