A month after my son was born, my friend Julia called. Uh-oh, I thought. She's calling to whine about her husband again -- her kind, funny, and, let me add, incredibly hot hubby -- and I wasn't in the mood. With the phone in one arm and my baby in another, I was trying to maneuver his blankie, the Boppy, and my exhausted body over to a nursing chair for what seemed like the gazillionth feeding of the day.
Within seconds, Julia launched into it. "You wouldn't believe what Paul did," she sighed. I was about to give her my new-mommy-get-off-the-phone excuse -- whoops, the baby puked! -- but Julia was already complaining about how, when her husband changed a diaper, he used the wrong diaper cream. Or forgot to use any diaper cream at all. Or something.
"How are you ever going to forgive him?" I said dramatically, thinking Julia would laugh, but she was on to her next complaint: "Now, he's supposed to be watching Emma, but I can hear the football game on. I know he isn't paying any attention to her!"
I didn't know what to say. To me, Julia's husband sounded like a dream come true. I guess I should mention that most of my friends' husbands sound like a dream come true because I'm a single mom. With my biological clock ticking, I chose to have a baby on my own. No regrets on that score: I was fully aware of the enormity of the challenge I took on and I'm as hopelessly in love with my child as any married mom could be. Still, solo parenting means that the bad-dad bar has to be pretty high to get my sympathy. Unless the baby sucked down the entire tube of diaper cream, I'd pretty much forgive any miscues on the changing table. And if a man came over to my house and cared for my baby for two hours -- even if he woke the baby by screaming "Touchdown!" -- I'd be elated. Especially if this man happens to be someone I love and who adores my child.
Julia isn't the only mom who calls me to vent about her husband on a regular basis. I hear similar complaints all the time, and although I can imagine my friends' frustration, I also want to shake them and say, "Excuse me, do you realize how much worse it could be?" I'm not trying to excuse husbands from parenting duties, but while so many new moms focus on what their husbands aren't doing (or are doing wrong), I see how helpful their husbands actually are. So before you pick up the phone and rag on the man who lifted your baby up in the air without supporting his head properly, here's a reminder of why you should really appreciate your guy.
Let's not even talk about that blurry period of new motherhood when my newborn was waking up every two hours around the clock while many of my friends' husbands were sharing the night shift. Here's the thing about toddlers: They have a strange habit of waking up at 6:30 every morning, even on weekends! Which means that I haven't slept past the crack of dawn, much less read the Sunday newspaper, since I was pregnant.
So I shook my head in disbelief when my friend Susan, whose husband takes care of their 2-year-old son on Saturday mornings, complained that under Dad's watch, their son hit his head on the bookshelf. How does she know this? Because -- get this -- her husband actually told her!
"Your husband does the morning shift, and tells the truth?" I said. "Do you know how lucky you are?" Susan started to object, but I gave her a skeptical glare. Sure, her toddler got a tiny scratch, but would she really have traded the extra sleep to prevent that? Besides, I reminded her, who's to say that something wouldn't have happened to her energetic kid on her own watch, like that time at the park when he jumped off the slide? Susan's reply: "Shut up, okay?"
I know: It's annoying enough when a man won't ask for driving directions and more annoying when he refuses to read the assembly instructions that come in those huge boxes. But even if it takes him hours of tinkering to set up the swing (during which time you're left pacing from room to room with your colicky infant, with no break), how great is it that when he's done, your baby instantly falls asleep in it and you didn't have to figure out the difference between a regular screwdriver and a Phillips head? Plus, you didn't have to crush the box and lug it out to the trash -- not to mention foot the entire bill for the swing yourself.
Okay, so maybe you're the one who does the brunt of the potty training, feeding, and schlepping the kids to daycare and doctor appointments, not to mention tending to bruised knees and bruised egos. And, yes, you sometimes feel that your husband isn't doing his fair share. But let me ask you this: When was the last time you replaced the house's air filters, repaired the leaky faucet, mowed the lawn, and hauled in a 10-foot ladder to change the lightbulbs in the chandelier? Can't remember? Hmmm. So when your husband comes home late and you give him that sourpuss face because you needed help getting dinner on the table, remember that he has a lot on his to-do list too.
I hear it all the time: "My husband gives me a back rub, but then he wants sex, and I'm just too tired!" Sure, there might be an ulterior motive to his masseur routine, but after a long day of dealing with the demands of children, don't take for granted the luxury of a personalized massage in your own bed, especially by a man who finds you sexy even though you haven't shaved your legs in two weeks. Still not convinced? Think about this: Whenever you want to be touched, you don't have to get a bikini wax, blow-dry your hair, find a spit-up-free outfit, apply lipstick and eyeliner, drive to a restaurant, and sit through a tedious two-hour meal for the mere possibility of some heavy petting while the babysitter meter is tick-tick-ticking away. With your husband, you don't have to follow up with cleverly flirtatious e-mails or engage in time-consuming courtship rituals. Heck, you don't even have to make conversation at all if you're not in the mood. With zero effort on your part, your husband is right where you want him: in your bed. (Besides, with little people clinging to you all day long, isn't it nice to be touched by someone bigger than 3 feet tall?)
Is there anything more heartwarming than a grown man cooing in a high-pitched falsetto to a giggling baby? So what if he shrank the laundry, forgot to buy toilet paper, riled the kids up at bedtime, and pretended not to hear when your toddler woke up the minute you'd fallen asleep. None of that matters to your child, who lights up at the sight of Daddy's face. I realize this doesn't erase all your gripes about sharing the workload and trying to create a consistent discipline style and dealing with a million other parenting issues. But once in a while, you should look at your husband the way other people do. Maybe you'll see him in a new light. On the other hand, if you still feel the need to complain about your guy, here's an idea: Send him over to my house! Believe me, I could use the help.
Originally published in the January 2009 issue of Parents magazine.