Saturday, March 8, 2008

Dads Will Be Dads

Dads Will Be Dads

Sharing child care with my husband was hard--until I learned to trust his style of parenting.

By Susan M. Lang

While I was pregnant with my first child, sweltering through the endless, fiery summer months in which ankles swelled and sweat poured forth profusely, I wanted only one thing--to give birth.

"I can't wait until this child is out," I would huff and puff in frustration.

My husband lovingly reassured me that the baby would spring forth at the appointed time. That some day I would be free from the burden of the added weight and the painful swollen ankles. I, however, felt as if the child had taken up permanent residence.

"Suppose the kid likes it in here and doesn't want to leave," I would say.

"Highly unlikely, dear. The baby will be here before you know it," he insisted, his feet still grounded firmly in reality, while mine were constantly elevated.

As it turned out, when my water broke that fateful evening, I was shocked into reality. Our first daughter did leave the womb and enter the atmosphere. She even arrived three weeks early.

When Mary was born, I was overjoyed. Not only was it a relief to hold her tiny body in my arms, but she was a red-headed beauty. Even when she was minutes old, I felt that we had a unique attachment. And we did, for she had been a part of me. However, what I didn't anticipate was how difficult it would be to let her go.

For those nine months that seemed like an eternity, the baby had been mine...all mine. She was joined with me and depended on only me for survival. Even though Tom could feel her kick through the womb as she grew bigger, I usually had to notify him that she was moving. He depended on me to tell him what the baby was doing. The communication that Mary and I had was ours alone. Now, she was in the world and I had to share her with others. Including her dad.

Now, it's not that I didn't trust him. My husband is a compassionate husband and father. It's just that he doesn't do things the way that I do them.

He held the baby differently. I cradled her close, showing her my maternal love. He held her facing outward so she would have a world view. He transported her differently. I carried her in my arms from room to room as I tidied up. He placed her in the stroller and rolled her around so that he could put things away and still keep an eye on her. He comforted her differently. I rocked her quietly to calm her; he bounced her. He even fed her differently. I breast-fed her at 2:00 a.m. He bottle-fed her at 2:00 p.m. (Okay, so I can't hold biology against the poor guy.) It's just that it was difficult to accept that someone could relate to Mary in another way. Undoubtedly, I was very insecure, and sharing her was hard. Even with her dad.

Of course, there was the time that I was downstairs in the basement office for a while working on a project. It was Dad's time to watch his little girl. As I reached the top of the steps after finishing my work, he asked, "Where's Mary?"

"What do you mean, where is Mary?" I screamed.

"I thought you had her," he said nonchalantly. "Don't worry, I'll find her." He had placed her on the living-room floor for a moment and then inadvertently turned his back. We began our search there. As it turned out, she had crawled over to the floor-length picture window and was hiding behind the drapes. We found her giggling in delight at the birds on the front lawn and at the cars passing by. It was the first time that she had crawled. I seldom placed her on the floor, but Tom liked to give her room to stretch and play. No harm was done, in fact just the opposite. Our baby had reached a new point in her life because my husband, her dad, had let her expand her horizons.

During all those months of pregnancy while I complained, I never imagined how difficult it would be to let her go once she was born. For me, it was the first test of motherhood--to let Dad be Dad. To realize that someone else could nurture my child in his own way. And to realize that what he had to give her, I couldn't give.

That is the beauty of parenting. That each mother and each father has a unique contribution. That our babies need the distinctive love and nurture that each one of us has to offer. And it pays off, too. By the time our second child was on the way, Mary was two years old. She and her dad had a wonderful relationship forged by the variety of experiences which they alone had shared.

After our youngest child, Kristi, arrived, I was able to give my husband more freedom--and space--in his distinctive parenting techniques. I, too, had grown. And, I had learned from his parenting style, even as he had learned from mine. After all, we were a team.

"Well, they're all yours," I declared one day as I headed for the office.

"Aren't you just a little worried?" he teased.

"No, just remember to check behind the drapes if the baby disappears," I laughed. "Besides," I added, "you've got everything under control."

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