Friday, June 5, 2009

What If? The Biological Side of Childcare

Beware! This might be a very unpopular post... All I ask is that you humor me. Hear me out for just a moment. Worst case scenario, I'm wrong and/or you disagree and you can tell me so in the comments section. Best case scenario, I might just get a chuckle out of all you hard-core, do-it-all Mommy's out there.

Are you frustrated that your husband doesn't do "his share" of the child care tasks in your family? Maybe you work outside the home too and it's all left for you to do when you get home while he channel surfs the seasonal sports or 24-hour news channels. Maybe you work 24/7/365 as a stay-at-home Mom with no vacations and no pay and never catch a break. You want, need and deserve his help. I agree 100%. After all, they are HIS kids too... right? He fathered them, why doesn't he share the responsibility for caring for them? And, why do you have to TELL him what to do instead of him just doing it? You wish he would.... You want him to... Why doesn't he... Blah blah blah blah blah!

Have you ever said, thought or heard:

"He doesn't change a diaper unless I specifically tell him to... five times!"

"He won't clean up after the kids -- toys, food, spills -- nothing! (Heck he barely cleans up after himself!)"

"My husband can barely survive/take care of the kids when I'm sick or away for even an hour!"

"He's never even given the kids a bath and the youngest is already x years old!"

"He can dress himself impeccably but can't put together a matching outfit for our child!"

"Mine doesn't even know where the kids' pajama drawer is!"

"Come on! He can't run a brush through her hair? Seriously?"

You get the picture. We've all heard and/or confessed these or similar sentiments out of frustration at one point or another. So, what if the 1950's-era thinking that Mommy [stays home and] takes care of the kids is biologically correct (acknowledging that the "stays home" part may not apply in this day and age)? Generally speaking, we mothers are better at child care tasks... that's why they call it "mothering". I've never heard the term "fathering" except in the reproductive sense! Even if you wouldn't say it out loud or to his face, I think most agree, we're better at this stuff! But, what if we're better, faster, stronger... even bionic... when it comes to child care because we're biologically meant to do it? What if our frustration is because we expect our cave men -- ooops, I mean husbands -- to do something they are not biologically programmed to do? Sure... they CAN do it. It's just not in their NATURE to do it!

Have I got your attention?

Everyone acknowledges that we females are designed physically different than men, specifically to bear children. It's also not a stretch to accept that our feminine design also encompasses psychological preprogramming that includes caring for, nurturing and raising our children. I don't think there's many who would challenge this notion. If this were not so, or so the argument goes, men would also have babies... and breasts (for nursing)! Take a moment and think about that! In so many physical and psychological ways, we mothers are the natural caretakers. In our society and in these economic times, this does NOT mean that women should be solely responsible for ALL things pertaining to child care... no more than men should bear the entire burden of fixing things around the house. (Was that a chuckle I just heard? Oh, maybe that was me.)

Understand, I'm just trying to ease my own frustration in always having to ask for his help by acknowledging that maybe it is more natural for me to think, breathe and do child care tasks than it is for my husband. Mind you, my hubby jumps right in when he's asked to do a particular child care chore. But, having to ask has always bugged me. And that's just my point. Perhaps it's a biological thing and not an "it's your job" thing. For me, child care IS automatic; as is the propensity to think through the ramifications of not doing any given child care task. For example, a soiled diaper is not just a soiled diaper. For me, it's an urgent task that needs immediate attending to or else.... I think:

Dirty diap = diaper rash = miserable baby = less sleep tonight = tired Mommy = potentially bad day tomorrow = CHANGE THE DIRTY DIAPER NOW; or

Dirty diap = diaper rash = $35 jar of Triple Paste = less money for __ (fill in the blank) = more overtime for hubby = unhappy hubby and no break for mommy = tired mommy = potentially bad day tomorrow = CHANGE THE DIRTY DIAPER NOW; or

Dirty diap = boy puts hand in back of diap = really bad, smelly mess on his hands and clothes and, if I'm not quick, maybe elsewhere... yuck = an urgent and unscheduled bath and load of laundry = getting into bed late = tired Mommy = potentially bad day tomorrow = CHANGE THE DIRTY DIAPER NOW.

Trust me, these scenarios have NEVER occurred to my husband. He thinks:

"Uh oh, I smell a dirty diaper. That's going to make me gag. MAGGIE, BRIAN'S GOT A DIRTY DIAP! Man, that stinks. I hope she changes it soon. Wow, that was a great catch!" And, he's right back to the baseball game with no more thought to the diaper.

Honestly, I've heard SOOO MANY mothers/wives lament over how their hubby's don't voluntarily take part in the day-to-day child care. It seems participation is by invitation only. It's become such a common and growing chorus (probably related to the age of our still-dependent children) that I feel like I'm living a scene from Horton Hears a Who... Eventually some super being out in the universe is going to hear our cry and intervene, not necessarily the way we'd want them to. And, yes, we all have that friend who says her husband is "really good with the kids". But, when pressed, even these women will agree that, as good as they are, they're not Mommy. By the way, most of our kids will agree that Mommy's better at it too! Even liberated (read: honest) hubbies will concur (perhaps as a way to stroke Mommy's ego to get out of the child care task at hand).

Are you on board with my thought process yet? Like my brother-in-law says, "it's basic common knowledge".... We're better at child care than they are. Could we ALL be wrong?

So, in pondering this phenomenon, I recently decided to change my perspective. No, I'm not going to lower my expectations but I am going to alter them a bit. What if, instead of getting frustrated with my hubby for not automatically knowing and doing what [I think] needs to be done, I accept that he doesn't know and won't do but, rather, needs to be told, reminded, nudged? What if I accept that it is not because he doesn't want to so much as it is not in his nature to even think of, never mind attend to, such child care tasks the way I do? What if I accept that I attend to child care the way he attends to, maybe, a noise in the car engine (which, by the way, I am not always inclined to notice or do anything about... besides mentioning it to my husband or maybe another man... my mechanic)? Hmmm... In fact, I don't know many women who would be interested in hearing about the new bang in my engine.

Perhaps I'm not biologically programmed to attend to that inane stuff and he's not biologically programmed to attend to child care stuff. I learned, sometimes the hard way, to watch the temperature and gas gauges; to record my mileage to track consistent engine performance; to pay attention to the clicks and dashboard lights and smoke billowing out from under the hood of my car! LOL! I bet my husband knew instinctively what that was when I told him. I may not be speaking for all of us woman but I know I must have hit a cord somewhere with some of you. I can hold my own against any man with tools because, growing up, I learned well from my father. But, my husband does it better... naturally.

Given all that I've learned over the course of my life, I am very capable. I do a lot around my house outside of the child care tasks. As such, it's not unfair to ask that my husband take on some of the child care stuff. However, recognizing that he is not biologically programmed and hasn't quite grasped the full breadth of the child care tasks, I guess it's not unreasonable for me to have to ask, remind or nudge him in that direction. Acceptance! Not that he shouldn't help but that he might have to be told how to help.

For the Record: This is not a criticism of my husband but my acknowledgement of, and thoughts on, a common complaint many mothers I know have with the distribution of child care-related labor.

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