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My husband is leaning over my shoulder as I breastfeed our son. Our little darling is squirming, craning his neck like a giraffe straining to reach a leaf, his mind fixed on God knows what. The fish tank? The overhead light?
My husband, certain his firstborn could starve if this behavior continues, frowns. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” he asks in a tone that clearly indicates he thinks I’m dense. I smile, consider telling him to go jump off the nearest cliff, but decide against it. (After all, it’s his turn to stroll the baby next.)
I wanted a husband like this, I remind myself. A man who had equal-opportunity notions of parenting. A man who didn’t disappear when the baby was mad with colic. A man who not only had heard of Penelope Leach but didn’t hesitate to crack open one of her books to look up “coughing, causes of.” I wanted a partner who was a concerned, involved father. I just didn’t want a man this involved sometimes.
Although I always knew I wanted children, I was less sure about the husband part. Some of my reticence sprang from the fact that I had grown up with the kind of traditional, oblivious father who made the dad on Father Knows Best look like Betty Friedan. Having come of age during the women’s movement, I was also determined not to sacrifice my ambition. So when it came time to choose a mate, I had some fairly inflexible ideas. My husband is fond of reminding me that by our third date, I had grilled him not only on his sexual history but on his views of child rearing and fatherhood.
So when my husband started dispensing advice about bedtime rituals and potty training, I really had no business being surprised. That doesn’t mean I always liked it.
If there are two manic parents, you tend to feed on each other’s insecurities, to veer toward the dramatic, as in:
What is that rash on the baby’s face? Does he have leprosy? Your own unresolved issues suddenly emerge like a bad case of PMS.
Parenting is a lonely business. No matter how smart or how together you are, it’s the hardest job in the world. When your child is shrieking at 2 a.m., what you need is not some cold text but a warm heart, another set of hands.
The truth is, my husband cares as deeply about being a good father as I care about being a good mother. And if I sometimes get a teensy bit annoyed because he ventures into what I perceive as “my territory,” that’s a small price to pay. It’s better than having a husband who’s never schlepped the kids to the pediatrician or rushed to the emergency room in the middle of the night, much less sat around with a group of moms singing “The Wheels on the Bus.” My husband, God love him, has done all these things and much more. Thank you, honey.
Now, if only he would stop telling me how to cook.