Someone once said that the problem with parenting today is that there is no right resolution to the most common problem of perception: Fathers think they don't get enough credit for all the ways in which they help, especially in comparison to how much their own fathers did, and mothers complain fathers don't do enough. The problem? They are both right.
Fathers of one-year-olds are usually happy with their newly mobile children, who now interact with words and expressions and are more able to play games and have the kind of fun that adults also enjoy. Likewise, it's often easier to leave a one-year-old with a dad than it was when the baby was younger, given that one-year-olds can eat solid food and are not dependent on the breast for nourishment. Also, one-year-olds are not only more able to play, but they will seek out people who like to interact with them more than infants and younger babies are able to.
Dads are famous for playing a little more actively with babies than moms do — throwing them up in the air, knocking them over onto pillows or the bed (one-year-olds love this), and roughhousing on the floor. This kind of play is stimulating and fun to a child who is starting to enjoy his locomotion. If it doesn't come naturally to them, fathers should be encouraged to get on the floor with their children and play at their level. Rolling balls, twirling them around, and playing horsey are all ways children learn to have fun.
To the mother, it can seem as though Daddy gets the fun stuff while she gets stuck with the work. If this describes your situation, tell him how you feel and ask for a switch, even if it's just for a day. It's good for children to see that Dad can feed them and clean them and that Mom likes to play, too. It's helpful for fathers to have a firsthand experience of what moms do, and most moms can use a break every once in a while.
Parents need to make sure that rules — especially the most important ones — are treated and respected consistently between them. This becomes an issue if one parent's approach causes child behavior difficulties for the other parent. So if your partner is getting your child riled up before bed and making bath time difficult for you, explain the problem using “I” terms rather than “you” terms. For example, you could say, “I'm having trouble getting the kids to relax after you play with them. Can I ask you to try to calm them down before bath time?” This works better than “You always get them agitated!” which can sound accusatory and make the other person defensive. Work together to find solutions that work for you and your children.
Your Marriage or Relationship
Any third (or four or fifth) person entering into a relationship is bound to change it. And it takes people a while to negotiate change. Even though it's been a year since you gave birth and welcomed your baby into your home, chances are you and your partner are still figuring out your schedules, your responsibilities and roles, your talents, and your weaknesses as parent and as partners with children.
If all has gone well, you and your partner have been to talk with, support, and love each other through this whole new life. Even in the best-case scenario, chances are that there were at least one or two moments of disconnect, when the two of you found yourselves frustrated, confused, and possibly angry.
So how can two people respond differently to parenthood and still maintain a relationship? The secret is to address the situation as coworkers rather than as just romantic partners. First, both of you should feel free to explain how you feel. At the same time, you should each do your best to accept the reality of the other person's feelings. Be very clear about expressing your needs in “I” sentences. For example, say, “I need help in the morning” as opposed to “You aren't helping me enough.” Then, work to make sure you and your partner are each other's best allies. If one of you needs help, the other steps in. And vice versa.
Even though you and your partner fell in love and had children, it doesn't mean that you will parent the same way or agree on parenting all the time. It doesn't mean your partner is wrong, just different. By appreciating your parenting styles, you will teach your children that you have respect for each other, despite your differences.
Don't let your relationship as parents usurp your relationship as lovers, partners, and friends. Both roles are important, and their success is interdependent. Dating, romance, long nights, and late mornings — remember your old life? While there's no denying the presence of your new life, it's important to remember that while you are parents now, you are also still partners in an adult relationship. If you find yourself feeling frustrated by parenting, give yourself a little vacation by going on a date, paying attention to yourself, or having an intimate moment that focuses on you, not your baby.
It's been thirty years since the women's revolution changed not only women's roles but men's as well. If Dad is the one who stays home with your child, you must both accept that it is his job to be the primary caregiver, at least while Mom is at work, and that Mom is not his boss.
A few issues tend to crop up with the working mom/stay-at-home dad scenario. First, it still isn't that common. You will both have to negotiate this set-up with each other as support, rather than the rest of the world. Second, you may have come to this arrangement by circumstance rather than preference, so you might have lingering feelings and thoughts about each other's roles and how the situation came about.
If you find yourself in this situation, whether by planning or surprise, you'll first need to be sure you keep the lines of communication open. You should both do all you can to discuss any issue that comes up, no matter how uncomfortable or awkward — even if it's feelings that you are scared to admit, such as the mother's fear that her child will love his father more. Honesty is really the only policy that works in marriage and parenting.
As with all issues that require good communication, remember to use mostly “I” statements. For example, say “I feel worried when I think you didn't give the baby a nap” as opposed to “You don't make sure the baby naps.” Also, be specific about your concern. The issue here is naps, rather than “You don't take care of the baby.” If you see your spouse doing something that helps you feel more secure, let him or her know. Remember, this is a new job for both of you. Both of you would appreciate support and praise as much as anyone would on the job.
Good communication skills require both honesty and the ability to listen well. As in all your relationships, communication with your partner is key. If both people feel accepted and heard, it's more likely they will be able to work together to handle the realities of family life.
The good news is that men and women who choose to find their own solutions to the day-to-day issues of caretaking, finances, and the creation of a family are, hopefully, putting their children's needs before the world's expectations.