When we walked through our door carrying our first child, my husband and I were equally clueless. We brought four college degrees, love, and eagerness to the parenting table but not much else.
The next morning, we jumped into this new gig with fervor. According to the Babycare Bible (to be known hereafter as “the BB”), it was time for a bath. Peter read the step-by-step instructions from the BB aloud, cross-referencing several lesser baby books for good measure, while I attempted implementation.
Our daughter, sensing our ineptitude and even at two days disliking change, screamed blood-curdling screams. The BB did not cover the screams that set your inner ear hairs on end. After several hours (or minutes, but who’s counting?), we gave up and agreed to try again in three months. After all, all the parts that got dirty were wiped clean on a regular basis, so why did she need full body immersion?
An Expert is Born
Within days, we were both developing “key competencies” (as instructed by the BB), but by the second week, I was becoming the star. Pretty soon, I ditched the BB completely and was riffing on baby care. Who needed a baby bath when you could cuddle your baby in the shower and both enjoy the hot water and body contact? Peter deferred to my newfound confidence; thus, an expert was born.
My expertise and confidence were both equally shallow, which is a dangerous combination. Expertise can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I led; Peter followed. My confidence wasn’t deep enough to let him venture beyond my lines, but he didn’t seem to chafe at the restrictions…until The Lullaby Incident.
I love to sing but lack anything resembling talent. I figured my kids were likely to be my only appreciative audience, and one of my fantasies pre-mommyhood was singing my children to sleep. Lullabies, I soon found out, are wonderfully forgiving. They usually have a limited range and work well in most keys; better yet, they even allow for key changes mid-song in case the original key outstretched my range. In other words, they were perfect for my “talents”. (I know you musically gifted folks are cringing, so don’t try to deny it.)
I listened to recordings and wrote down the lyrics to as many lullabies as possible. Although I had a varied repertoire, they were all slow-paced and sung softly to further their soporific effect.
Taking the Reins Back
So imagine my surprise when one night I heard the rousing strains of Take Me Out to the Ballgame marching out of the baby monitor as Peter put our daughter to bed.
“Peter,” I helpfully whispered at the door, “the idea of a lullaby is to put the kid to sleep, not make her want to flag down the beer guy for another round.”
In fairness to Peter, he did try to slow the pace, but Take Me Out To the Ballgame refuses to be sung as a funeral dirge, so pretty soon, he was back up to full volume and beat.
I offered to teach him a few lullabies, but he decided to take the daddy reins back. He would begin, by golly, with singing whatever songs he wanted, including Take Me Out to the Ballgame. He added a few more traditional children’s songs to his playlist, but they were all upbeat, toe-tapping, and often of the gross variety.
Oh Dunderbeck, Dunderbeck, how could you be so mean?
To ever have invented the sausage meat machine.
Now all the neighbor’s cats and dogs will nevermore be seen, they’ve all been ground to sausages in Dunderbeck’s machine.
Turns out, song selection has little to do with how quickly a child falls asleep, and they all grew up to love sausage. Who knew? And thus, a new expert was born.
Finding Our Balance
Over the years, we’ve balanced each other pretty well. I was a good ballast to his tendency to worry about their physical safety when they were romping, rolling, and crashing their way through childhood.
“Honey, if the worst that can happen is that they break a bone, let them go,” I’d counsel.
The tables are turned now that some are driving. The worst that can happen in a car is far worse than a broken bone, and I cling to his calm (and a whole lot of prayer) to get me through. But this balancing act only works because he is an equal. Sometimes, we moms don’t make room for more than one “expert”.
(By the way, even thinking about the word “expert” in conjunction with parenting makes me giggle. As if anyone could ever be an expert at this task.)
Good parents come in all different styles. My way is… well, just my way. If you have a parenting partner, you need to agree on the big stuff but leave a lot of room in between for individual parenting expression. Kids not only tolerate these differences, but I think they thrive. So do parents.
How does your parenting style differ from your partner’s? Or, how did your parents differ? Did it screw you up?Image credit: kkbutterfly01