Perhaps you read the emotional blog post written by Rory Feek describing his two-year daughter’s reaction to the death her mother. He wrote about the fact that their daughter had not asked for her mama, not even once, since she had passed away a few weeks earlier.
Why she didn’t ask for her mama is what had me in a mess of tears. Allow me to say: I am not an overly emotional person. I can be passionate but I do not wear my heart on my sleeve, as they say. I just don’t cry over these things.
Months before her death, as it became clear to Joey that she would not win her battle with cancer. She made, what I believe is the bravest choice that a mother could make for her child. She chose to take a step back and to let dad step forward. She chose not to be that precious baby’s whole world but to let her husband move into that role. As painful as that had to be, she did it because it was best for her child.
This story, and my own that followed, made something very clear to me. Moms: while we may not be facing the devastating choice that Joey Feek was, we need to be brave enough to let dad step up and into that primary role as well.
My story played out in a way any mom can probably relate to. I had a 3 day weekend in New York City planned with my friend since grade school who I rarely see. And then my kid got sick……
My youngest, sweet and silly Max, had been sent home from school by the nurse because he was feeling overall crummy. Over the next week he struggled daily with intermittent stomach pain, fatigue and nausea. We even took him to Children’s hospital because we feared he may have appendicitis based on his accumulating symptoms. Thankfully, he did not, and the doctor’s guessed he just had a particularly persistent virus.
By Wednesday night, with no improvement of his symptoms, I began seriously considering canceling my trip. I texted my friend with updates on Max’s status regularly and was working out in my head how to explain my last minute cancellation to her. While we texted back and forth she asked me two important questions:
“What do you fear will happen if you go away?”
This caused me to stop and realize that my fears about leaving (his sickness would deteriorate and I would not be there) were not likely to be realized. We already had him checked by the doctors and they hadn’t found anything to indicate it would progress into something serious.
“Do you think you’ll be sending your husband the message that you don’t believe he is a good enough parent to take care of Max while you are gone?”
I knew his answer would be no, but to be sure I asked my husband, Brad, if my doubts made him feel I didn’t believe him capable to take care of a sick child. Our situation is unique, however, as he is the primary caregiver in our family. I work full time in our independent optometry office and while he too, works in our business, his main job is being a dad. I have absolutely no question that he is perfectly capable – he proves it every day and yet I still battled with my decision to leave for a 3 day trip.
He knows I have ultimate belief in his daddy ninja skills but it would have been natural for him to question that if I had decided to stay home.
Often as moms, while we may not admit it, we position ourselves to be the center of our children’s world. We can squeeze dad to the sidelines without even meaning to. We may trust our children will be taken care of with dad- but ultimately they need us.
It takes bravery to set aside our desire to be needed, to stand down and let dad take the lead. Dads will parent exactly as they were built to parent, which will most likely not be the same as moms. But – If we have courage to put our unfounded fears in their place, both Dad and children can thrive in mutual trust and capability. If we choose to listen to and bend to our fears and not give dad the space to parent on his own, what messages are we sending to our husband and children?
I imagine this strikes a familiar and tender cord with most dads.
Our daughters may begin to think parenting will be solely left to them when they have kids and that mom is the ultimate authority. Our sons can possibly see their fathers as unworthy of respect or submission and not as important as moms.
We cannot devalue dad’s role as a caregiver and thereby imply his sole purpose is to be chief spider-killer and bread-winner.
I urge you, if this is a normal practice in your house, give dad a chance. Take the opportunity to run errands on a weeknight, go away for a weekend retreat, take that part time job, or simply step back and stay quiet while fulling trusting in dad’s abilities. Don’t relegate him to handyman, rough-houser and coach. Be brave enough to let him parent through the tough stuff like sick nights and doctor visits. Let him do it in his own way and trust that it will be fine, even if he doesn’t do everything the same way you would.
**Next Steps: Discuss with your spouse what each of you could do to allow the other the space to feel worthy, validated, respected, and needed as parents.
Ask the hard question to your spouse of what message is being sent when certain actions and choices are made?
Find a friend who will ask you hard questions and whom you can ask hard questions in return.