It’s 1:00 in the afternoon on a Sunday and I’m applying my makeup just after a shower when I hear my son’s telltale howl downstairs. Still in my towel and not keen on parading through our mostly curtainless house to make a bottle and haul my overtired baby back up the stairs to his room, I decide to wait it out for a few minutes. My husband is with him; he can take care of it.
I blend blush into the hollows of my cheeks; I carefully apply eyeshadow and mascara, deliberately taking my time. He howls on. I know exactly what will make him stop: a six-ounce bottle, a quick cuddle in the rocker and a few minutes of fussing in his crib before he succumbs to a much-needed nap. It’s something I do twice a day, every day and his schedule has become so routine, I don’t need to second-guess anything about it.
Just as I’m about to fire up the blowdryer, my husband creeps into the room. “Any ideas?” he asks, looking somewhat guilty. It’s a scenario I’ve been in many times before and, instead of instantly supplying him with the answer, I respond with a question. “I don’t know. What do you think?”
“Well I gave him a bottle and put him in his crib. He was so tired he was about to fall asleep while we were playing.”
“Oh perfect,” I respond, about to turn back to my wet hair, happy that he worked it out. And then I pause, hearing the intensity of Chase’s cry down the hall. “How much milk did you give him?” I ask, because I can’t help myself. “Four ounces,” he responds, uncertainty edging into his voice.
“I give him six before his nap,” I say, automatically, and I instantly hate myself for undermining him, for not allowing him to have control for even 20 minutes. My husband gives the baby two more ounces and he falls asleep almost immediately. It should be a much-heralded victory—an hour or two alone during an otherwise hectic weekend—but I feel like I cheated the system. Isn’t what I did akin to giving him the fish instead of teaching him to catch them himself?
I’ve heard this kind of parenting struggle discussed many times; sometimes by other mommy bloggers and sometimes with moms I know in real life. I’ve heard women say they can’t let go because they don’t trust how their husbands will handle taking care of the kids without them; I’ve even heard women talk about their husbands “babysitting” while they’re out, like these men don’t know their own children better than hired help.
And here’s the thing: my husband is an exceptional, very engaged, completely capable father and I don’t doubt his ability to care for our son for one millisecond. But, since I’m by myself with Chase all day, every day, my husband automatically defers to me whenever there’s a question. And, because I often know the answer by virtue of the fact that I’ve had a lot more trial and error to figure it out, I immediately supply him with it, feeling too guilty to let him flounder when I can easily fix the problem.
With a sick feeling in my stomach, I realize that I have become the dreaded helicopter spouse.
How is it that I’ve become this way with my husband when I pride myself on not helicopter parenting my son? I have no qualms about letting Chase play independently, I don’t gasp when he falls, I feel 100% comfortable letting him puzzle something out instead of immediately helping him. But I can’t afford my husband the same hands-off approach, even when I know it will bring him closer to our son?
Maybe this will all change in a few months when we welcome baby #2 into our family and suddenly no one will be the default parent because we’ll both have our hands full. Maybe by then no one will even care whether it’s four ounces or six, as long as our kids are being fed something by someone.
Part of the problem, I realize, is that I am rarely away from my son and almost never when my husband is not also with me. He’s been on bachelor party weekends and canoe trips with the guys; I stay home because I’m the mom and that’s the way it works.
So, when I booked my 3-day solo vacation to attend a blog conference seven hours away this spring, I didn’t let myself feel even an ounce of guilt. He’s completely capable and I know they’ll be just fine without me. Still, I’m already preparing for how I’ll answer the questioning phone calls that come when I’m gone: “I don’t know? What do you think?”
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