When Daddy Takes the Reins

It's such a strange thing to get married. I remember when Tim and I were in our premarital counseling and one of the books we were reading said that behavior before marriage is no indication of behavior after marriage. What, WHAT? That was reassuring! I was a bit of a basket-case throughout our engagement. I knew marriage was forever and that I couldn't and shouldn't try to change my spouse so I was trying to keep my eyes wide open about who this man was and if I could commit to love everything about him, with unconditional acceptance. As you can imagine, Tim was cool as a cucumber. Completely confident. So confident in fact that as he was proposing, he handed me a Bible with his last name engraved on it next to my first name. I was going to be his wife. It sounds kinda douchy when I put it like that, but it didn't come across that way. He was just 100% sure of me, of us, of forever. It was weird and sweet and probably a big part of what gave me the confidence to walk down the aisle that day.
If pre-marital behavior is no indication of post-marital behavior, you can imagine how much of a risk it is to become a parent with your spouse. Getting married is about the two of you, a cementing of a relationship that you've already been building for awhile. Becoming parents is a real and total crapshoot. You really have no idea what kind of parent you'll be, regardless of how much babysitting you've done. There's just no way to really be prepared. It's such a huge transition for both people and changes so much of who you are. And depending on the child you have and the circumstances you're in, you continually get shaped as you parent your child who is in a constant state of transition as well. 
I was confident Tim would be a good dad. He was always great with kids when we were around them. He was a youth minister, so he obviously had great rapport with teens. I was sheltered as a kid and he grew up in a much more diverse neighborhood. So what I lacked in street smarts, he had in spades. I thought we'd be a good team, as I had more experience with young kids and he was so good with older kids. 
He and I have so many shared interests and talents but we have completely different personalities. We've found that if we're out of balance, our kids aren't getting the full advantage that we bring when we share the load of parenting well. If I'm leaning in too hard, our kids don't get pushed. If he's leaning in too hard, our kids don't receive enough coddling. It's a balance and I feel our kids are pretty lucky to have us, if I do say so myself.
One of the things both of our children hated as toddlers (which is where Penny's at right now) is having their hair washed. As the stay-at-home parent, many of our regular parenting responsibilities fall to me, but once Tim is home, it's all-hands-on-deck. It's always been that way. Some of my friends are basically single parents with a husband roommate. Her responsibilities don't shift into co-parenting when daddy gets home. It's almost like it doesn't matter if he's there or not. It's baffling to us and I don't understand how that works. People are always praising Tim for being an engaged father and/or telling me how lucky I am. While those things are true, I always thought it was harmful to the child and the father (or the non-primary parent) when one parent shoulders the full parental responsibility unnecessarily (I say unnecessarily in this case because of course, many single parents don't have a choice in this matter and are awesome warriors for their kids in having to essentially fulfill two peoples' worth of work). So for us, it's not so much that "we're so lucky" (though I know we are) but more of a "this is what is best for our children."
Because of this dynamic, Tim has washed his fair share of screaming toddlers. And as I've illustrated, Penny has some things going on in her development that can make these kinds of things particularly difficult. My strategy is to avoid bathing them as much as possible and then when it's necessary, bathe them in 30 seconds flat and get them the heck out of there. Tim's approach is different. The other night while Penny was howling for me, Tim very patiently bathed her for about 15 minutes. He soothed her. He never lost his cool. He engaged her in play. Any time she would start to get worked up, he'd catch her before she got too far down the emotional path of full tantrum. He tried to give her an experience that wasn't traumatic and re-enforcing her hatred of getting her hair washed. In his mind, if she starts to rack up positive hair-washing experiences, eventually she'll grow out of her fear. Pretty genius, right?
I sat in the hallway where she couldn't see me but where he knew I was present, supporting him in his process and available if needed. While my heart wanted to push him out of the way and pull her out of there, this was one of those moments (there are many) where I need to back the fuck off and let him be a dad. And it is to the full benefit of my child, let me tell you. It was just so incredibly precious to hear them sharing this experience. While I was sweating bullets, he remained present in the storm with her. 
He's the parent that stays the course when things get hard. I want to cut our losses and take it to the professionals or stop altogether and Tim is the one who can tune out the chaos and do what's best for our children in that moment. Sometimes that looks like continually fishing that splinter out while Macy howls in fear. Sometimes that's washing Penny's hair while speaking soothingly to her and taking his time. He's the one who gives Penny many opportunities to take a bite of her dinner, when I would have given up after 3 tries. Granted, sometimes you have to cut your losses and that's where the balance of he and I come in. I'm much more likely to let my children lead. But sometimes they need a parent to lead them. And that's where daddy comes in, showing our kids that scary things can be faced and can be overcome with our help. And I could not be more proud and grateful to have been able to carry this man's children and to share this tremendous responsibility with him. 

Is My Child Ok and Other Such Fears

I feel like I have a list of things that I need to process. They relate to many areas of my life and they all drain me emotionally as my life and/or my deliberate avoidance hits the snooze button on sitting in these feelings. One of the things on my proverbial list of things that require a journal entry and possibly some tears is my continual evolution as a mother. In particular, we're at the tail end of a long process of developmental screening for my 2 year old, Penny. As a caretaker, particularly because I've had the strange fortune of essentially raising my two daughters one at a time (Macy started kindergarten 3 weeks after Penny was born, so I'm getting 5 years of one-on-one time of life preparation with each of them before they launch into full-time school), I am good at adapting to my children. This means that I can accommodate their preferences and personalities and mold our daily patterns around what suits them best and for the most part, I'm happy if they're happy. (This is also what makes me a fabulous world traveler, if we're bragging here). My daughters are really different so it was interesting for me to approach parenting Penny in a new way. It's also been 5 years and she's a second kid, so I've changed a ton as a person as well as a mother.
Penny is a really unique kid. She can be so stinking charming. And she can be incredibly intolerant of anything she does not consent to or like. She wasn't an early talker and was frustrated often by that as well as by life in general for awhile there. Things have opened up for her as she's gotten more comfortable socially and better able communicate with words (she was always communicating but the screams didn't go over as well as her words do now:) That being said, I know how to be a buffer for her in stressful social situations, when she's tired or hungry and when her toddler-esque language requires translating. Macy did not require such a buffer (as much) and was more independent socially. It's amazing what you get used to as a parent as you adjust to your child and whatever life requires of you to be what they need. Just ask a post-partum mother who's up nursing every 2 hours for months on end. It sucks. But you can get used to it. It's wild, really, what becomes normal. And then the phase ends and you back and think "how the hell did I do that?" You just did.
As was out in the world with my charming grouch, I began to see which aspects of Penny's development were "normal" and which aspects might be more atypical. I'm perfectly fine to be raising a non-conformist and don't feel the need to use her behavior to make me look good. Sure, sometimes it's emotionally tiring to deal with moments where your child is behaving in a way that doesn't give you positive attention from strangers, but I don't let that dictate my parenting. I just let that give me permission to increase my self-care on those days (and by "self-care" I mean "chocolate intake"). And so I began the process of developmental screenings. Because ultimately, the mommy buffer must stand down at some point and in the meantime, I'd like professional guidance on how to buffer best. And boy, it's a lot of screening! They check fine motor, gross motor, adaptive, speech, social/emotional and sensory skills. This required me to sit on my couch and watch strangers test my child. So many moments I wanted to jump in and explain, rephrase, or just stop the testing. It is so incredibly vulnerable to have your child's abilities be ascertained and placed on a bell curve. How reductionistic to see this magical person be graphed based on the average of her peers! I felt like I was being tested, that if she couldn't answer a question it was because I hadn't asked it, that her potential to be typical rested in my ability to draw her potential out. (This is a really fun experience for a caretaking perfectionist, by the way. I highly recommend cancelling your next vacation and calling up the early intervention people. You won't be sorry!) And while I knew these things weren't true, that she would be her no matter what hoops I jump though, it was very emotional for me to sit back and allow her to be assessed so thoroughly and by such capable professionals. You can't pull one over on these people! 
And as you can imagine, having the sit down after all the tallying has been done and being presented with reams of information about your child is difficult. How can anyone tell me anything about my child that I don't already know? Who are you to explain my child to me? (The professionals through this process have been incredibly gracious and kind. These are just the big feelings the process unearthed.) And what do they have to tell me? What is possible and maybe impossible for my child's future based on the information within these reams of paper? If I burn them up, is the information still true? I'm not going to get into the details of Penny's results because this blog is about me (also why I haven't written much about my husband's job loss and season of part-time employment) but it all came down to this moment. At the end of her initial assessment, the two professionals asked me, "Ultimately, what are your goals through this process? What do you want to see for Penny?" And I said, "You know what? There are behaviors about living with Penny that have been difficult to parent. There are things we'd like to work on. But really, what I want for my child is to reach her full potential as a person, whatever that is. I believe that she will show me that. And I just want the tools to help her be that person. I want to know if my expectations of her are fair. I want to know when and how to accommodate her and I want to know when and how far to push her. Because the world will not accommodate her once she's on her own. I want to build her up and then I want to send her out as prepared for whatever lies ahead as best as I possibly can. And she will take that and do with it what she will. I want to know how to support her and to be whatever she needs however she needs it." And if that isn't motherhood, I don't know what is.