When Zach was first born and I was unsure of how to keep him alive, let alone help him grow up to be kind and generous and able to fix a toaster, Jeff and I would fight. Jeff thought that Zach was gaining weight just fine; I thought we should take him in to the office to put him on the postal scale. He thought giving Zach a pacifier was fine; I thought it would doom him to a life of insecure attachment. He thought Zach’s latch was just fine; I thought my nipples were going to spontaneously combust.
At some point in those first trying days, I decided that I needed to be the number one parent. “Look,” I told Jeff, “there’s every reason to believe that your idea is as good as mine. For most of this stuff, we just need to pick a strategy and go with it. But for now, unless you are convinced that I’m absolutely wrong, I need us to go with my way. If I’m gonna have the confidence I need to do this well, I need to be the number one parent.”
You may read that and be horrified. And I could see even then that it was immature. But I was so overwhelmed by this colicky, reflux-y, poop and vomit machine, the baby who turned blue in the hospital, set off his sleep monitor, and refused to eat for what seemed like weeks, that I needed to tell myself that I was heroically capable of raising him. Loving him wasn’t a problem – the smell of his milky breath and the feel of his brand-new skin melted my heart. Raising him, though, was a different story.
So we made a crazy deal in those first months. I would be the number one parent and Jeff would be the support staff. He would bolster my confidence and love on Zach. I would raise our children and Jeff would love them. We never said any of this, of course, but it’s what took shape over the years.
Couples divide up areas of concern and responsibility in all kinds of ways. And rarely are those divisions absolute. Jeff did plenty of raising: leading family devotions and doling out fatherly advice and swift justice, to name but a few. I did plenty of loving: nibbling their toes, throwing family dance parties, and riding bikes along the river, to name but a few. It wasn’t absolute. But it was there.
Our division was probably inevitable given our personalities, but it was kick started by a lie. What could have been comfortable and complimentary styles became in my mind a battle for parental superiority. I began to believe that I was actually the better parent.
So when Dr. Mark said that Zach was calmer and more focused when he was with Jeff than when he was with me, it threw me off. I don’t think it’s just my foolish desire to be the better parent that led to my surprise, either. If you watch sitcoms, follow the latest research about boys’ performance in school, or read popular media, you can get the feeling that men are an inferior sex, good only for taking out the garbage, having sex, and waging war.
That lie needs to be torn apart and thrown away. Father does not know best. But neither does Mother. I am not the number one parent. Nor am I from the better gender. I’m just a momma doing the best she can. And so very grateful I’m not doing it alone.