From a Father’s Perspective
In 2012, TODAY surveyed fifteen hundred fathers on the same parenting issues. The consensus among dads is that they are doing more for their families than ever before, up to a full half of the parenting and household responsibilities, but feel their efforts are unacknowledged and disrespected by their wives and society as a whole. (These same men’s wives’ perspectives were quite different when it came to estimating the division of labor, providing supporting evidence on this point.)
Over half the men surveyed said they’d just like a spoken acknowledgement-“good job” every once in a while would be encouraging and reflect appreciation for their efforts. (8) While many mothers might roll their eyes at this, modern parents have to recognize that roles and responsibilities have changed drastically over the past sixty years and it wasn’t long ago that a father didn’t-and wasn’t expected to-wash a dish or change a diaper. The fact that most dads today are willing to do (almost) anything for the children is a tremendous change.
What Parents Can Do to Relieve the Stress
As in any successful meaningful relationship, open communication is essential. Mothers and fathers must take the time to understand the perspective of the other. You can’t make a dad care about cupcakes but it’s pretty certain that he cares about his children and their mother. Dads can become frustrated with moms when their points of view aren’t recognized or understood, too.
1. Husbands can step up.
Very often, dads are oblivious to all the “invisible” things that moms do. They don’t even think about the planning and organizing required to get this kid here and that kid there and making dinner and helping with homework and washing a uniform for the game tomorrow and writing a check for the field trip and stopping for groceries, all in the space of an evening, and often after a full day’s work. Every single day.
The answer: make it visible. Start with a calendar, either on paper or an electronic one that can be shared. Write down all the things that have to be done. All of them. Sit down with your spouse and divvy up the tasks so the burden is more evenly shared. Be fair…don’t expect him to bake cupcakes from scratch but if he can stop at the bakery on his way home, it’s one less thing to keep you up at night. Not only will going through this exercise help relieve your stress, it’ll make your husband cognizant of all the work that goes into being a contemporary wife and mother.
2. Wives can step back.
Trying to be everything to everyone every day is exhausting. Don’t be Super Mom all the time. Take some time for yourself. Tell your partner that you’re feeling overwhelmed and need a break. Trust your husband to support you, let him do stuff his way without criticism, and let him know you appreciate him. Your stress is yours to deal with in a constructive way. As a psychologist for the American Psychological Association warns:
“How a mother manages stress is often a model for the rest of the family. Other family members will imitate her unhealthy behavior…Mothers often put their family needs first and neglect their own. It’s okay to relax your standards-don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to have the ‘perfect’ house or be the ‘perfect’ mother. No one expects you to be Superwoman.” (9)
Except maybe you. Becoming frustrated or angry doesn’t help anything or anyone. Feel free to leave the dishes in the sink and take a bubble bath instead after the kids have gone to bed. There is virtually nothing you don’t do today that will be catastrophic tomorrow and chances are good that no one else will even notice. If mom’s happy, everyone’s happy. (The converse is also true.)
3. Keep your marriage paramount.
It’s so easy to lose sight of the marriage when children come into your lives. Mothers and fathers are individuals first, a couple second, and parents third. A strong, healthy marriage between loving people fosters the rest and is the foundation for well-adjusted kids. It’s what you fall back on those days when you want to scream and run for the hills. Take time for yourselves as a couple on a regular basis-that’s what baby-sitters are for. You may discuss family and household matters for part of the time but make sure there’s enough time to be just you and the two of you together as adults and life partners. Doing so will make you better spouses, better parents, and more content as individuals.
The source of stress between wives and husbands is their differences. But their differences can also be their greatest strength, as they fill each other’s gaps.