Dads: Babysitters or Parents?

Why do some dads today behave as if they are only temporary substitutes for mom when they are in charge of their kids? It's like they act as if they are seat fillers on an awards show... you know, those individuals hired to fill the seats of the actors and musicians who get up during the broadcast for a bathroom or a smoke break. The seat filler’s job is to keep the audience looking full when seen on television. Nothing more than that is expected from them. And since these human place holders are not the ones with the recognized talent and luminous spirits, they promptly exit the scene when the real deal returns with no further obligation or responsibility.

The seat filler version of a dad is one who acts less like a parent, and more like a babysitter. Yes, he is also good enough to fill in for the “real deal” (aka mom) for an hour or two; but surely he’s not equally matched in ability and expertise when it comes to actually caring for and nurturing his children! 

Or is he?

Is this really all dads are meant to be for their kids? Or is this just how some see themselves? Or more importantly, is this how their spouse, our society, or a combination of both perceive them to be? In our modern world, dads are so often viewed, portrayed and treated like they are incompetent fools, hopelessly incapable of handling kids and their abundant needs and demands. Unfortunately, many dads have bought into it and subsequently behave within this limited perspective. In their minds, they aren't Mom, so why even try to be? 

This is not only unfair to dads, but it's unfair to their kids.

In the not so distant past, fathers were held up to higher standards and defined a bit differently: Head of the Household. Breadwinner. Family Provider. Strict Disciplinarian. Honorable Patriarch. Respectable fathers were the "big guns" that came out when the oh-so-fragile and nurturing mothers weren't cutting it in the punishment department. Most often, Dad was not expected to “fill in” for Mom because he had his own defined position and responsibilities - those that were clearly set and rarely interchangeable with hers.

And although I think these labels and assumed roles were, and still are, restrictive and suppressive; it could be argued that back then, men as fathers were given significantly more respect by their partners, and by society as a whole, than they are collectively given today.

In this circumstance, what’s a modern day dad to do? 

I believe today’s fathers have the unique opportunity to define themselves in a much broader scope, no longer accepting their spouse’s or society’s ruling on their perceived capacity or commitment level or letting those perceptions guide how they approach being a dad. As their varied roles, and our collective attitudes toward those roles, broaden and evolve, dads are breaking free from old definitions and claiming new ones of their own making: Nurturer. Supporter. Caregiver. Encourager. Protector. Anchor.

So I say to babysitting dads everywhere, please... DON'T BE A SEAT FILLER FOR ANYONE. Don't settle for just "watching" your kids. Seize your power to define your own role in the lives of your children and don't allow others to define or limit who you are, or can be, for them. And to the moms that treat dads like they don’t know what they are doing, please… STOP. Have faith. Support these men in meeting their full potential and allow them the freedom to become the amazing dads they were meant to be.

No, it is not the easy road. And it's definitely not the path of least resistance. Mindful and aware parenting will challenge you with issues and moments that no babysitter wants to face; yet it will provide you with occasions and memories that every dad hopes to experience. Not to mention it will be the most rewarding and life changing path you could ever choose to take.

So jump in the trenches! Get involved in the lives of your children, be vital to them, and parent them... with intention, awareness, presence, and love. 

Your kids deserve it. And so do you. 

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Why Dads Are Not Mr. Moms

Yes, I was one of those moms that started out believing that my husband should do and say and be just like me when it came to our children. When they were babies, I thought I held the premium on knowing how to care for them and I wasn't shy about making sure he, and everyone else, knew just that.

My mother died in a car accident when I was six month pregnant, just three short months before I was set to welcome our first child and her first grandchild into this world. So not only was I a postpartum and sleep-deprived new mommy, but I was also a severely grief-stricken one that desperately needed to feel in control of something in my life. Taking care of my newborn baby girl was that something.

daddy with daughter on his 1st fathers day back in 2007

daddy with daughter on his 1st fathers day back in 2007

As a result, I was very controlling and overbearing in relation to how my husband dealt with her. I believed I reigned supreme on all baby duties... from feeding, diapering, burping, rocking - you name it - I just knew better. From that skewed perspective, I expected my husband to take his cue from me or he was just going to be doing it all wrong.

It was a tough beginning to what was supposed to be a magical time. We got through it, and the rough times made way to healing and easier states of existence, enough so to want to have a second child. Yet surprisingly with the second, I still seemed to hang on to the idea that I was boss. Now we had a baby boy and a four-year-old girl, and a new sibling dynamic emerged that gave way to even more challenges to contend with. Good grief... it was almost worse the second time around!

Yet this time, I was not mourning the loss of my mother nor was I flying blind, now a seasoned veteran of motherhood... kinda. Blame it on the ever present lack of sleep or postpartum hormones run amok, but something in me still held strong to the idea that, since I was the one who gave up so much of the day-to-day reality of my previous life, and I was the one who stayed home ALL day, EVERY day with these children, then I deserved some sort of free pass to dictate what my husband should do in relation to them. After all, he was gone all day! I figured that acknowledging this truth would be obvious to him and perfectly reasonable since, of course, I knew best.

Great in theory... disaster in reality.

As you can imagine, he didn't appreciate or agree much with my ideology.  As a committed new dad, he wanted to do things his way, on his time, using his instincts and opinions, and he resented me trying to micro-manage his parenting. Conversely, I felt his blatant disregard for my "expertise" and insight into the kids' behavioral patterns and preferences was egotistical and irresponsible.

I tried to control everything to such a degree that I ended up getting the opposite of what I was seeking. Instead of heeding my advice and guidance, he firmly protested against it, and turned a deaf ear to most anything I had to say about the kids' care. He approached dealing with them on his own terms with little regard for my opinion. Not the best way to nurture a "we're in this together" team vibe as parents or to display a united front to the kids. It didn't do wonders for our marriage either.

Today, over eight years into parenting, I have since conceded to the fact that my husband has his own unique gifts and attributes that he brings to the table that aren't intrinsic in me - and that's a good thing. I see how some of his strengths can benefit my children as much as certain strengths of mine can. I recognize how the things that don't come naturally to me seem to be instinctual to him, and vice versa. He too has been able to see that there is method to my madness; and we have both come to accept that conceding to the other in certain situations is for the greater good. 

daddy coaching daughter's softball team this spring

daddy coaching daughter's softball team this spring

You could say we are two halves of the perfect parent, if there is such a thing, which I know there is not. And even though we still butt heads at times about how to do things regarding our children, we try to be respectful of each other's opinions and feelings even when we are on opposing sides of an issue. 

Even so, I don't conceive it ever to be completely smooth sailing for us; and I admit I envy those couples who are more compatible when it comes to their parenting ideologies. However, I now see that his freedom to experience parenting authentically for himself and to contribute his own thoughts and ideas to the mix is vital for our family's harmony. I also know that not allowing him that freedom, but instead continuing to demand he behave like a carbon copy of me (a Mr. Mom of sorts), is not in anyone's best interest, least of all the kids.  

I feel there is greater benefit for them when we both are able to be who we are: and for us, it's mom and DAD. And them discovering and accepting that not everyone thinks alike or agrees on everything... well that's a lesson in life that is never too early to learn.

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