This post was originally published on my PhDadBlog.
Happy Father’s Day Week!
In honor of Father’s Day, the PhDadBlog is sharing a Dads Roundtable throughout the week. If you missed the first few parts of the Dad Roundtable or don’t know what this is all about, please click on the following links to catch up:
If you are lucky and blessed to have a partner-in-parenting, your shared parenthood will inevitably throw new experiences your way that can create challenges in your relationship as well as provide incredible opportunities to further develop and grow that connection in beautiful ways.
In this installment, the dads share their thoughts on some of the effects of parenting on their relationships.
Conclusion: we love our children’s mothers!
How do you think parenting has improved your relationship with your partner?
JON: I feel that parenting has made me much more aware of and grateful for how amazing my wife actually is. Even just the process of labor and delivery, all of the discomfort and pain that she went through, all for someone she hadn’t even met yet. I saw how Julia sacrificed herself–her time, her energy, her hobbies, her body, and the list could go on–all because of this precious little boy. It’s made me go out of my way to serve her and help her. What’s funny is that she does the same thing. Sometimes it’s my turn to watch our son (he’s only four months old), and before I know it, I’m falling asleep on the floor because I’m just exhausted. And then she quietly sneaks into the room and takes our son out, whispering “Let’s let daddy sleep!” Then I’ll try and do the same thing a couple hours later, saying, “It’s mommy’s turn to sleep!”
My wife has said she loves seeing me interact with our son, whether it’s playing with him, tickling him, or even diving right in and changing a diaper blowout. It helps her see how much I truly love him. I don’t know if this makes sense, but it holds true for both of us — seeing our spouse interact with and love our child has made us love each other even more.
It was even thinking about parenting that turned out to be a milestone when she was deciding if she wanted to marry me. We had started dating in Utah, but then my PhD program started out here in Georgia, so we decided to date long-distance. Apparently one day while she was driving along in Utah, she saw a dad playing catch with his son in the yard. And that made her think, “Jon will be doing that some day,” which then turned into, “Jon’s going to be a great dad!” Both of us saw potential in each other (and still do!) of the type of person we wanted to work alongside of in raising a family.
CHASE: Parenting is the one thing that my wife and I can both always confidently say we’re on the same mission. Of course, we have different methodologies, but we inevitably pull each other in our respective directions in order to fulfil the objective of having well-developed children. While we’re of the same mind on so many things, we’re two very different people in a myriad other ways. Beyond any other force, parenthood is the one thing that keeps us united. I cannot even fathom the prospect of divorce, simply for the sake of our children.
VAHID SMITH: I’m there with Chase on this one. In all things in our relationship, especially parenting, my wife Shirin and I are a team. From the beginning of our marriage, we made it a point that we were preparing to have children. We wanted a short period of getting to know each other first but we both knew that raising children was in our near future. I feel pretty lucky because we usually fill in each other’s gaps. When I’m tired or have reached my patience limit, Shirin is usually there to take over. The same goes when I see that Shirin is starting to lose her patience. Also when certain parenting obstacles arise that we have never dealt with, like should our children be allowed to use an ipad and if so how much time should be allowed and what kind of games will they be allowed to play, we usually have a good way of figuring it out. Usually we can consult on things and come up with a rule together, and because we are a “team,” we both make sure to uphold those rules. Sometimes I have no idea what we should do as parents and Shirin will have a great idea and we go from there. This is not to say that we never disagree on how to parent. Sometimes we just go with whomever feels the most passionate about a rule. For example, Shirin feels very strongly about our kids never being allowed to have a sleep over at a friends house. I had sleep overs when I was a kid so I didn’t see that as a huge deal. Because of some of the rational reasoning she had and because I could see that she felt very strongly about this, we went with her way. Lastly it is super important that we back each other up. If one parent makes a decision, no matter how small (like having a cookie after dinner), the other parent has to back them up. I think that is a huge deal that could hurt your relationship in a big way, if you go against your spouse, even though they may be very “small things.” Luckily Shirin and I are pretty on point with that. I love my wife immensely and I couldn’t ask for a better team mate in the game of parenting.
MUNIB: So much of what Jon, Chase, and Vahid S. said rings true for me. I’m right there with you all on the complementarity my wife and I give each other. One example of how this really manifests itself in those situations when the kids are just driving you crazy is that we both seem to have this instinctive reflex where if, for example, I’m dealing with the kid(s) and I’m clearly losing my patience or I seem more short-tempered, my wife will feel even more inclined to rise above that and take over with a more loving and understanding tone. Even if she’s just as tired/fed up with whatever’s going on as I am. Same is true vice versa. It’s a system that helps keep each other in check. When she takes over for me in those moments it obviously gives me a break but, more importantly, her more loving approach helps remind me what’s really important and snaps me out of whatever grumpy mood I’m in. And to answer the question even more directly: to me, a big part of marriage is my wife and mine’s mutual role in helping each other grow as individuals. A lot of that growth takes place in shared times of struggle or difficulties, and few things seem to throw challenges and struggles my way these days as the ones thrown by my kids. And I’m so grateful I have someone to help me work through those times, learn from them, grow from them, and maintain my sights on the ultimate importance of staying patient and loving above all else.
KYLE: I’m right there with all of you. In particular, I share Chase’s feeling of having a common goal that you can work on together. Obviously nobody ever sees perfectly eye to eye, but it’s such a bonding experience to have such an important and singular focus, that’s not only big, but can also be so much fun at any given time.
What challenges does parenting create in your relationship with your partner?
MUNIB: One challenge that I think is only increasing as our kids get older and my wife and I get busier, is the limited time my wife and I have to just talk to each other. And not just about our own parenting, which definitely needs to be reflected on and discussed, but also about day-to-day things we need to talk about or want to share with each other. With our 8-year-old only getting older, he’s more insistent in wanting to know EVERYTHING we’re talking about at all times. When he was a little younger, we could maybe mumble through a brief conversation a little bit of a distance from him without drawing any attention. But now, he might be in a completely different room, hear us laugh, and come over insisting on being told what we were laughing about. Misdirection will often work to help him move on from the issue, but not always. It can get pretty annoying, to be honest. What ends up happening is I might start to say something but stop myself short because I don’t want to be asked a ton of questions about it by the 8YO. That thought goes into my mental pile of “I’ll tell you later,” which only keeps growing, until I eventually forget about it. These “I’ll tell you laters” keep piling on until I start to feel like there’s a bit of a distance between my wife and I because we haven’t had a chance to openly talk to each other without worrying about curious ears. So far we’ve been pretty good about noticing this brief distance and addressing it right away with a good reflection/consultation session.
CHASE: Munib you’re absolutely right. Alongside the discussion above about having “me” time, parenthood takes you away from the “us” time. That balancing act can get difficult, and I think it is important to find time alone with your spouse every day, even if it’s just five minutes before going to bed, and for extended periods on date nights or weekend getaways.
However, to address another point you made, I do pick my battles on what I should or shouldn’t say around the kids. I’m not spoiling The Empire Strikes Back or openly discussing what we’re buying for their birthday, but I do have adult-tier conversations around them. Think of how many times as a child you overheard something your parents said that was without explanation, inappropriate, or otherwise incomprehensible. If the child pries in an innocent attempt to learn, then the parent has the opportunity to actively teach. Likewise, it is the parent’s responsibility to tell them “don’t worry about it” or “it’s adult stuff” and maybe occasionally chastise the kid for eavesdropping. However, sometimes that education is passive. Sometimes your child is going to hear things they ought not hear, and will find answers on the schoolyard, or even 10 years later. Sometimes they need to drop an F-bomb after they hear their father say it, so that they can experience the injustice of being scolded when they say it. You are the adult, they are the child, and they need to understand the difference. It gives them the opportunity to learn tact, patience,and when they should or should not ask questions. It’s part of the mystery of growing up, and I think it’s genuinely good for a child’s development, because that’s how the world works. Even as we are all adults, we will still have superiors, we may also have subordinates. There will be times when, as an adult, you will be in a position where asking questions can get you in trouble, and learning these lessons as a child helps one avoid those traps later in life.
MUNIB: Thank you so much for that insight, Chase! It’s given me a lot to think about as I move forward in reflecting on my own parenting. Your point about there being a boundary between adult and child is something I think about from time to time. I think that maybe in our attempt to treat our child with mutual respect as much as possible, we may have gone a little too far, and so it feels like he doesn’t see that line as often as I’d like. Which, in some ways, I think is good because I’ve seen him try to join conversations with people older than him and stick by his point. But other times, it can make things challenging. I never want to justify something I tell my kids with something like “Because I’m the parent.” But I’m often tempted to.
VAHID SMITH: Regarding the topic of adult conversations and our kids wanting to be a part of the conversation, in my experience most of the time one of my five kids just wants some attention and wants us to talk to them. Actually my kids usually want to tell us something and I simply say “your mom and I are talking right now, you’ll have to wait and I will talk to you in a little while.” It’s actually not that simple but I do say it and sometimes all 5 of my kids want to talk to us at the same time. If there is a question that my kids want to ask about what my wife and are talking about, no matter what topic, I try to answer them as truthfully as possible. Also what CHASE said about alone time is super important. That way you can have “adult” conversations without being interrupted and general time to focus on your wife and no one else. This is easier said than done. We have always tried to put our kids to bed pretty early so we can have a few hours every night together. Also we do our best to go on dates without the children. With friends is good but you also need those one on one dates. My wife and I need more one on one dates for sure.
Come back tomorrow for Part 6 to see what some of the dads think about two influences on their parenting: 1) their own parents, and 2) religion.