Having gone to college in the Deep South, I learned many valuable lessons that have stayed with me as my wife and I married and then later had children. A common saying in the South was: “if momma ain’t happy, then no one’s gonna be happy.” There is serious gravitas to this Truth.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned is that one of the key roles a husband must play for his wife if they have children is to give her breaks from mothering. Regular breaks. I don’t mean just when she is in the bathroom!! I mean giving your wife time away from the kids. Taking all the kids and giving your wife the day off, or the weekend off. Or, whatever it takes for them to feel rejuvenated. If this is not done, there is this slow and almost imperceptible decline in the wife’s contentment. And in the quality of the marriage. Date nights become rare or nonexistent. Resentiment boils under the surface.
It is really funny to watch men who are naïve enough to believe that having their wife do almost all of the child care is a winning situation. Time and time again, eventually, the stress on the wife will manifest and affect the marital relationship. Raising kids is the toughest job out there. Men, you will eventually pay for not taking your parenting shifts. You will pay dearly, in more ways than you can count. Not only will your wife be less happy, your kids will bond much more closely with her than you.
By the way, for anyone who believes that men who work full-time jobs cannot also be significantly involved, I cannot follow that line of reasoning. Even the hardest working men in the highest pressure jobs can and do make time and help their wife out. I know many doctors, CEO’s, etc who do, When you chose to have children, you chose to put them first. Live up to your word.
At the same time, there is a little dirty secret I think father’s rarely want to acknowledge that has revealed itself recurrently in my decade of professional experience as a behavioral scientist and counselor who works with parents on a daily basis: mother’s often much more easily shift into parenthood than father’s do. This is at least partly if not primarily driven by the biological fact that these children grew inside the mother for 9 months.
Many men may aptly respond: Hey, I am doing a much better job than my father did with me!!!!!!! Good for you, keep it up. And more women may need to account for just how under-nurtured their husbands were before criticizing them for being less involved.
There is significant research indicating that men have been stereotyped as less emotionally complex on the inside. This is primitive mythology. Men are just as complex, they just don’t show it as much. Maybe one day this will change as human culture evolves. Meanwhile, for us parents, this is a great place to start a conversation, by asking, what did your parents do well and not so well. What do you want to carry forward, and what do you want to dump off on the side of the road?
Bottom line: Whatever upbringing we had, I firmly believe that all of us has a choice to make as we hit our 30’s and 40’s; are we going to try and go one step farther than our parents or are we going to simply follow in their footsteps as we parent a new generation. For you father’s out there, I suggest you ask yourself one thing: how hard are you working to share the parenting burden. Are you giving your wife the breaks she needs to get her needs met, to get her rest, to get her time away from IT ALL. And beyond giving you wife breaks, are you really working hard to develop an emotionally powerful bond with your child? If not, what is getting in your way?
Men, make the momma happy!! It may be the smartest thing you ever do, or for men who ignore this advice, the dumbest.