When I got pregnant the first time, I was sure parenting with my husband would be a breeze. After all, we agreed on the big things: yellow for the nursery, no co-sleeping (not our thing), and no screen time until age 12.
I vowed we’d have equal stakes in parenting from the beginning. I’d watched plenty of friends who’d fallen into the trap of doing everything for their children early on, and then been frustrated later when their partners didn’t know how to change a diaper or what to feed the kids for lunch. I was not going to be that mom.
Until I was.
In the beginning, I was fine letting my husband do the “little” things, like warming bottles and reading the occasional story. But when it came to my 17-step bedtime routine or starting solids, I was the expert; however, as the months (and years!) went by, it became increasingly clear that my husband’s fatherly instincts could go toe-to-toe with my motherly instincts. And in many cases, I was the one learning from him.
Here are some of the most important parenting lessons he’s taught me:
Routine is great—to a point
With our first baby, both my husband and I were eager to get on a schedule. While this isn’t everyone’s approach, it worked for us. I liked having at least some sense of when I’d have a few minutes to myself during naptime and about when the baby would be awake for a grocery store run.
Our focus on schedules carried through even as my oldest outgrew the baby and toddler stages. These days, though, when I try to rush us home for on-time dinners or bedtimes, my husband gently reminds me that the schedule is designed to serve us as well as the kids. That our well-being shouldn’t take a hit just so we can get the kids to bed on time.
Case in point, the other night we had dinner at a friend’s house. The kids played, and the adults had a second glass of wine and a much-needed catch-up. We stayed much later than the kids’ bedtimes because we (the grown-ups!) were so happy to see our friends. And, miraculously, everyone survived.
Getting outside your parenting comfort zone builds confidence
Some of my favorite social media accounts to follow belong to people who travel to exotic places with their kids. I love tuning into their adventures because they’re the opposite of my life. Because, while I love the idea of taking a family bike ride across Bali or feeding my toddler street food in Singapore, for me, a trip to the local pool feels like a monumental effort—and that’s still in the same time zone.
My husband is also not the type to suggest booking around-the-world tickets for the four of us. He is, however, willing to push the envelope for the sake of an experience. “Firsts” don’t scare him, like the first time we took our 3-year-old hiking, which involved trekking up a mountain fueled by more snacks than I ever thought possible.
My tendency in these situations is to think about how much work it will be to do something new, and that maybe we should just go to the park instead. But I’m working on viewing them as my husband does, like puzzles to be solved. When I do, the payoff is always worth it. Each new “first” not only creates a fun memory for our kids but also boosts my confidence in my own capability as a parent.
We come first
It’s easy for your relationship to take a backseat when kids come along. While we were both determined to avoid this, my husband is the one who showed me how to put it into action. He’s developed routines that reflect how much he values our marriage, and that also show our kids how much their parents love each other.
For example, whenever he arrives home, he greets me first, followed by the kids. This lets them see in real time how important Mommy and Daddy are to each other. And while we eat dinner as a family most of the time, he’s pushed us to reserve one or two nights a week for an adults-only dinner later in the evening. These weekly connection points provide time to talk about topics more interesting than the logistics of child-rearing and keep us feeling close. I’ve come to value them so much that now I’m the one scheduling them.
It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks
Parenting is hard, and it’s further complicated by everyone else’s opinions on how you should be doing it. I fully admit to reconsidering my approach to bedtime, vegetables, and just about everything else based on what I hear from other people. When I’m spinning, my husband always asks me, “How do you feel about how we’re handling that?”
His point is that it doesn’t matter what other people think as long as we feel good about the parenting path we’ve chosen. He’s shown me that it’s ok to disregard the opinions of your best friends, your parents, and even (gasp!) the parenting experts you follow on Instagram, and the only thing that matters is that we’re confident in the choices we’re making for our family.
Letting go and learning from personalities and parenting styles that are different from our own can be challenging (even more when it’s our own partner); however, a little bit of patience and open-mindedness goes a long way in helping us learn new ways of doing things and becoming better parents.