Last summer, after weeks of isolation with the kids and nary a Girls' Night Out in sight, I noticed a blurb in our local newspaper. The YMCA was holding an Indian Guides informational kick-off party, complete with crafts, food, canoeing, archery, and face painting. The best part? This is a daddy/child program - no moms allowed! So I did what any self-respecting, overworked mom would do: I clipped the newspaper notice, handed it to my husband, said, "Have a great time with the girls!" and sent them out for an afternoon of fun.
A year later, my husband is the chief of Indian Princess tribe. Every good chief needs a hard-working squaw, right? So guess who makes the snacks and plans the crafts and writes the skits and, basically, is "The Woman Behind the Man"?
Holy Backfire, Batman.
What started as a chance for a summer Saturday to myself has turned into an activity that my kids and husband love. They've made new friends, they love camping (an activity that my husband used to think involved staying at a Holiday Inn instead of a Hilton), and mastered the skill of popping Jiffy Pop over an open campfire - not to mention the fact that they've spent countless Mommy-free hours enjoying each other's company under the ever-flexible "Daddy Rules."
Under "Daddy Rules", bedtimes are nonexistent. Volume control is rarely enforced. S'mores are, indeed, an excellent dinner comprised of the three camping food groups: sugar, fat, and burning hot marshmallows. Personal hygiene consists of a squirt of hand sanitizer and a baby wipe that may or may not remove the chocolate and marshmallow goo from one's face. Sunscreen and bug spray are mandatory, as are life jackets, but toothbrushes (though packed with care along with floss and flouride rinse) are completely optional. Breath mints do in a pinch.
While I would NEVER call my husband negligent, he is definitely, um, more "relaxed" than I am about certain things. He worries about the stuff that doesn't bother me at all: boys knocking on the door, our oldest daughter's desire to wear lip gloss, our little one's burgeoning interest in bungee jumping and hang gliding (thanks, Uncle Mike). But his more flexible style when it comes to certain things has made me realize that sometimes, my rules are kind of rigid. And it's not just limited to Indian Princess outings. If he's handling showers, he's the fun guy, yelling, "Touchdown!" so that they'll throw up their arms while he dries them off. He plays "Dentist with the Hydraulic Chair" when he brushes their teeth and "Face Cloth of Doom" when he washes their faces. If the girls and I are late getting home from ballet class and I'm trying to hustle kids off to the shower and into bed, he's teaching them roundhouse kicks and right hooks. He'll tie their shoes before school, carry their backpacks all the way to their classrooms, and drop their books off at the library. (Me? I already taught you how to tie your shoes, you know where the school library is, and I finally got rid of the giant mommy-bag when everyone started school. Carry your own crap.)
Yep, dads do things differently. And in my experience, there are a lot of moms who don't like that. Take, for example, my friend Elle. Her husband works full-time with an hour-long commute while she's home with their kids. When he gets home and puts the kids in the bath, she hovers over him, telling him that he's doing it wrong, that he's doing it "out of order." Then, when he sends his 4-year-old into the bedroom to get his jammies on, she yells that he's supposed to brush teeth BEFORE jammies, "because he might get toothpaste on his pajamas!" Um, I may be way off-base here, but the kid is FOUR. Can't the "routine" be a little more relaxed on Daddy days? And if he gets a little bit of Winnie the Pooh toothpaste on his pj's, can't you grab a washcloth and wipe it off? (Or, Slacker-Mom-style, let the KID wipe it off?) Let's be honest, Elle: you're getting an hour off. Don't fight it. Close the bathroom door, pour yourself a glass of wine, and go sit on your patio. Maybe if you back off, he'll put them to bed, too. Or take my neighbor Annabel. Her husband takes their 3 kids to soccer practice twice a week. But she gets mad when he takes them for a quick ice cream cone afterward, because then they get to bed 15 minutes late. My other neighbor and I laugh, telling her, "Seriously? You're mad because they came home 15 minutes late? Honey, that's 15 minutes that your husband and sons talked about guy stuff. You missed the lesson on armpit music and how to burp the alphabet. Count your lucky stars."
So yeah, it's taken me some time to appreciate that my husband does things differently, and even longer to understand that it's OK that he does. Of course I still think MY way is the BEST way; otherwise I wouldn't do it that way! But I've finally come to see the value in his way of doing things. He has more fun with the kids than I do; he enjoys that time with them because it's free of rigid rules and routines. Yes, I end up dealing with most of the unpleasant parts of parenthood: enforcing rules about chores, hygiene, homework and discipline. But I'm with them so many more hours in a day. Why can't his time with them be fun and happy and light-hearted? I've been there for the big stuff - the first gummy smile, the first steps, the first wiggly tooth. I'm the mommy, and while I'm not saying they love me the best, they kind of do - in the sense that they prefer me to him when they're sick or scared or hurt, and then I'm the one they want.
Slacker Mom Says... let dads parent like dads. So what if they "do it wrong"? So what if they act like big kids themselves? They kind of are! And they may be on to something with their goofy fun ways. Kids benefit from different styles of parenting. When my first child was about a week old, she had a really bad night - she just wouldn't sleep, and I was exhausted. In desperation, I woke up my husband and asked him to rock her for awhile. A couple of hours later, I found them on the couch, my sweet girl nestled in her daddy's arms, gazing up at him rapturously. They were watching a Bruins game; he was explaining hockey to her in a hushed voice. My first instinct was to criticize: why was she still up? I asked you to rock her back to sleep, not turn on the TV. But something told me to let it go, to let him parent in his way. To this day, she loves watching sports with her daddy; she loves ice hockey; and she loves curling up in the crook of his arm. Who was I to ruin that moment? Dads do things their own way. And that's OK.