Quotes from my husband:
“No. Don’t come home. KBear’s doing well and she just will get extra flappy if you’re around.”
“How was my day? Perfect. The kids were perfect. <insert laugh> She’s been playing on her own the whole night.”
“Seriously. 5 minutes ago she was not like this. Then you come home and hello autism.”
“She’s never like this with me.”
(him) “I think she’s getting worse.”
(me) “Nope. She’s like this all the time with me.”
(him) “Seriously?! I’d go nuts.”
“Maybe you just need to _________ (fill in the blank with all sorts of helpful tips).”
I have a fabulous husband. Many of you have heard how fabulous he is during our podcasts. He’s a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a damn good one. He understands fringy. He understands our daughter. He’s loving and caring and thoughtful. And I think, man, if my awesome guy is saying these things to me, I wonder what other moms are hearing?
So, I asked. And all, literally all, I’m not exaggerating, of my friends with fringy kids have heard similar responses from their spouses, or ex-spouses, or male counterparts in some fashion. I don’t know if it’s similar in same-sex partnerships or gender fluid relationships, but I can tell you that in male-female co-parents of differently wired children, us moms generally get the raw end of the deal.
Be prepared. I’m going to generalize. I do very much realize that these generalizations are not true 100% of the time, but they do seem to be true most of the time. So bear with me. Moms and dads parent differently. Infants as young as 6 weeks old have displayed differing physiological responses when mom approaches versus dad. Mom approaches and baby’s heartrate decreases, she shows calming body language. Baby gets ready to settle in and be soothed. Dad approaches and baby’s heartrate increases, she shows excited body language. Baby gets ready to play. Moms and dads are both important. They both can nurture and soothe and parent well. But they provide different things to their children. And as such, children seem to relax so much around us moms that they let it all hang out. And I mean all of it. We get the flappy, meltdown-y, I-just-can’t-take-any-more-I’ve-held-it-together-far-too-long-here’s-all-the-shit-I’ve-been-storing-up-mom all of it.
And while we can tell ourselves (and there’s real truth here) that our kiddos just feel so safe and comfortable around us that they can let it all out, it never feels like that’s what’s happening. Our inner self-doubting voice starts presuming we’re doing something wrong. That we’re failing somehow. That we are the worst mom in the world.
Enter dad. With his oh-so-helpful remarks. I’m not entirely sure what dads are trying to do when they make these remarks, but I can tell you what has universally been the emotional reactions of the moms I’ve spoken with: Shame. Anger. Sadness. Feeling blamed. Feeling as though our worst inner dialogue is being confirmed. Feeling like we are, indeed, the problem.
So, dads. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and I trust that those are not the responses you are wanting to trigger in your child’s mom. I know you’re probably wanting to problem solve. I know you’re probably just comparing circumstances without judgment. But, we feel judged with those statements above. So, lets try some new responses instead.
Instead of “Don’t come home, he’ll just start acting badly” try, “Hey. Take some extra time for yourself. I know that the kids often act up more for you, and things are going well. Just stay out and grab an extra cup of tea.”
Instead of “My day was perfect. Everything went well as usual!” try, “It was a pretty good day. You know. Ups and downs and there was a little meltdown over toothbrushing, but we managed. Even that little meltdown was tiring though, I can’t imagine how exhausted you must be.”
Instead of “She wasn’t like this until you came home” try, “Yikes. She’s flipped. Let me get her up to her room.”
Instead of “She’s never like this with me” try, “I know you deal with the brunt of this stuff, so I’ll deal with the meltdown this time.”
Instead of “I’d go nuts if he was like this with me all the time” try, “You are an amazing mom. I admire your strength, perseverance, and patience. I love you.”
Instead of helpful, problem solving tips, give wine, coffee, chocolate, hugs, time off, massages.
Yes, there is a time for problem solving. But, in truth, us moms just want to know it isn’t our fault. We just want to know that we are good mamas. We want to know that you see us, you appreciate us, and you understand just how hard of a road it can be when the majority of our engagement with our child involves being kicked, bit, hit, yelled at, and managing meltdowns.
So, really, us moms who are the soft places for our children to land, just need one thing from you. To be our soft place to land.
A special thanks to my favorite guy for letting me throw him under the bus just a little. (I did ask). And a note - I am well aware that being a dad of a differently wired kiddo isn't all rainbows and unicorns. And I'm well aware that us moms don't always support you as needed, either. So - stay tuned - a follow up to moms on behalf of fringy dads is on the horizon. In the meantime . . . keep it fringy. ;)