Man-parenting

I remember when I was pregnant, some woman I met at a party told me that when I had my baby, I wouldn’t trust my husband to do anything with it.  When I tried to tell her differently, she cut me off and said “You say that now, but wait and see.”

Well, when I met my husband, he already had a six year old boy.  He had been Danny’s primary caregiver since he was just a little baby, because his mom had been gone a lot.  Danny was well socialized, confident, smart, healthy, with all of his digits and no visible scars.  He was missing a front tooth that he knocked out when he was three, but that had happened at preschool.

I knew that my husband could take care of a baby.

During my pregnancy, I did not bond with any other pregnant women, and it had been a few years since any women I knew had given birth.  I didn’t have what I think people call a “mommy group”.  My mom visited from time to time, but since she knows me so well she never gave me advice.  The only advice I got about mothering came from my husband when I needed it.

His advice was extraordinarily helpful to me.  I will share some nuggets of wisdom with you now:

1) When your baby wakes you up crying during the night, do not jump out of bed to attend to him.  Instead, look at the clock.  Wait a full five minutes, and if the baby is still crying then, go take care of him.  I believe this bit of advice saved me a lot of sleepless hours and created a child who learned to sleep through the night fairly early.  Five minutes can seem like an eternity when your baby is crying.  If you had not looked at the clock, you would swear it had been a half hour.  But stick it out, keep your head on that pillow.  You know what usually happened?  I would watch two minutes go by, then three…  and then the next thing I knew, it was magically morning.  What happened during minutes four and five?  I don’t know and I don’t care.  Either the baby stopped crying or I fell asleep – either way, now it was morning and everything was fine.  If I loved my husband for nothing else, I would love him for teaching me this trick.

2) What about those times when your baby seems inconsolable?  Crying and crying.  Doesn’t want milk, diaper is clean, not bleeding anywhere, cries the same whether you are carrying him or he’s lying down.  Well, not much else you can do, right?  Maybe it’s colic, maybe it’s possession, who knows?  Once again, this is a clock trick.  Put the baby in his crib, look at the clock, walk away, shut the door, and do something you like doing – preferably something that makes a lot of noise so you don’t have to hear the baby (anything involving an air compressor and a nail gun is perfect).  In fifteen minutes, go back and check the baby.  Want milk?  Dirty diaper?  Want to be held?  No – still crying?  Repeat above steps.  The basic theory being that if there is nothing that you can do to make the baby feel better, why should you stay there listening to the crying and feeling bad?  Do you think it’s good for your soul?  Luckily, my baby was seldom like this, but when he was this trick kept me from banging my head against the walls.

3) You ever go to someone’s house and when they open the front door, the first thing they say is “Shhh – the baby’s sleeping”?  Sometimes they won’t even let you in (yes, I’m talking about you, Bill).  In our house, noise played a huge role during Alex’s first few months.  Loud noises like air compressors, power saws, or violent television shows not only drowned out the sound of a fussy baby, but actually seemed to lull the baby to sleep.  We were (well, still are five years later) remodelling our home, and Alex’s nap times were perfect opportunities for me to help my husband with the work, fire up power tools, or drag debris out of the house.  I think most kids Alex’s age sleep like the dead, but he can do it anywhere, under pretty much any circumstances.

As Alex gets older, I am still benefitting from his dad’s distinctly masculine view of child rearing.  I know it’s a stereotype and not true of everyone, but look around honestly and you’ll see this is a general trend:  women are usually more careful, fussy, and hovering with their kids than men are.  When it comes to taking care of kids, men generally don’t sweat the small stuff.  Left on their own with a kid, I don’t think most men would be trying to teach it baby signs, worrying about the future psychological effects of different toys, planning elaborate schedules for eating and napping and bathing, or reading magazine articles about discipline/reward methods. When you do see a man being really fussy about his baby, you know why he’s doing that?  Because he knows that if he doesn’t do everything exactly right, his wife will be mad at him.  She might want to know exactly what time the baby pooped, exactly how many ounces of milk it drank and when, and get bent out of shape if its little shirt is on backwards.

Men seem to often have a “looks okay to me” or “how bad could it be?” approach.  Most women seem to think that’s not good enough.  Like that woman I met at the party during my pregnancy, they think that men can’t do it.  Really, they don’t approve of the way men do it.  They won’t give them a chance to do it.  But then you hear women complain about having to “do it all”.

To you young women out there (or older ones – heck, I didn’t do this baby thing until I was 39) – marry a man who you think is competent, and then let him do things.  You don’t have to do it all, and there’s no one right way to do it.

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