My husband, Ian, is a really good father.
When I think about how last year at this time he was still in Iraq
it’s hard to believe. The deployments were so difficult that I’ve been
happy to let them get left behind in memory and replaced with better
things happening now. I don’t like to go back to that place where we
lived without him and holidays like Father’s Day made us painfully aware
of his absence. It was hard not to see all the good things as simply
things he was missing. But this Father’s Day has me focusing instead on
the ways in which being a good father doesn’t come easy, and how
extraordinarily well my husband fills that role.
People often tell me I’m a good mother, and I appreciate the
compliment, but honestly my kids make that easy. I’m not saying they
are perfect or that parenting doesn’t have it’s hopelessly difficult
moments, but overall my kids are very good kids. They are kind and
intelligent and curious. They don’t follow all the rules as well as
they should, but the ones they break aren’t the end of the world. It
would be great if they put their laundry down the chute without being
nagged or didn’t bring food into the family room, and lately Aden is
developing a moody attitude that is a disconcerting preview into what
her teenage years will be, but none of my kids are mean to me or
disrespectful. They are considerate in public, well-behaved in
restaurants, and generally nice to be with. Who wouldn’t look like a
good mom toting them around?
On top of that I am fortunate that my kids don’t currently suffer
from any debilitating disorders which would demand more of me as a
parent. We don’t struggle with challenges like autism, their bodies and
minds function well, and I am not required to extend myself to care for
them beyond pretty normal parameters. If I were a superstitious person
I would be frantically knocking on wood all around me right now,
because I know how precarious good fortune can be. We are all one
proverbial (or literal) lightning strike away from everything changing,
so I appreciate what I have while I have it, and what I have is great.
But I don’t know how good a mom I would be if things were different.
I remember as a kid saying to my mom once that I was glad I was being
raised in a family that didn’t preach racism or hateful things, but that
I wondered if I would still know that was wrong if I were raised in a
different kind of family. I didn’t know how many of what I considered
to be my better characteristics were innate, or if they were based on my
pleasant environment. I felt untested.
My mom told me she’d often wondered the same thing about herself,
since her parents were wonderful people and she’d had such a nice life.
But my father, on the other hand, came from a more complicated home,
and in many ways had rebelled against his upbringing and chosen a
demeanor and direction that he felt had little to do with how he was
raised. Therefore, my mom argued, I could at least be assured that my
genetic makeup came from stock that was half tested.
The biggest parenting trials I’ve had to face were during my
husband’s deployments. I survived them, and overall I did okay, but I
know now when under great stress how much more prone I am to yell
or lose my temper. There were so many times that I felt as if I were
flailing about and not doing enough of what I needed to be doing as a
mother. Some days I rose to the challenge, and other days I felt like an utter failure.
Now I have better balance. My situation is currently as close to
perfect as one could reasonably ask for and still have it be real. We
have health insurance, our small business is doing fine, we have the
freedom to make choices that interest us, but we also have ants in the
kitchen, my husband and I don’t get enough time together as a couple,
Quinn can’t snap his own pants…. That’s just life. Everything that
actually matters is great, so if I can’t be a good mom under these
conditions than something is wrong with me. My kids love me and they
show it and it is easy to love them back.
But Ian faces different challenges than I do. And I admire his
parenting because I don’t know if I could do it as well he does under
the same circumstances. Because despite sharing the same marriage and
living in the same house and having made these kids together, he sees
our marriage from his own angle, he sees our house differently than I
do, and those kids are not the same people with him that they are with
If you asked me to make a list of what I love about my marriage,
depending on how long you let me make that list, I would probably
include how wonderful it is that Ian does all of the laundry. I don’t
think ‘getting’ to do all the laundry would make Ian’s list. So just
because we are both in this marriage does not mean we are experiencing
it the same way. (Actually, I’d be scared to have Ian make a list
because I’m quite sure I’m getting the better end of this deal, so let’s
move on, shall we?)
It’s the same with parenting the kids. Luckily we figured this one
out early, because baby Aden responded to me differently from her father
from the start, and we learned that making any statements about “Aden
does this” or “Aden does that” did not always translate from one parent
to the other. I wasn’t just Mommy, I was a source of food, so of course
she was a different baby with me. Daddy has always been the master of
getting kids to sleep. My kids to this day don’t want to sleep when I’m
around (because I’m just that damned exciting I guess) but will all be
soundly asleep promptly at the official bedtime when dad is the only one
at home. I’m good to read with. Daddy’s more patient about playing
board games. Tears from Aden or Quinn work on Mommy but not on Daddy.
(Tears from Mona work on anyone because they are rare.)
Ian and I have different expectations about how much the kids should
be able to do for themselves, in what ways they should help out, and
what are reasonable things to ask for. Since they most often interact
with us alternately it doesn’t really cause problems. Ian is the stay
at home parent so when I show up he gets a break. The only times we
experience really weird annoying behavior from the kids is when we are
both right there, and I think they just don’t know what the expectations
are in that case. The possibility of contradictions can arise, and
kids don’t like confusion.
So I watch Ian’s challenges as a dad from a distance sometimes. I
check in with him on the phone from work and get updates at dinner or
the end of the day. He handles everything well, but differently than I
would do. That was a hard adjustment for me when he came back from
Iraq, to let some of that control go, even as it gave me more freedom.
Ian’s adjustment to life on the kids’ schedule as opposed to in a war
zone is still hard for me to fathom.
For the most part things have gone well with the girls since he came
home. Aden and Mona unabashedly adore their dad. They missed him and
were excited to have the parent back who lets them eat raw cookie
dough. Dad was the preferred parent at the after school pickup because
he nearly always let them have fun on the playground before taking them
home. (If I pick them up they know I always have somewhere else to be
right after, so they never even ask if there is time to play.) When dad
is around we use the grill, so they associate dad with s’mores. Dad
doesn’t hover. Dad can solve computer problems. Dad can fix bikes,
arrange play dates, and is way more likely to let them experiment with
food or get out all the paints. The girls love their dad. They may
interact with him differently than they do with me, but they love him
and trust him and it’s all good.
written a few times about how hard it’s been waiting for Quinn to warm up to his father, but the boy is as stubborn as he is smart,
and he’s not made this simple. I don’t believe he necessarily
remembers his dad being away at this point, but I know he remembers
having me all to himself all the time. Roughly a third of Quinn’s life
has been spent with his dad away with the Army, so of course their
relationship has suffered setbacks. We’ve been as accommodating to
Quinn as has seemed reasonable, but there are times it’s frustrating.
The boy is only four but he’s still entitled to his feelings, and we’re
struggling with shaping his behavior despite what those feelings are.
When I pick up Quinn from school he smiles and jumps up and down with
joy. He makes it easy to feel like a good mom in those moments. When
Ian picks up Quinn from school, for the longest time he usually gave his
dad the cold shoulder, and at worst threw a fit. Ian handles it with
grace, and tries not to take it personally. But how unrewarding is
that? To do all the work of parenting, to deal with all the chores and
all the mess and all the errands and indignities, and not get the love
and snuggles in return to compensate looks incredibly painful to me. I
would not handle it as well.
We spent the entire school year trying to improve Quinn’s behavior at
the half-day pickup. We tried little things like having dad bring him a
pop tart on the days he did the pickup, and making my pickup days as
dull as possible. But Quinn made a decision that he was not going to be
happy to see his dad and he stuck with it. Month after month after
month. And his dad took it in stride as best he could.
A few weeks before the end of school we had a painful experience at
the half-day pickup when I went to get Quinn, and Ian was supposed to
meet us at the violin store after he ran some errands. Quinn came out
of the building in the line of little K3’s and K4’s (there is nothing
cuter than the half-day pickup) and when he spotted me he did a little
happy dance. I saw him mouthing the word “Mom!” over and over. He
smiled and fidgeted and could not wait to be released from the line.
When the teacher finally shook his hand and dismissed him, he ran to me,
arms wide, yelling, “MOOOOOoooooommm!” and I scooped him up and hugged
him and he hugged me back. Pure bliss. Then we spotted Ian coming
across the playground. He’d finished his errand early and tried to beat
me to the school, and ended up seeing Quinn’s response to my picking
him up. He laughed a little and said, “Wow! What a totally different
reaction.” As bad as that was for Ian it was like a knife to my own
heart as well.
Ian deserves the same kind of love and sweetness. I’m impressed
beyond words that he can function without it. I would be resentful. Of
course I look like a good parent when my kid wants to hug me and never
let me go. The truly good parent is the one who can keep it together when a kid makes love hard. But Ian is amazing. He is a truly good parent.
Luckily things are slowly but surely improving. Ian’s patience for
playing endless games of Sorry or Trouble has made their afternoons
alone together nicer. He makes his son grilled cheese and tomato soup
for lunch and Quinn appreciates it. There is not much enthusiasm on
Quinn’s part, but his resistance is crumbling. He’s not trying to avoid
his dad the way he used to. Sometimes they get along very well, as if
Quinn has forgotten his resolve to keep daddy at bay. Those days are
little by little becoming more frequent.
We’re getting there. One board game at a time. And I honestly think
we will look back years from now and Quinn won’t believe us that he was
anything but crazy about his dad. Because how could he not be? I
married the best guy I know.