By the time our daughter was born, my wife and I had been together for 10 years. Over those years there were countless conversations about what we would and wouldn't do when we're parents. Happy meals? Screen time? Never! Veggies? Harry Potter books? Always! Those topics made great fodder for our pre-kid happy hour dates, but all they really said about our expectations for motherhood was that we were clueless. If ignorance is bliss, we were floating on a lazy river of inexperienced oblivion.
Society's love for forcing gender roles upon the masses has taught us that motherhood is synonymous with words like comfort, security, nurturing, and warmth. We both want to kiss boo-boos and wipe away tears. We both want to be the one she seeks comfort from in the middle of the night. We also both want to have fun with our kid. We want to enjoy tickle fights and games of catch in the yard and to indulge in a bit of that don't-tell-your-mother kind of rule breaking that wins us one of our daughter's trademark mischievous eye twinkles.
I gave birth to our daughter, but that shouldn't matter. My wife was there every night listening to our baby's hiccups, arguing with me over what music we'd play for the baby, and watching my belly roll and mold into awkward shapes. We expected that once our daughter was on the outside, we'd be a balanced team.
What we did not expect was a breastfeeding experience that tethered me to an exhausting regimen of pumping, nursing, and supplements. We didn't expect the postpartum hormones that made me a stranger to everyone including myself. We didn't expect the panic that would set in when my baby — excuse me, our baby — was not in my arms.
All my wife wanted was a chance to bond with her newborn daughter, and I couldn't handle it.
We expected that my wife would handle diaper changes after I nursed, and that she'd give the baby a bottle while I caught a few hours of sleep. We didn't know that the mention of the word formula would trigger a panic attack. All my wife wanted was a chance to bond with her newborn daughter, and I couldn't handle it.
The end result was a child who vastly preferred me for all of those nurturing, comforting roles that I described earlier. I was the rock-to-sleep mom. I was the middle-of-the-night cuddle mom. I was the one kissing the boo-boos and wiping the tears. If she needed a mama, it was a safe bet that I was that mama.
It didn't take long for me to break.
I was tired of being needed constantly. I needed more sleep. I wanted to be more than a glorified security blanket. It reached a point where our daughter's midnight cries for me were met with frustrated tears of my own. Meanwhile, my wife was missing out on all of those moments of quiet connection that I was becoming increasingly resentful of. She was rarely sought out for anything more than playtime. The fun was lovely, but it wasn't fulfilling her dream of a well-rounded parenting experience.
These roles we'd slipped into were a lot like the supercute shoes in your closet that you continue to wear even though they give you blisters. They look good and they do the job of covering your feet, but you're secretly longing for some fuzzy slippers.
We started making little changes. I'd leave the house a few nights a week just before bedtime so my wife could put the kiddo to bed. At first there were many tears, but the next thing I knew, I was gleefully skipping out the front door on my "off" evenings while my wife cuddled up in bed to read stories and indulge every one of our our tiny dictator's bedtime demands.
It takes a bit of conscious effort on both our parts sometimes, but we're giving each other space to figure it out.
That was just the beginning. It takes a bit of conscious effort on both our parts sometimes, but we're giving each other space to figure it out. The other night, I joined the two of them in the front yard when I finished the dinner dishes and our little girl looked at me and told me to go back inside because she only wanted her other mama right now.
She didn't need me. She didn't even want me. As I turned around to go back inside, I heard my wife tell her that she needs to be nice because she hurt my feelings. Neither of them saw the smile on my face as I collapsed on the couch for a few minutes of peace. Likewise, I'm sure I didn't see my wife's lips tense as she struggled not to smile, lest she encourage bad behavior.
There are no foregone conclusions in parenting. What works one minute might not work the next. The important thing is not letting yourself get stuck in an uncomfortable parenting rut, because the longer you're stuck the harder it's going to be to pull yourself out.
Do I wish we'd done things differently from the very beginning? I think about that often, and the answer is complicated. I do wish we'd diversified a bit right from the start, but I also know that I was in no shape physically or mentally to allow or encourage that to happen. We were so entrenched in our patterns that changing gears seemed impossible. It wasn't impossible, though. We've finally moved from survive to thrive, and we make pretty awesome copresidents.