Photo by Betty Udesen / Pear Press
Around the house, some of us want things done a certain way. You know who you are. Ahem: We know who we are. And when things aren't done a certain way, we get critical.
My husband puts the dishes in the dishwasher ("a mountain of dishes," he suggests editing that to say), and all I see is the unwiped counter. "I cleaned the kitchen," he'll announce, and I'll glance around with a look that says, "You did?" A friend of mine did all the laundry in the house one day, and his wife's first response upon coming home was, "Did you vacuum?" It's not that we're trying to be jerks. It's more that, well, hadn't we made our wishes clear? We like things done our way, not your way.
When baby arrives, we leap into action. We take charge over where baby's clothes and gear will go, what baby shall and shall not eat, and what absolutely must be done in this particular moment. Mmm, not those shoes. Isn't it too warm for fleece PJs? I'm sorry, but watching baseball just doesn't seem like a great way for you to spend time with baby. You fed our child what?!?
My fellow perfectionists, I would like to make a delicate suggestion: Zip it.
Criticizing, controlling, and constantly telling our partners what to do is the quickest way to make sure we're left without much help at all.
Yes, I know: Our way is better. Stay with me.
With a new baby, every single decision seems so weighty. It's not. Will it really matter a few years from now if baby eats Chef Boyardee once a week instead of freshly pureed organic broccoli? What will actually happen if baby is a touch cold after coming home from a walk? Will you or baby cease to thrive if your partner takes care of baby for an evening while you go out with girlfriends? (If your significant other seriously has no clue how, or doesn't feel confident watching baby alone, could it be because you've taken on too much of the daily parenting ... or you hover, directing, during his time with baby?)
I'm not talking about ignoring the big stuff, like issues of safety or dearly held values. In Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, I talk about constructive ways to ask for the help we definitely need. But not every issue deserves the high priority we give it.
And, let's be honest, while we're raising a disapproving eyebrow about the trip to the ice cream shop, we're giving ourselves a pass for letting baby try those potato chips.
Why is criticizing every little thing so harmful? Because the message we're sending is: You're not good enough. That must feel pretty horrible, day after day, coming from the person you're committed to, the person who's supposed to be on your side. It weakens your relationship. And a solid relationship is not only essential to your own well-being, it's essential to baby's well-being. (See the tip "Create a feeling of safety" in Zero to Five.)
Yes, I know: If we don't speak up, things won't be done the right way. Yes, I know: Why don't they just do what we say?
Quick question: How is this attitude different from that of a boss toward an employee? Our partners are not our employees. They have their own parenting priorities, and those priorities are just as valid to them.
The dad dishing up the Chef Boyardee? He wants his kid to experience the food that he loved as a kid. The dad who doesn't always put a coat on his daughter? She doesn't want to wear one, and, well, the dire consequence seems to be that she gets to snuggle with mom under a blanket afterward to warm up. The dad who watches baseball with his baby? He's explaining how the game works, sharing something he cares about.
It seems very important that things are done our way. It's far more important to share -- and make it easy to share -- the very big responsibility of raising a baby.
Yes, I know: It's hard to let go. Here's one way I try to think of it: It's no big deal for my husband and me to share each task. I used to be supremely irritated that he would get out a new roll of toilet paper but leave the empty tube on the counter. Now I think: All right, it's his job to get out the new roll, and it's my job to toss the tube. When he puts the dishes in the dishwasher, my (much easier) job is to wipe the counter. When he packs the diaper bag for a walk, it's my job to casually toss in the snacks. Go team.
Other things, I'm learning to just let go. That's easier when I remind myself of my own imperfections. Or when I think of a study on household chores where both partners were satisfied with their own contribution and dissatisfied with the other's contribution -- and both felt underappreciated. Or when I remind myself that it's my choice to focus on the positive over the negative in any situation. This attitude (whether about chores or baby) makes life easier on both of us, every day.
So here's a great gift for any beleaguered significant other -- a gift you can give throughout the year:
Don't appraise the job that was done. Just say, "Thank you. I really appreciate that."
- Zero to Five: 70 tips for new parents
- 'Good job, mama! I'm so proud of you' (On Mother's Day)
- Don't have a village? How to create one