BY KATHY P. BEHAN
While at Burger King not too long ago, I noticed a couple sitting with their young daughter. The girl was probably a little over a year old, and it was obvious how much her parents loved her. They gave her glances filled with wonder and admiration, and really looked like they were having fun. It made you feel good just to look at them.
After a while, the mother got up from the table, leaving the dad alone with his daughter. He was finishing up his soda, when the baby reached for his cup. After a few minutes of “negotiating,” he gave in, and handed it to her. To his obvious surprise, she took the drink, and expertly began to suck soda through the straw.
His surprised expression changed to one of delight. As he was shyly trying to catch the eye of people nearby who happened to witness his child’s brilliance, his wife returned to the table. She took one look at her baby happily sipping the soda, and pulled the cup out of the child’s hands while angrily reprimanding her husband. His proud expression quickly turned to one of chagrin.
Now I know that babies shouldn’t be drinking soda. Soft drinks certainly aren’t good for anyone. But this dad didn’t do anything terrible. To me, it was the mother who was in the wrong. She was so caught up in her righteous healthy-food huff that she completely overlooked her child’s accomplishment, and her husband’s pride in this achievement.
This mother reminded me that I — and probably a lot of other mothers — have made similar mistakes. In our zeal to do what’s best for our children we can be rigid and humorless in our approach. And in the process, we can be downright mean to our husbands about the way they deal with the kids.
To be frank, many moms treat their men as if they were idiots.
“Now, if she’s cold make sure to put on her sweater,” I heard one woman instruct her husband.
I waited for the man to make some pithy retort, but no, he just docilely nodded his head.That’s also part of the problem. Because men often consider their wives the kid experts, they may think of themselves as being incompetent. Therefore, they defer to their wives for information about their children’s routines, food preferences, and behaviors. But women haven’t cornered the knowledge market on their kids. Their acumen is derived from experience. So how are men ever going to learn about their children if their wives keep running interference for them?
Men have to come up with their own game plan. They shouldn’t rely on second-hand plays from their wives, they need to devise their own strategies. And that means spending time with the kids.
For moms, it means letting your husbands parent the kids on their own terms. Men should be encouraged to be involved fathers. When left to their own devices, men are actually capable of taking good care of their children. They may do things differently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what they’re doing is bad or wrong. The approach they take may be slower, and is almost always messier — but it can also be a whole lot more fun for the kids.
Sometimes dads will make mistakes, but chances are, they’ll learn from them. As moms, we should learn to lighten up, and at times, just look the other way. We can be much too quick at pointing out what we perceive to be errors. But over time, if they’re allowed to, fathers are sure to develop their own expertise with the kids. And who knows, maybe we can even learn a thing or two from them.
Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer, specializing in health and family issues.