Saturday, January 1, 2011

Daddy dearest

I was mortally offended, just last month, when my elder son stated that he wanted his father to accompany him to the next parents' day. This request was especially exasperating as it came immediately after I'd endured yet one more of those exhausting afternoons at the high school, trudging back and forth from one teacher to another, each child averaging eight. Was the reward I had received for suffering that biannual event to be requested to step aside next time around? Now, for the record, I have dutifully attended parent-teacher meetings on my own, for as long as I can remember. Not once, during this time, has my husband come to talk to any of the kids' teachers. I'm not looking for a prize but I do want it duly noted that I'm the one doing all of the work. In my husband's defense I must admit that I've never asked him to come—just one example of how I've occupied so much of the space which counts as "parenting" in our house that very little is left for the taking. The assumption of virtually every possible task and role is an indication of either my need to control, my eternal effort to be Super Mom or maybe just a vestige of how I was raised.

I distinctly remember spending a lot of time with my mother growing up. In fact, I really don't remember spending very much time without her. Besides a lot of mundane memories of everyday life within our house I have especially warm ones of those moments which I now recognize, having become a mother myself, exhibited her devotion. They include cozying up in bed together at night to read one classic or another—the last I remember was Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy so I must have been in my early teens—as well as her attendance at all of my sporting events (to this day for the record!) and every school concert. If I was on stage my mother was there to see it!

My father came home fairly late in the evening so his role in parenting me was far more limited. Nevertheless, when I needed to get somewhere, whether to school (every morning) or to just about any place over the weekend, my dad stepped in. As a bonus, this trusty chauffeur usually joined us for dinner. A by-product of the limited time available to us was the creation of special father-daughter time. This hour or two a week was so sacred we even had a special name for it (not to be revealed here!). Amongst my favorite memories are those Saturday afternoons at Madray's Delicatessen in Lafayette Hill where I ordered a grilled cheese and black and white milkshake (chocolate and vanilla mixed for those not in the "know") and we hung out in our booth.

Within this equation time with dad was almost consistently "special" and time with mom….well….it just "was". I figure this is the same in many households. Somewhere along the way moms have been counted out of sharing the designation of "special". Their relationship with their children is just assumed: a fact of life not demanding any definition, let alone celebration. As the mother of three negotiating my place within the parenting parabola, I constantly check out that of my husband. My conclusion is that, by perpetuating the imbalance I knew growing up, I've basically paved the way for his elite status!
Although I know it's not the case for everyone, due to the flexibility of my own work and the lesser flexibility of my husband's, I'm the one left to handle most of the mundane, everyday activities--towing the children from place to place, making sure they do their homework and basically taking care of their every need. I have no issue with this division of labor in most cases (I already admitted to being a control freak), but it has clearly led to his having a more unique, untainted, and almost gleeful relationship with the kids. And it is this that I find quite irritating. I've recently noticed that my teenage sons will do just about anything to get their father's attention. Night after night they hurl themselves in front of his face, engaging him in inane conversations, while little old me is right here, relatively ignored. "What about old Mother Hubbard?" Even more annoying is the fact that those 10 minutes spent with their father are filled with laughter, giggles and smiles while my 410 minutes consist primarily of grunts, whining, frowns or just plain silence!!!

A particularly inspiring program acknowledging the significance of fathers has inmates, within the New York Correctional Services, recording themselves reading books aloud so that their children at home will be able to benefit from this form of intimate, albeit distant, contact. The New York Times quoted one man's heart-felt message to his child, "When you hear my voice, remember that daddy is there with you." While I have never questioned the significance of the father figure, or to be more politically sensitive, second parent, in any child's life, I have wondered about their role as nurturers. Yet the new alignment of loyalties expressed by all three of my children indicates that despite my efforts to overwhelm them with mothering, their father still plays an enormous role in their lives. (I guess I haven't done a good enough job filling all those tiny cracks!) And despite my grumbling (especially when faced with the various crises that arise when one parent is trying to juggle too many responsibilities alone), my husband dutifully fulfills every task I lay before him, picking up the pieces here and there--those tiny slivers of opportunity I've left available.

Accordingly, instead of returning to the same, pointless, New Year's resolution to stop yelling in 2011 (that one's been around the block WAY too many times), I now resolve to move over and allow my partner to participate in all this parenting fun (hardy ho). I'm very curious to see if this will gain him the status of "empty space" verging on "Mommie Dearest" (for those that remember that scathing depiction of motherhood) it has achieved for me. Beneficent to a degree, I also admit that I cannot wait to see just how he negotiates the nightmare of parents' day he's signed on for this coming Spring! 


  1. Although I've "done" more parenting of the mundane -- keep track of it all -- variety, we've always shared much more & in that way, I do think the kids "get" more finally. More US, more sense that many adults are there for them, because it's begun with relying in key ways on both of us.

    My strong guess is that as you give over a tiny bit more, you're actually paving the way for more FROM them, if not immediately, in the long run.

    I had to put floss my teeth on my New Year's list for years before it stuck!

  2. can't wait to see you giving ground.
    the elite husband!