Paternal Instinct: Is Your Husband A Better Mother Than You Are?
If I’m completely honest, I took a very ambiguous approach to motherhood until I actually became one. In my twenties I picked out baby names for fun and imagined the funky mother I wanted to be. I figured I’d be sporting purple hair well into my forties and be my daughter’s personal tour guide through the world of hip-hop and R&B schooling her through the Bad Boy remix years and all things New Jack Swing. In short, I wanted to be the “Cheerios commercial” mom. You know, the one where the cute mom in distressed jeans kills a dance routine with her daughter before falling to the floor before it cuts over to Bee in a t-shirt jamming on his own. But regardless of all that, I can’t say I ever fantasized about pregnancy or childbirth.
Maybe I was a clichéd broke millennial who thought my dreams of a nuclear family would never come true after the recession or maybe it was a struggle for the nurturer in me to come out. But the idea of cradling a newborn in my arms made me more anxious than sentimental and I can honestly say only in this second year have I truly felt the warm, fuzzy feelings that come with watching my mini-me grow into her own person. That first year though, I often felt like most days I didn’t know what I was doing and regularly questioned why I sacrificed happy hours and H&M hauls to care for this little person who was admittedly cute, but often hard to enjoy in between crying because she was scared to poop and the anxiety that came with thinking she’d roll off the bed to her death before she could walk. But I think the bonding may have something to do with talking. Once that kid starts to call you, “Mommy” it gives you a confidence boost that says, “This person is looking for you to lead the way. They trust that you’ve got this.”
As a parenting educator it was always fun to discuss with my students whether it came more naturally for mothers to nurture and bond with their children than fathers. We traded facts about estrogen and oxytocin giving women the edge on maternal instinct as some single fathers would passionately disagree based on their own experiences of being sole caregivers and doing a damn decent job at it. But do you automatically get a strike on your womanhood record if motherhood comes more naturally to your man than it does to you? Even more so what if your partner’s transition into parenthood goes a lot easier than yours does?
In the article, “I Wasn’t Meant To Be A Mom –My Husband Was”, author Amelia Edelman talks about her hesitation when it came to becoming a parent and how meeting her partner changed it all. She talks about how much naturally being the primary caregiver for their infant son Silas comes to her partner Mark and how they’ve found a parenting style that works for them, even if it isn’t the most traditional. However over a year and a half ago, she seriously had her doubts about taking on the task. She, like many millennial women found herself questioning if motherhood was even essential to enjoying life:
“But I’m just not meant to be a mom. But I could never give up my career. But I have such a full life without kids. But I don’t have a good relationship with my own mother. But I’m too neurotic. But what if I have a kid and don’t love him? But what if I love him so much it hurts?”
Those thoughts however didn’t stop her from experiencing an unplanned pregnancy with partner, Mark, whom she had been dating for 10 years. Although she battled with the decision on whether to parent or not, Mark seemed to be content on whatever choice made her happy:
“Of course, even in his happiness, Mark did not try to sway me in any way. We would do whatever I wanted, he said. We could always have a baby later. We could adopt in 20 years. I was even promised a hypothetical post-abortion foot rub.”
Edelman confesses her decisions to keep the pregnancy didn’t come from seeing a lima bean with their shared genes on an ultrasound or any waves of emotions that accompanied pickle cravings or swollen ankles solely on the thought that Mark would make such a remarkable father. She shares she wasn’t forced or guilted into the decision but doesn’t have any regrets:
“It wasn’t just that this man wanted and deserved this child; it was that this child — any child — would be lucky to have this man as his father. And maybe, just maybe, I would be an okay parent, too.”
Edelman shares that Mark dove into parenthood headfirst once Silas was born, changing diapers and taking him to wellness checks while she breastfed in between naps. She shares that criticism from family and her own guilt has taken its toll with family members labeling her as “spoiled” by the fact that she had a co-parent that took on a bulk of the care-giving. But Edelman admits if that’s the worst label she gets, she’ll take it, especially if it means avoiding the challenges of dealing with a “deadbeat dad”:
“I know it’s a cliche to say, but: I honestly don’t know how those women do it. Having a deadbeat partner forcing me to be ‘100% mom and 100% employee’ like one working mother we interviewed (whose husband barely participates in parenting) wouldn’t just mentally wreck me; it would probably drive me to quit my job, leave my partner, or both.”
As she and Mark navigate their reversed roles even a year and half later, she labels herself the “pushover parent” whom their son knows will read six books in a row to him when she returns home from working full time to support the family. She also shows no shame when she reveals she couldn’t wait to return to work from maternity leave (the longest time she’s spent not working since she was a teenager).
As someone who has always been very career-focused, I was reassured by Edelman’s experience. Her story is proof that some people just have better suited personalities for parenting regardless of what anatomy they have. It shows that as long as a child has two invested parents who love them and make the most of the time they have with them, motherhood doesn’t always have to turn you into a soccer mom with one child hanging from her boob and the other decorating the backseat in Cheeto dust. Her experience is also is an example that being unsure about parenting doesn’t mean that you’re destined to have child services at your door, and that there are many factors to consider when it comes to starting a family, particularly with someone that you want to build a life with. I would warn however that if you have previously decided against motherhood wholeheartedly, it’s probably worth sitting down and having a conversation with your partner about what parenthood would look like for the BOTH of you. You shouldn’t change your mind just because you feel like you’ve found Father-Of-The-Year, but still feel the bile rising in your throat at the mere thought of kids.
Lastly I will say this: Parenting isn’t necessarily about taking two separate roles with all of the qualities to match. Just because one person rocks bedtime stories and bath time doesn’t mean they’re the “Mom” and just because someone wrestles with the kids and leaves the house to work doesn’t make them “Dad”. Those titles are just labels used to distinguish one parent from the other. What matters is that you’re both investing the best parts of your mind and heart to create one awesome person that isn’t embarrassed by her mom’s lavender highlights and knows that Bad Boy invented the remix.
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.