Thursday, June 28, 2012

Grace on a Thursday: Fatherhood, part 3

This post was supposed to go up last Thursday. Sorry for those of you who were missing my Thursday just didn't happen. It was my kids' last day of school and we had a whole day of activities. So here we are, and it's Thursday again! I'm thankful for that.

I wanted to say one more thing in honor of Father's Day, while it is still June. It's just a simple truth, really, but one I feel is so important for us mommies to learn and grow up into.

Husbands need room to learn how to be dads. 

We don't realize this at first. So many of us are born with instincts to mother and nurture and respond to our child's every need. It's very natural. I won't say easy. But much of motherhood comes naturally. And what doesn't we learn from community; that's the other thing we women are really good at.

Guys? Not so much.

They're not so much naturally nurturing, and they're not so much learning how to parent in communities of other parenting men. No, they're mainly in the workplace, "slaying dragons," as Dr. Laura would say. And for whatever reason, we often expect them to step in the door and know exactly what to do with their children.

Today, I'm challenging each of us to take a fresh look at this dynamic in our homes and choose grace for the dad of our kids.

Suppose each parent was given an empty file box when he or she came home with a new baby. And suppose that file box became the storage place for information about that child. Every look, every sound, and every motion that child made got filed under it's meaning. Over time, the box would be filled with experiences, conversations, moods, quirks, emotions, and preferences of that child. And the only way to fill the box with more information was to spend time with the child.

You have these files on your kid. You know the reaction when....
he misses a nap.
she eats too much candy.
grandma comes into the room.
he starts a new routine.
she has a conflict at the park.
he gets his feelings hurt.
you serve green beans.
she lies.
he gets chosen.
you argue.
he strikes out at the plate.
she gets to read in front of the class.

The amount of detailed information I have stored up about my kids is really astounding. My file box is bursting at the seams. I can anticipate the outcomes of most situations enough to mother them fairly well.

I see the difference between motherhood and fatherhood a bit like this: my file boxes on my children are much, MUCH fuller than my husband's simply because I'm logging so much more time with them. My husband therefore isn't able to anticipate situations as well, and has to rely on a more reactive style of parenting. And to be honest, me trying to shove my notes on the kids into his file box doesn't work very well. He needs to learn how to father them without me getting all up in his business.

Husbands need room to fill that file box of experience themselves. Which means I sometimes need to leave.

Because I hover. I'm a hoverer. I lug my file box around and hold up the papers on those kids and tell him how much better I know them. On rare occasion, that information is helpful and necessary, like on the big issues. But mostly, I'm just being annoying and I need to get out of the way. He doesn't need me to explain how our son won't eat that if there is cheese on it, or how our daughter's bad mood started four hours earlier when I asked her to clean her room. He can figure out the daily stuff. More importantly, he needs to.

(And incidentally, the fact that I married him means, at some point at least, I believed he could. Right? So why wouldn't I give him the room to become the dad that I knew he wanted to be and could be?)

So just get out. If this is new for you, try leaving the room for a fixed amount of time. Don't listen to them, don't hover, don't interrupt. Just let them be. After you see that the world kept turning (snickering at us both) with that amount of distance from your baby or child, try Starbucks. The library. It doesn't matter. Force yourself to leave, and then lower your expectations to zero before you walk back in the door. Not just a little lower. To zero. Most likely, nothing will go the same as it does when you're around. And though it's hard to get used to (um, only taking me ten plus years), different is perfectly fine.

It's so healthy for your kids to see a difference between the ways you parent (as long as you're a united team when it counts, of course). I'm totally speaking to myself here, as much as anyone else. My kids need a good, strong father, and my husband cannot become one unless I give him room to be just that in the relatively small amount of time he has with them.

My kids also need to see that I choose their dad, even when he does things differently. Even when the kitchen is left a disaster and the kids are in bed an hour late under his charge. Even when my jaw wants to drop to the floor when I walk back in the door. Choosing him, in this context, often means choosing grace. And when I have grace in my heart for him as a dad, I say thank you. I'm not thanking him for babysitting. I'm thanking him for parenting, the best he knows how to.

My husband needs to know that in my eyes, that's enough. 



  1. Totally, totally needed to read this today. Great post and awesome reminder. I am married to a Marine, who happened to be gone for most of my daughter's life until she was 1.5 and wasn't around my son until he was 3 months. It can be hard for me to "let go" and stop lugging my own file box around (great word picture, by the way), but it truly is so crucial. And something I have to keep working on. Thank you!

  2. WOW! As a single woman hopeing to be engaged soon I will most definitely put this in the "Save for later" file.

    Your words are always so inspiring and makes me want to become a wife and mother even more with every post. Thank you for that!!!

  3. oh my thank YOU! I agree with Kaylee up husband is also military and is gone for oh about 70 percent of our lives. He has no clue. He was completley gone for an entire pregnancy and birth and the first month of this is always a battle internally for me. Plus I am also that hover and control personality. ugh. I showed him your post on fatherhood when your husband had your kids in the tube...on a dock. He laughed. It describes us. I am understanding more and more that motherhood and fatherhood is so differnt for everyone. And it should be modeled after our relationship with our Heavenly Father that he gives us room to fall and make mistakes and lean back onto him. All love and grace. He doesnt stand with arm crossed at the door sighing when toys are everywhere and the wrong bath soap was used and there is spaghetti sauce in everyones hair.I just try to remember that God loves our children more than we could if he trusts them with my husband, so should i ;) thanks Leslie!!!

  4. amen and amen! i am glad that we parent, play and teach our children differently. as the hover/control parent they need that playful non structured dad viewpoint too. and i agree that dad's don't sigh at the sight of the toys strewn about. very well written!

  5. i absolutely love this post.
    you did a great job talking to us and to yourself at the same time.
    it's simple, yet everyone needs to get better at this.

  6. I constantly need this reminder!

    I've seen too many disillusioned husbands and uninvolved dads in my life, they get that way because their wives have made them. I've been guilty about this myself. If we can let go of our controlling, hovering tendencies then our husbands will be allowed to thrive and father well. And then everyone is happy.

    Thank you for sharing this encouragement!

    Incidentally, have you ever read The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands? Dr Laura speaks to this issue, that book is a read and read again book for me!

  7. As a new mom, this post is SO helpful! I spend all day with my child, and want to tell my husband how our child likes everything. I have found out that my husband doesn't like it. Your story teaches me that I need to stop and let him learn the same way I learned about our child. Wow... This post is just so timely for me!