“I can’t believe he put his hands on my son!” My friend was livid. Quivering with the adrenaline rush of anger, she stalked across the park, her normally beautiful face a mask of fury. Looking back at me, lips contorting into an ugly sneer, she hissed, “Can you believe that @$$#*%#?”
I’ve heard the expression ‘spitting mad’, but until that day I had never actually witnessed it. It’s real, let me tell you, and I was flummoxed as to how I should respond.
The object of my friend’s wrath was her husband. And his unforgivable infraction? Their young son had been, to put it nicely, a brat. He was throwing the kind of fit that only a toddler can do well. This daddy had calmly, yet firmly warned his son to behave. When he refused, daddy picked him up and gave him a pop on the thigh. It wasn’t hard, but it got the boy’s attention. It also made my friend come unglued.
Interestingly, a few years later, this same friend lamented to me the fact that her husband wasn’t very hands-on with their kids. “The kids are your job,” he’d say to her, and I couldn’t help but recall the earlier incident at the park.
Now most of us can’t relate to such an extreme dynamic in the spousal-parenting relationship. Most of the couples I am personally acquainted with create a team in the realm of parenting, and the men are engaged fathers. But ladies, are we doing our best to encourage our husbands to be great dads?
Don’t do it all yourself. Yes, we carry the babies, nurturing them within our bodies, holding them close to our hearts in an intimate and mystical bond that men will never have the pleasure of experiencing. But motherhood does not give us some magical superiority over our men in regards to parenting. His role is equally important; don’t simply relegate him to background parent status, the guy who passes you the baby in the middle of the night and doesn’t do much else.
Encourage your man to develop his own distinct relationship with each of his kids. Allow him to get it wrong. Let him put the diaper on backwards without fear of ridicule or condescension from mommy. Allow him the freedom to screw up without you swooping in to the rescue. Don’t interfere with his discipline even if you disagree with it.** He will do things differently than you. Let him. Let him dress the kids in ridiculously mismatched clothes. Let him swing them too high in the swings. Let him know you trust him because he’s a great daddy.
Give him grace when he makes mistakes. When he fouls it, offer him the grace you would want given to you. You both will mess up as parents, over and over again. Get over it. Some mishaps may even end up in the annals of entertaining family stories, like the time my husband was changing our daughter’s diaper on a washstand in the bathroom. Turning his back for a split second, he turned to see her roll off…right into the cat box. Ewww! I was so horrified that, once we’d determined she was unharmed, I could do nothing but laugh. Shower each other with grace and learn to laugh easily. Grace and humor cover a multitude of mess ups.
Be his cheerleader. Great daddies are men who have been encouraged. Just as all mommies need words of affirmation and encouragment, so do daddies. Tell him what he’s doing well. Be specific. Great daddies are men who have tasted success in this parenting gig, and are confident in their abilities. And don’t forget to let him know how attractive it is to see him being super dad!
Now I don’t mean to trash my friend from the park. Like all of us, she carries baggage from her own past that, for better or worse, shapes the way she parents. But if we become viciously protective, harboring a possessive ‘this is my kid’ attitude, our men will likely melt into the background of their children’s lives. Thankfully, it’s never too late to change. If you foster his relationship with his kids, give him the encouragement, time, and freedom to parent in his own way, he is likely to become the great daddy you long for him to be. The great daddy he wants to be.
Lord, help me to always see what a great daddy my husband is. Give me wisdom on how I can encourage him as a father today. May I discern when to speak up, and when to keep my mouth shut. Most of all, may my actions as a mommy foster intimacy and harmony amongst all of my family. Amen.
**Note: I do feel the need to add this caveat. Nothing excuses abuse, and we should never stay in a dangerous situation. What I am speaking of here is differences in parenting/discipline styles. Back your man up at the time, then speak with him privately later when you can rationally explain what you take issue with.