For the Fathers

I’d like to preface this entry by saying I believe people from all walks of life can be marvelous parents. A man and a woman, two men, two women, grandparents, a single mother, a single father, and so forth. The most integral element to nurturing any child is love, and after love I’d have to say stability. I do have strong feelings however that children should be raised in a two-person household. I use the term ‘household’ loosely. Single parents need reinforcements, be that Grandpa or Abuela, Uncle, cousin, Tia or best friends. I also think children need long term role models of both sexes. If you’re raised in a loving home with two fathers, a friend, grandmother or aunt can slip into that female role.

This entry might seem divisive to some, and if you feel that way you should immediately stop reading. This entry is about the notion of a nuclear family and a father’s position in it, but really can be applied to numerous familial scenarios.

Good ole’ dads. This might sound terse, but before I had children I really didn’t believe fathers were immensely vital creatures.  My father is a wonderful man, but in terms of fathering he is very old fashioned and tended to let my mother and grandparents do most of the rearing.

I’m so thrilled that I live in an era where so many fathers were raised by single mothers, and seem to be letting loose of conventional gender roles. They can wash dishes, do the laundry, cook, clean and especially in this current economy there are more and more stay at home fathers. But as women, we have to allow them to do these things. Most young fathers I know are incredibly hands on. They change diapers, they comb their daughters’ hair, they rough house and they read bedtime stories. That is, if you’re lucky. And I have to admit I’m lucky. I married an amazing man to whom fathering seems to be a sixth sense. I know innately that my husband Victor works each day for his family, and I never stop reminding our children of that. Does it make me nervous when my husband likes to carry our children upside down like ragdolls? Yes! However he’s playing with them, and I’m grateful they’re spending quality time with their father.

To throw some gravitas my way though, I let my husband parent. I’ve seen many mothers who complain their spouses aren’t taking an active role in parenting, my question is, are you letting him? As a mother, we can tend to hover, and micromanage. Now I’m not saying all mothers, but in general the Moms I know (and I’m including myself at times) we posture as Gaea, the all-knowing mother. It’s not really something that’s done to distance fathers, but let’s face it, many mothers go back to the argument of “I carried this child in my body…”

Every parent has his or her own unique way of childrearing, and whenever I think incredulously, “Really?” I remind myself that the world would be a boring, monotonous place if we were all alike. Which is what I tell myself as Victor tickles our toddler right after eating (although after our oldest son laughed hysterically and then vomited in the car my husband learned his lesson about tickling). Do I get nervous when Victor lets our older boys who are six and four years old walk in front of him in stores without holding hands? Undoubtedly, but I need to trust his parental instincts just as he trusts mine. Truthfully, if it were up to me my boys would be 12 and still holding my hand.

The most important thing my husband and I agreed about early on was that we wouldn’t undermine each other in front of the children. If Victor is disciplining one of our children, I don’t interrupt. He does the same for me. If we have issues about how that parent has disciplined, we talk about it later behind closed doors. To be fair, having four small children means they outnumber us and threat of a mutiny is ever present, let them see a split in the ranks and it’s all downhill.

Within the last 10 to 15 years the courts have taken a much more evenly balanced position when it comes to custody. Courts are rewarding fathers 50/50 custody in large numbers and there are currently several groups devoted to the rights of fathers. There is a societal sea change underway, not asking, but demanding fathers be seen as equal parents. This is exhilarating, it’s what so many mothers have been clamoring about for generations, but I’m going to admit what many mother will not. It is slightly intimidating for us. For some it is even maddening. There are many women who still feel as mothers, we are the more deserving parent, the ‘rightful owner’ if you will. To them I say, your child is every bit as much their father’s as they are yours. Unless the person you have chosen to have children with is unhinged or unsafe, both parents should be given the same rights.

And to those mothers out there who will read this and undeniably think, “My child’s father isn’t even around to pay child support, let alone play with him” I go back to my earlier statement. A father doesn’t necessarily mean the man who helped conceive, it can be a grandfather, an uncle, a loved one. I believe love, consistency and understanding are the main tenets of life, if every child in this world had that, I think it’d be a different place.

       

     My brother and me with our most pivotal father figure, our Grandaddy. 

A Mantra for All Mommies (and Daddies too!)

            Since I gave birth to my first child, I’ve had so many of my friends ask me, “What’s the biggest change when having children?” I’m assuming they’re not asking about the pregnancy flatulence, the swollen feet, or the projectile spit up. Those are things everybody knows about pregnancy and newborns. What most people aren’t ready to come to terms with (sometimes ever) is that having a child means putting yourself on the back burner for quite awhile. I tell everybody the same thing; “It’s not about you anymore.”

            In fact sing that mantra to yourself “It’s not about me, it’s not about me.” Truly having a child, and especially in the case of multiple children, or children with special needs, you are on hold. Don’t get me wrong; parenting isn’t a selfless act by some martyr. But so many of the things you were accustomed to will vanish upon having children.

            I have to admit, in a way I was saved from the shock of this a bit. I came from a large family, was raised by a mother who believes it’s tacky to talk about yourself, and started having children so young I had just graduated from teenager to college student. I hadn’t spent years cultivating an adult lifestyle; I went from accepting my high school diploma to becoming a parent within a very short period of time. I know many people who parenthood has hit pretty hard. They’ve been used to their freedom, their careers, and their weekends sleeping in or traveling. They’ve been accustomed to writing their own ticket, on their schedule, and it seems the more habituated they are to that, the more difficult the transition to parenting can be.

            I’m sure these parents bring a more adult perspective into their child rearing, than perhaps I did at the time. Many though are appalled to learn that babies and children have no schedule. Of course, eventually you can get them into a sleep pattern, school routine, etc. but children are a lesson in unpredictability. Not just in their behavior, but in their very essence. Children become sick at one in the morning, they throw up on you just after you’ve gotten dressed for work, they decide to melt down in the middle of the grocery store when you’re rushing to get home and get everybody fed. They are completely capricious. As their parent, you are as well.

            I hate to even think about how many birthday parties, weddings, family gatherings, double dates (and the list goes on) my husband and I have canceled at the very last minute due to our children (or should I say our role as parents). Being a parent requires you putting your wants on hold for your children. Most of the time that is effortless, some days it can be excruciating. Everyone has days where they say to themselves, “I can’t remember the last time I took a shower in peace!”

            If you aren’t willing to change your lifestyle, if you think you can just ‘tweak’ a few things and a baby will slide right in, you’re on the precipice of a huge revelation. I’m not telling you to give up going out, to quit your job, become a hermit for 18 years and only venture into the sunlight once your child is ready for college. I’m certainly not advocating giving up your identity, but there has to be a gargantuan shift in priorities. Whether you ease into those changes naturally or surrender to them screaming is your choice.

            While child rearing may sound exhausting and almost thankless to some of my single friends, it is the most amazing experience. Not only does loving and caring for your children benefit them, it benefits you. You don’t fathom your own strength until you’re a parent. You can’t grasp the depths of love until you are a parent. Sure you may be giving up many things, but nothing is more amazing than snuggling your newborn, or hearing ‘I love you’ from your child for the first time.

            My young sons routinely tell me I look beautiful (usually late in the day when I’m covered in baby spit up, dust and who knows what else), and I have to take a step back and look at myself through their eyes, and that is pretty spectacular. They don’t notice that I still am carrying around baby weight, that my hair hasn’t been coiffed properly in who knows how long, that I haven’t gotten a real pedicure in years. They just know I’m their Mommy and they think I’m great. In the end, what did I really give up anyway?