Married to Mr. Mom

Shuffle of Duties

By the second year, our routines were established enough to allow for a certain amount of informed objective assessment. By me. Of Pat.

"Murph seems overtired before bedtime. Maybe we should move his second nap up a little bit," I said.

"Murph's only doing one midday nap," Pat replied calmly.

"Spence always took two."

"Murph doesn't seem to want to do two. He's a big-nap-smack-in-the-middle-of-the-day kind of guy."

"Well, sometimes you have to do a little bit of coaxing," I suggest.

Within seconds our voices have attained that unmistakable "not-in-front-of-the-children" edge, with Pat pointing out that he doesn't tell me how to write, and I shouldn't tell him how to do his job.

Truth is that I love our complete shuffle of duties. My better self knows that while Pat doesn't handle the household the way I would, he brings different skills to the parenting arena. For example, I'm a talker, not a player. My sons often say to me, "Mommy, let's chat." The boys have never, however, suggested that I do "play on the bed" time, which involves a lot of wrestling, teasing, rolling off the bed, and giggling. It's Daddy's purview and I can't, for the life of me, understand its rules or logic.

So Pat's tenure as at-home parent has been hallmarked by chaos and a lot of unmade beds. The boys couldn't be happier. And lately, as a result of some tension-filled marital negotiations, Pat has even stepped up his housekeeping chores and I have learned to relax my already lax standards even further. It's not that Pat is unwilling to do housework; it's simply that he honestly feels his time is better spent with the children. This is a hard point to refute.

So why do I still find myself plagued by ungenerous thoughts when Pat flops on the bed with the kids? It's simple. I?m envious. I had expected him to feel as overwhelmed and isolated as I had felt during The Hard Years. I'd expected him to feel like an outsider, as I had, at the preschool co-op -- not the village Casanova. I didn't exactly wish him ill; I didn't want him to suffer per se; I simply looked forward to a lot of commiseration -- and a new sense of appreciation. Of me.

I must admit that some of that commiseration has taken place. On my end, I now understand the particular stresses that come with earning the lion's share of the family income. For the most part, though, Pat doesn't need too much commiseration because he is to Mr. Momming what Matthew McConaughey is to naked drumming -- a natural.

I learned this much when I substituted for Pat on our workday at the preschool co-op a few weeks ago.

"Your husband makes the best snacks for snacktime," beamed a mom friend of Pat's. "Mine doesn't know a frittata from a sonata."

Even outside the confines of the co-op, Pat's parenting skills are praised. When we stayed with my parents at Christmastime, my father gushed about Pat to several friends at a party, "He's a master parent. Everything becomes a teachable moment. Yesterday, when the boys threw stones in the lake, Pat compared the ripples to sound waves."

As the kudos keep coming, a new thought occurs to me. Is it possible that I'm not so much envious as I am?...?frustrated? My parenting strengths go by largely unnoticed because they are expected from me. I am a woman. Parenting is a mother's job. I'm supposed to be the natural. Pat is expected to be the clunker, the poor dude who is all thumbs when it comes to changing diapers and missing in action at bedtime. If he pokes a straw into a juice box, he's going to be considered some kind of superstar.

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