I am the primary caregiver in our house. I create certain daily routines, I tend to set the rules, I plan the meals, I provide most of the discipline, and do most of the parenting research (this last part is as much personality as it is because I am the primary caregiver. Once a history major, always a history major).
This means that I have some pretty set ways of doing things. Being the primary caregiver also puts me at risk of major burnout.
I'm going to share a story of burnout and why acting as partners in parenting is so important.
Yesterday was my son's first birthday. This brought up quite a mixed bag of emotions for me. We had visitors, who provided fabulous distraction and company. But, he fought nap and was uncooperative for birthday pictures. This seems minor, but it's a capsule of how our year went. DC is a joyful child. He loves exploring his environment, dances to music, charms his loved ones, and has the most infectious laugh I've ever heard. He chases me at a fast-paced crawl, giggling, eyes bright, and catches me and gives me enormous sloppy kisses complete with "muah" sound effects. He fills my heart with love when I look at him. But. His first year of life started off with a semi-traumatic c-section, breastfeeding struggles, and colic. We've been to allergists and pediatric opthalmologists. I've spent hours reading about infant sleep. I've read article after article about the detrimental effects of cry-it-out sleep training to keep my own resolve strong on sleepless nights. I have tried crazy things over the past year, and his first birthday came after yet another sleepless night. I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety, and didn't bond with him right away.
In celebrating the baby, it was hard to forget the struggles. Finally, at 3:15pm, he was asleep in his crib. His two year-old sister was asleep in her bed. I closed my eyes and fell asleep. Two hours later, I woke up to the sounds of the kids also waking up. I hadn't started dinner or wrapped his presents. Both kids woke up cranky.
I called my husband in desperation. I needed a special dinner--not for him, but for me. A year ago, we had planned a special dinner for the night before my scheduled induction/c-section (long story), but the doctor's office had moved the procedure up a day and notified me with less than two hours' notice. I needed to mark this milestone in a special way.
And this is what my husband did. He suggested lemon blueberry pancakes with whipped cream. He would pick up the necessary ingredients and make dinner while I wrapped presents. He made our children feel better and I got to take some deep breaths. After dinner, we unwrapped presents. Our toddler struggled with sharing her brother's new toys, and he calmly pulled her onto his lap and taught her. At bedtime, when my frazzled edges frayed further, he just as calmly intervened. And when the kids were finally asleep, he held me and listened to me talk.
It's not JUST because I'm lucky to have met the right guy and married him (there was some choice involved here). It's that we affirm each other as partners all the time. I show trust in him as a parent (after all, I did decide to share this parenting journey with him!). We won't always do things the same way, but sometimes, he does things even better. Sometimes, I get mad at him because he can't read my mind (why won't he just take the crying baby from me!).
But when we're calm, we talk. I tell him that sometimes I need him to just take the baby without me asking. We talk about parenting articles and books. I tell him that I appreciate him--and he tells me that he appreciates me. We make time for both of us--even if it's just after the kids are in bed. I remember that sometimes he doesn't know my way, not because he's inept, but because he's out of the house more. And sometimes? His way is as good or better. Sometimes his instincts make him think of things that never would have occurred to me.
Here's what I don't do: Call him a babysitter. Participate in the "dad-shaming" culture. Tell him what he's doing wrong.
We're partners. In this together.