Family / Parenting

Sometimes, I think it would be easier to be the Dad

I have a draft post that I started, oh a couple of weeks ago, called “Ten Things I Have Learned in the First Week Home with My Son.” A mix of the tender and the humorous, the pretty and the very very stinky.

Except that one of the things on that list is ArtSweet’s first rule of baby: the minute you have time to even start to line up two words to make a sentence, someone – baby, cat, or partner – will need your attention immediately. I will put that post up eventually, hopefully within the scope of the first month and not the first year. But what’s on my mind tonight is a little more serious.

I’m sitting at the keyboard, nursing a pint of ice cream and a glass of white wine because the thought of hot food is revolting after an hour and a half of going up and down and over this shoulder and over that shoulder with a very hot and sticky baby who Did Not Want to Sleep even though he was very very tired.

I stuck it out, even when my arms ached, and I wanted to just put the baby down and let him cry until he cried himself hoarse or preferably to sleep. I was tempted to just call out on the baby monitor: “mama to mommy, come in mommy, please send back-up,” but I didn’t. I wanted to prove that I could do it, that I really was real mom material, since when I came home from work today, Pepito just glanced at me, turned back to Pili and launched his 100 megawatt five and a half tooth smile straight at her. Jealousy with a chaser of self-doubt. What am I doing wrong? Does he know I’m not legally his mom yet? Why doesn’t he love me the way he did yesterday? Mind you, the sharing of the baby has gotten easier since the high-pressure days of our trips to visit him: as Pili says, I think we’re both realizing there’s more than enough baby to go around.

But sometimes I still feel like we get stuck in power struggles over what we think the baby wants. He’s hot. He wants the fan. He’s constipated, that’s why he can’t sleep. Have you given him a bottle yet? Of course, I’ve given him a bottle. He threw it on the couch, spilling nasty smelling formula everywhere*, arched his back and started howling. Would you like to try?

And that’s when I wish we had roles to play. That we were a mom and dad, old-school-like. Where mother knows what’s right for baby and dad bumblingly follows along. I’d even take the dad role, if I could be happy or comfortable in it. But we’re a team with two leaders and no followers. And a very hot sticky baby who is finally, finally asleep. For now.

And let me forestall any “adam and eve, not adam and steve” bullshit. Having two moms who adore him? Who crash into each other like a pair of outfielders with their eyes on the ball to get to him when he cries? That’s just all good for this most of the time very happy baby.

*There’s no need for mechanical bulls or “breast is best” lectures – I’m convinced that making pregnant women smell a bottle of formula would triple breast feeding rates in this country. Especially a half-drunk, didn’t have time to dump it down the drain before I left for work, so it’s been fermenting in the hot kitchen all day bottle of formula.

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  1. Pingback: This is the last thing I’m going to say about diapers for at least a week… « Artificially Sweetened

  2. No matter what the family structure, I think everyone feels unhappy and uncomfortable when there’s a new baby around.

    My husband and I split up responsibilities pretty traditionally, but we both (still) feel like impostors playing at mom and dad.

  3. I agree. Sometimes it would just be easier if the role of parent came with a position discription so you knew who was required to do what.

  4. I get this. My former woman-of-a-hubs plays the 50’s dad well and no doubt it IS easier to have one decision maker and one submissive back up, but it’s kinda lonely too, and puts the decision maker on the spot too much and creates resentment when the nondisciplinary dad figure is preferred. Plus the stereotypical dad often feels helpless and stupid. There really is no greener grass but when you are worn down and exhausted you wish it were so….

  5. Does it help to know it’s the same here in heterosexual parenting land?

    Worse than always second guessing each other, we were constantly *thinking* the other person was second guessing us. It was like we lost our minds when dealing with the stress of a crying baby. The number of times the one holding the crying baby said to each other, “Wipe that smirk off your face” is too many to count!

    Meanwhile, bumbling or not (actually he is not), my husband has been Gatito’s clear and obvious favorite for like a year. It hurts.

  6. I hear you. And I wonder what it will be like for us. My issue is that I covet the mom role, and while on the one hand I love Co with all my heart, and want nothing more than to share motherhood with her, sometimes I am jealous of het friends who get to be wholly mom. (though looking at the comment above mine, maybe we just know too many old-fashioned het people)

  7. Sometimes I wish I had that problem. I am the only one to take care of the children. In order to get TCBIM to do anything, I have to leave the house. Otherwise, it’s all me, all the time and believe me, that gets old, too.

    Have you talked to Pili, tried to define roles? Or do you think you’re just going to let it develop organically? I know a lot of couples who swap duties – one person does baths while the other does dinner. If one person is home all the time, the other person will do bed time routine. Some couples plan this out, others just let it happen.

    FWIW, I don’t always know what the littlest one wants. She’s not verbal yet, so it’s hard to tell and I make educated guesses most of the time. It gets infinitely easier once they can talk, but until then, it’s a real crap shoot. Just try everything and try not to take those “Have you changed/burped/fed him?” questions as criticism. Easier said than done, I know, but usually it’s not meant critically, it’s meant helpfully.

  8. I’m in a traditional mom and dad family so don’t know how it would feel to share the mom role, but I’ll concur with the other posters and say there is plenty of stress to go around. My husband wants equal responsiblity. We bicker over what the baby wants. We both want to be the one who knows. I’m home with him all day so I feel like I know him better, but my husband is very involved. The first year was really, really tough. We never fought a single time until we had a baby, and suddenly we were on pins and needles with each other.

    Now that the baby is almost two we are finding our footing and calming down. It helps that the boy is finally able to talk and tell us what he needs. And that we are getting more sleep. Never underestimate the negative powers of sleep deprivation.

  9. I agree with Cat, even though I’m the mom, hubby is constantly second guessing me and then I freak out because I’m supposed to know what to do cuz I’m “the mom” so it doesn’t matter if you are a lesbian family, hetero family, orange family, family is family and there is bound to be confusion, hurt feelings, feelings of inadequacy and frustrations. Period. Good luck!

  10. oh, one more thing, yes formula smells like old, moldy cat balls. Not that I’ve ever smelled old, moldy cat balls, but if I had, I would imagine they smell something like baby formula.

  11. Little Mister and I struggled BIG TIME with the role thing the first few weeks. I was too super-sensitive to the fact that there is a social and legal problem with seeing her as a parent and very aware that she was only home with us for 11 weeks before heading back to work so I handed over the reins too much to her maybe to compensate. But of course she didn’t realise how much I was acquiescing (cause I was being silently stoic about some things) and was on tenterhooks about lots of things anyway. We didn’t really communicate enough about some of those things and everything got a lot better after we had a big fight 10 weeks in and could then be more honest about how we were feeling about things. It is very hard when you are both sharing the “mummy” role! She’s at work while I’m home on maternity leave so now things are easier. Since I’m with him on my own for 8 1/2 hours I’m more than happy for her to have him most of the time that she’s home so we’re not feeling that we’re struggling with each other for time with him. Because I’m with him more I save special things for her to do with him, like take a bath together when she gets home and give him his massage. In a way she has more of a “daddy” role now, but with extra “mummy” things too! She does acknowledge that because I’m with him more I’m up to where he’s at with settling techniques etc. so she accepts advice on that front but I make sure I stay out of it with everything else they do together. So far the trick is to remember that you both have his best interests at heart and nothing you say or do is out of unkindness but rather concern for him. That’s my experience of it anyway!

  12. That sounds like my house. You are not “The Only One Who Feels This Way”. I am the stay-at-home Mama, the not-yet-legal parent, and the exact same smile happens here when Mommy comes home from a long day at work. I hear that smile happens for just about every family that way.

    It is frustrating to have the baby only want Mommy even though I was the one who dealt with the fussy day. But I realized that Mommy would do just about anything in the world to be the one dealing with the fussy day instead of at work – it is just reality that someone has to pay the bills. I figure that smile is just a little way of life making up for all the time she can’t be home.

  13. What a delight to see such chit-chat here!

    First, I love

    Having two moms who adore him? Who crash into each other like a pair of outfielders with their eyes on the ball to get to him when he cries?

    And second, I feel for you both. We’re two and three quarters years and now two kiddles in to the journey, and there’s still tons of defensiveness and insecurity on my part (since partner birthed & I didn’t), and, as with Mermaidgrrl, maybe even occasional overcompensation on my partner’s part.

    After a time, it has become (slowly!) evident what our fortés are, as parents. And those are beginning to distinguish us most. Though again, the mega-preference for (bio)Mama reigns supreme in 85% of most visceral emotional crises. Lordy lord will I be happy if/whenever this shifts. Meanwhile it makes me think it’d be easier on my heart if we were just two equal outfielders ramming into each other.

  14. Thanks for this post. When there aren’t any pre-defined roles, finding our parental footing is extremely disorienting, even if the struggles themselves are common ground for all familes. That said, this lack of a “map” forces us to address issues that more “standard” families may never even realize are there, which has been great for my family.

    It’s also nice to read about how adoptive families face address these struggles as well. I think often lesbian AI families over-attribute these struggles to biology (my own family included).

  15. Here, here, dlvc.

    If LGBT people do nothing for the hetero world at large (and we do oodles!), we most certainly, through our lives, give the lie to the notion that biology is destiny. And, of course, we also help indicate where it may genuinely come into play. But because socially we’re constructed so differently, the influence of biology (on behavior, on gender expression, etc.) can actually stand alone more clearly.

    I think that the side-by-side experiences of adoptive and bio lesbian families will tell us so much about all this, and it’s SO VITAL for us to continue to share our stories back and forth. Since ultimately, the gift I believe we’re giving the hetero world at large is the message that, simply put, Love Makes A Family.

    The coda I want to add to that (given my vantage point) is simply that involved gay fathers and butch &/or non-bio lesbian parents firmly place all absentee, slacker hetero fathers on the hook, and invite them to — if not embarass them into — divesting themselves from narrow cultural indoctrination about what a man can and can’t do/feel/etc. on behalf of their kids, simply because that’s your only choice if you’re not The Mom.

    (I know that sentence needs three readings to make sense: I apologize, and blame it on the infant, and the sleep deprivation he brought back to the house.)

  16. I know this is something that Cheryl really struggled with when Katie was first born and I was nursing. I know that she felt as though she were the third wheel, unable to comfort because only the boob would do. It has been wonderful to see them develop their relationship over the course of time. Katie adores her Mama and can’t wait for her to get home from work. She is totally sick of me at the end of the day and doesn’t want anything to do with me. In fact, last night she was just asking how come I couldn’t go to work so Mama could stay home with her. Right to the heart that one went! Pepito will develop his relationship with each of you as time goes on. I promise that he isn’t going to love one of you more than the other, he will just love each of you differently.

  17. I’m working on what I want my role to be, too, and we’ve got a more traditional set-up — Dh works, I log in more of the childcare hours (to be fair, he is super-involved and I get my time away). I’m trying to be more like “the man,” (ie, not magically preventing spills before they happen, not stopping them from doing “very dangerous things” every second, and keeping my mouth shut more often at the dinner table (we’ve got 2 pre-school, high-spirited boys here — picture a medieval dining scene sans the finger bowls). It is VERY hard for me. But when I do it, when I step out of the more traditional mom role, I feel much more relaxed.

    And we still bump into one another in the outfield a lot, but our communication is improving. Which it will for you guys, too.

  18. LittleSheep says:

    Try throwing in another parent just to make everything even more fun… The boyfriend and I clash over what’s best for his 7-yr-old son, and it’s made even more complicated by the fact that it’s his bio-son and I’m the female stepparent. Somehow I feel like I’m supposed to “know best” because I’m the “mom” in our house, yet I get trumped when it’s convenient by the bio-parent card. Not to mention that bio-Mama trumps us both…

    So we fight and make up and fight again and we struggle along. We make bargains about me being less strict about bedtime if he’ll be more strict. I have learned to bite my tongue when I disagree with his choices; he is (slowly) learning to bite his, too. And I am learning not to feel bad when his son gets a scrape or has a bad dream and only wants Daddy. Those comforting memories get us through similar times as adults, and what could make it a less comforting memory than two adults fighting over who gets to put the band-aid on? I am learning not to feel bad when his son writes an essay for school about all the fun things he does with his Dad and they’re mostly things he and I did together without Daddy, but he doesn’t want to have to explain about his evil Stepmom…

    It is okay to let things be special times with one parent or the other, which has taken a long time to figure out and seems so obvious now. Daddy is the special bath-parent and I am the special making-dinner-parent and Daddy lets him stay up late and I’m more likely to let him paint his hair green…I remember from my own childhood that my dad would let me have root beer and my mom would let me watch grown-up movies and it made it very difficult to decide who I loved best.

    I think we put too much pressure on our kids to approve of or validate us. They’re kids. Let’s not let their arbitrary distribution of sunshine in our lives determine our own self-worth. I know how tempting it is to give their every moment great weight, but ultimately he feels happy and safe because of both of you and because of the love for each other that you’ve chosen to share with him.

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