Tip #1: Your kids benefit when you can admit that your partner has talents you lack.
As Father’s Day approaches, I feel blessed that my wife, Sara, and I have been able to share parenting responsibilities for nearly 30 years. Blessed and relieved, because I never could have done this on my own. No machismo fatherhood experience for me, it’s abundantly clear Sara and I each have our strengths and weaknesses and we have never been bashful about letting the kids know who does what best.
Here’s a perfect example: Last week our 24-year-old son moved into a new apartment. There were the usual glitches – leaky faucets, a toilet that wouldn’t stop “running,” a bizarre beeping sound coming from the closet, gas burners that didn’t light, a radiator that wouldn’t turn off, etc. It was a weekend and he couldn’t reach the landlord, so he called home for some advice. Of course, he asked to talk to his mom.
Our three kids are now young adults, living on their own, degreed and employed or looking. But, despite their independence, which is very gratifying to us, our kids still need us on occasion, which is even more gratifying. When that happens, they know which one of us to call. Our division of labor was established early on.
Sara always jokes that my job was to earn the money, hers to spend it. That’s really not true, though – she earns money, too, and I’ve done my share of spending. But there are much clearer distinctions between our parental roles, and the kids grew up fully understanding them.
Sara took the kids to doctor appointments because, as a doctor, I’m much too neurotic. Computer and other highly technical problems (like turning on the TV) went to Sara because I can barely even manage texting. I handled homework questions and test panics because Sara still suffers from her own residual test panic.
Sara did all the home and car repairs because growing up she held the flashlight for her dad, and because I consider power tools to be WMDs. Sara did most of the cooking because otherwise we had to eat my soy sloppy Joes; the kids and I handled cleanup. Sara balanced the checkbook, but I was the bad guy keeping us on a budget. I taught the kids sports, but Sara taught them to have fun. I taught them spelling and math rules, she taught them Scrabble and Sudoku strategies.
On this Father’s Day, my advice to dads of young kids is fourfold:
1. Confess your limits to your kids. They will love you for what you can do and respect you for getting help with the things you can't. They learn important lessons either way.
2. If you're lucky enough to have someone to share parenting with you, tell your kids when tasks come up that your partner is better suited and proudly admire your partner's skills along with your kids.
3. Let your kids hold the flashlight for you whenever your are doing chores. That won't make you more efficient, but it will make your kids more independent someday.
As emasculating as it may be to admit this Father’s Day, I’m very grateful our kids have a mom who knows how to change the washer in their faucets and understands the flapper flush mechanisms in their toilets.
Happy Father’s Day!
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at harleyrotbart.com and follow him on Twitter.