A couple of months ago, I saw a graphic going around Facebook, encouraging people to stop referring to fathers as babysitters when they are left alone with their children. Dads can sometimes get a bad rap for chaos and fun when mom is gone, but if the are given the chance and confidence in their abilities, they are just as capable of raising kids as moms are! Over the past year, Joe has shown me just how true that is as he stepped up and took over extra parenting duties while I was taking night classes, putting hours in for my internship and working on homework assignments.
Fathers are Capable Too!
When I married Joe, I knew that he was going to make a good father one day. I'd watch him play and interact with his nieces and nephews and could tell that he would be a really fun dad. I'd hear him talk about the ways he wanted to teach his kids about money, work and responsibility and I loved that he knew what he felt was important for his kids to learn. I was always so impressed with how simply he could teach very complex principles to young children of all ages the multiple times that we've had the opportunity to teach together. I know that Joe was scared and unsure about becoming a dad and taking care of a baby, but from the moment they placed Bensen in his arms, he's been a natural!
Bensen always has a lot of fun when his daddy is around. The two of them wrestle, tickle torture, pull silly faces, giggle over bodily noises (you know, like hiccups and stuff...), and get into trouble. There is always lots of noise and laughter when the two of them are together and Joe never hesitates to give Bensen a taste of something new and yummy, like nutella and orange juice. They make lots of messes and Joe encourages his trouble sometimes, but it doesn't make him any less of a responsible parent. Joe is a pro at diaper changes, bottle feeding, bath time, feeding him solids, bedtime/naptime, etc. The only things that Joe avoids doing when it comes to Bensen is trim his nails (it's scary) and put lotion on him (he doesn't like lotion in general, you'll know if you read this post). Everything is more fun for Bensen when Joe is involved. His bites of food make noise as they zoom toward his mouth, baths involve lots of splashing and play time after he's clean, and they listen to The Piano Guys together before bed, which sometimes means watching their music videos. I never have to worry when I leave Bensen with Joe because I know that he is capable and that even though the house might be a little messy when I get home, everyone will be happy and safe.
"We believe that in their complementary family duties, 'fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.' We believe that far from being superfluous, fathers are unique and irreplaceable." - D. Todd Christopherson, Fathers
I think there are a lot of reasons that Joe has been able to be as involved as he is in Bensen's life. One of the biggest things has been that Bensen was bottle fed from the beginning. Not only has he been able to take care of a lot of feedings, but not having to stay close to my baby all the time has given me a little bit more freedom to get out and do things without him, leaving him home with Joe while I do. I go to church activities, I spent three days in Canada, I've been able to more easily finish my classes and I leave to run errands for a few hours while Joe puts Bensen to bed at night. The one-on-one time that the two of them have gotten and the opportunity for Joe to have more responsibility in caring for Bensen has done a lot to build that father/son relationship, I'm sure of it. I plan on breastfeeding this next baby and I'm hoping for a lot more success than I had with Bensen. I'm starting to get nervous because I know that will make the experience of having a newborn a lot different for both Joe and I. Joe won't be involved in the same ways that he was with Bensen and I will have a lot more limitations than I have over the last year. It's going to be different, but I know that both Joe and I will find ways to be equally responsible for the care-giving of our little girl.
"For men, fatherhood exposes us to our own weaknesses and our need to improve. Fatherhood requires sacrifice, but it is a source of incomparable satisfaction, even joy." - D. Todd Christopherson, Fathers
No person is perfect and no parent is perfect either. This past semester, when Joe was the one putting Bensen to bed most nights and honestly spending more time with him, there were a lot of things that I felt like I was failing at as a mother. I feel like a lot of that falling short happens when we simply aren't informed or aware of the things that are happening in our child's life. This can happen when we aren't spending as much time with them or aren't involved in certain rituals and routines in their life. That realization hit me when I gave him a bath for the first time in weeks and he screamed and yelled at me afterward. Bathtime had always been Bensen's favorite, and I wasn't sure why he was so upset! When I told Joe about it later, he knew exactly why Bensen was so upset. It was because we hadn't told the water "night night" as it went down the drain, and I hadn't dried him off in the way that he was used to. I felt a need to improve on my role as a mother, but knew that without all of the information that I was missing, I wouldn't be able to do that.
Now that I'm spending more time with Bensen, I make it a point to keep Joe informed on the little things in his life. I tell him what foods Bensen has decided he doesn't want anymore, what little things he learned throughout the day (like escaping through the puppy door to the backyard), new areas of the house he's explored and found places he can get into trouble, etc. Keeping each other informed, and being kept informed by those who are caring for Bensen while we are at work, allows both Joe and I to feel less out of the loop and more capable of being the best parents that we can be. We help each other out by giving each other the resources, knowledge and tools that make our weaknesses stronger. There will always be areas that one or the other of us excels in more, but that just makes us a greater team because we compliment each other in our roles and rely on the other person to be the best parents possible.
"Loving the mother of his children--and showing that love--are two of the best things a father can do for his children. This reaffirms and strengthens the marriage that is the foundation of their family life and security." - D. Todd Christopherson, Fathers
One of the greatest things that a man can do to improve in his role as a father is strive to improve in his role as a husband! Making your marriage a priority, even after kids come along, will benefit your relationship with your spouse as well as the relationship that you have with your children. I know that Bensen isn't old enough to really recognize and notice the little things that we do in our home, like weekly date night and time together every night, but they're habits that we have and will continue to have as he grows older, and I hope that he recognizes them with time. The one little thing that we do that I think he pays attention to now is kiss each other goodbye when we leave. We're usually holding Bensen, or he's somewhere nearby, and I have started to notice that he watches us when we do kiss. I'm glad that Joe isn't afraid to show affection in front of our kids, within reason of course, and that he flirts with me in front of Bensen as well. Sure, he may be too young to really understand, but like I said before, it's a habit that we're starting now.
"I know you wish you were a more perfect father. I know I wish I were. Even so, despite our limitations, let us press on. Let us lay aside the exaggerated notions of individualism and autonomy in today's culture and think first of the happiness and well-being of others." - D. Todd Christopherson, Fathers
I'm grateful that I have a man in my life who is invested in his role as a father. I'm grateful that he doesn't let me do everything because I'm the mother and society sometimes tries to portray mothers as the sole caregivers and the ones who should be most involved in their children's lives. If that were the case, I would not have the balance in my life that I need. My roles as a mother and wife are both important to me, but it is also important for me to have my own individual identity. Joe has always been aware of that and worked hard to help us maintain a balance in our home. For two semesters he went above and beyond in his duties as a dad to allow me to continue to pursue something that was important to me. Now that I have achieved that goal, I'm working hard to do the same for him so that he is able to successfully grow his company and invest time in that this summer.
I appreciate our balance as a couple and the way that we work together as a team. I appreciate that he takes his roles in our family seriously and doesn't sit back and let me do everything because I'm the mother and the one who society says is supposed to be the nurturer. I can't wait to see how Joe continues to adjust and fulfill his role in our kids' lives as Bensen gets older and we welcome baby number two. Watching him be a daddy has only made me love him more!