For years, like most children, I took Father’s Day as an opportunity to give my father a card and a gift, and a big hug to tell him how much I loved him. Often my brother and I would take him out for a meal, but often we wouldn’t and it wouldn’t be a big deal. Father’s Day was in no way comparable to Mother’s Day, where my mother would be served breakfast in bed, given flowers, gifts and coupon booklets that could be redeemed in the weeks to come. The difference between how we celebrated Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in our house is just a reflection of how it is celebrated in society. Mother’s Day is celebrated with greater gusto than Father’s Day, but does that mean that mothers are more important than fathers when it comes to parenting?
My parents are very different from each other. My mother was the stricter parent growing up (she still is) – she was the one who would tell us to study, get good grades and be home on time. My father had a more laid-back attitude – he would usually let us do what we liked, the way we liked it. Was one approach better than the other? I don’t know. What I do believe though, is that I am a better person for having a household dynamic that brought together two very different parenting approaches. My mother taught me to set goals and follow them, and my father taught me to have faith and keep trying. My mother taught me to look at situations from different angles, and my father taught me to look at life from other perspectives. My mother taught me to stand up for myself and fight for what I believe in, and my father taught me to go out of my way and help those in need. What I learned from my mother, is very different from what I’ve learned from my father, and I am stronger for it.
My husband and I have very different parenting styles as well. While we discuss and reach an agreement about the major things – like schooling and discipline – our day-to-day dealing with Baby A differ significantly from one another. I let Baby A engage in activities very independently – from eating to walking and even brushing her teeth and bathing herself. Encouraging Baby A to become independent is very important to me. Baby A and I also spent quite a bit of our time together doing relatively more structured activities like arts and craft, puzzles, reading, or we go out to the park, the aquarium or the mall. My husband instead focuses on making Baby A more disciplined, braver and on improving her sense of humour. Baby A and Daddy A crack crazy jokes with each other, have arguments about who is going to eat food faster or who loves me more, and make up silly games. Today I walked in on them holding empty water bottles in their hands shouting, “En garde” to each other – I’m pretty sure they were sword fighting, but they immediately dropped the bottles when I walked into the room. My husband doesn’t give in as easily to Baby A’s tantrums as I do, so in that way he’s the stricter parent. If he senses that Baby A fears something, instead of consoling her and telling her that it’s okay, he will encourage her to try it again and again until she is comfortable. There was this battery-operated crab that Baby A received as a present, and Baby A was terrified of its crawl. She would shriek and start crying every time we would turn it on, but Daddy A kept introducing Baby A to the crab until she got over her fear.
I take Baby A for all her vaccinations and doctor’s appointments, I remember to buy gifts for birthday parties she attends, I buy new clothes when she grows out of her wardrobe, I purchase her diapers and her favourite cheese snack. While my husband changes diapers, gives Baby A her meals on the weekends, and puts her to bed every night, there’s no debating that I am the default parent and that hasn’t changed with my employment status. What I also know is that when it comes to shaping Baby A’s personality and influencing her learning, Baby A has two equally involved parents, and from experience, I know that enriches her life. While my mother was the default parent, looking back, I cannot discount the importance of my father in moulding me into the person I am today. Research also indicates that the way fathers engage with children differs from the way mothers do, and that has an important impact on the child’s emotional and social development.
Our different parenting styles have also helped my husband and I grow – as parents, as individuals and as a couple. There are many times when I learn a better way to approach an issue with Baby A by watching my husband do it. Researching and discussing Baby A’s developmental milestones, and approaches to deal with parental challenges has helped us improve communication within our marriage.
Finally, my husband’s involvement in Baby A’s upbringing has enriched his life immensely. He openly declares that the day Baby A was born was the best day of his life. I often find him staring lovingly at her as she sleeps. With Baby A in his life, he has realized that he has a capacity to love that he didn’t know he had. She has taught him patience, selflessness, and a renewed appreciation for his parents.
Two people bring a child into the world, so why do we discount the importance of one parent? For centuries, traditional gender roles placed the responsibility for childcare solely on mothers, depriving families of the benefits of having equally involved parents. While things have changed today with fathers a lot more involved, society continues to look upon involved fatherhood as something novel instead of something that should be normal. This non-acceptance of involved fatherhood as the norm, may serve as a barrier for several fathers who want to be engaged in their children’s upbringing, but fear social ridicule from their families and friends. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked if my husband is ‘babysitting’ Baby A while I’m out. The media portrayal of fatherhood continues to lag rather than lead social change. To date, social infrastructure makes it difficult for parents to equally share parental duties by placing baby rooms in women’s toilets and not in men’s. Employment regulations discriminate against fathers, making concessions for working mothers but not working fathers.
I also wonder whether mothers somehow sabotage the degree of their spouse’s involvement in their child’s life. When I was pregnant with Baby A, my husband was very vocal about his intention to be an involved parent – he was excited about changing diapers, giving baths, feeding etc. Once Baby A was born, armed with my arsenal of baby books and my belief that as the mother I knew best, I demanded that my husband follow my instructions. Soon my continuous criticism and supervision of his parental activities led him to withdraw. Instead of hearing how terrible he was at bathing Baby A because he did it differently than me, he just stopped bathing her. Soon enough, I started complaining that he was not holding true to the commitment for involved parenting that he’d made during the pregnancy. It took several discussions and a lot of time for me to realize that my husband is as much a parent to Baby A as I am, so why should my opinion or my way of parenting take precedence over his? My husband never asks me ‘what I did all day with Baby A’ when he comes home from work, so why do I ask him the same question when I leave Baby A with him? If I trusted him to marry him, and I trust him in other aspects of our life, then I should trust his parenting style and his commitment to giving only the best of himself to the child that is as much his as mine.
Motherhood, so far, has been a challenging but very rewarding experience for me. I have grown more patient and organized, learned to love in a way I didn’t know I could, and developed a deeper sense of empathy and appreciation for the world. I have matured and grown as a person and as a professional. One of the most beautiful aspects of my motherhood journey has been having my husband by my side, supporting me and growing with me. So, this Father’s Day, I celebrate not just my father, but my husband as well, for being an incredible father, and an amazing co-parent.
Happy Father’s Day!
2 thoughts on “The Other Parent”
Hira! eloquently expressed as usual… parenting is a beautiful journey. At each stage a child demands new set of skills, knowledge and thought process. As long as the parents have clarity of thought and purpose within themselves … it is indeed a rewarding experience. Blessings for you and your family
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Thank you Seema Aunty! 😊