In case you’re wondering (and even if you’re not) this is the scene in our house on weekdays in the time between picking Little Miss up from preschool and her bedtime two hours later:
I cook and feed Little Miss while she catches up on that day’s Sesame Street, and then I try to engage her in educational toys like puzzles and games that teach her ABCs, numbers, shapes or colors, sing songs or pretend to eat the eggs and ketchup that she likes to cook for me in her play kitchen. There are smiles, hugs and the occasional giggle interrupted by the all-too-familiar toddler outbursts when I use a green bowl instead of pink for her blueberries, or if a puzzle piece doesn’t immediately fall into place. You know, the usual two-year-old theatrics.
When her dad gets home in the half hour or so before her bedtime, she goes into a frenzy. She throws her head back and laughs uncontrollably as he tosses her around like pizza dough. They spin, she somersaults, he twists and bounces her, and her limbs are contorted a myriad ways. While I enjoy a house filled with her laughter, I cringe each time I see an arm bend in Cirque du Soleil proportions. I throw in the occasional caution but I bite my tongue for the most part because she really is having a wonderful time as she calls out to me proudly, “Look mommy, I’m upside down! Look mommy I’m doing a somersault!” I feign my enthusiasm as the cautious mommy in me balks at her balancing precariously on her head.
Most of the time, because of their sheer delight in each other’s company, I just look away and hope for the best. I know he’s not rough with her, but it’s extremely physical play nonetheless. Naturally, the bumps and bruises find their way to her and the screaming toddler runs to me for comfort. Once she’s smiling again, she gleefully runs back to him for round two (or three) as if nothing ever happened. Toddler amnesia is funny and convenient that way.
Little Miss does occasionally detect my reservations, so when she’s in the midst of her acrobatics, she sweetly assures me, “Mommy, I becarefully,” combining the words she probably most often hears from me in the form of “be careful!” and “please do it carefully!” Man, when did I become such a mom?!
I read that mothers are nurturers while fathers are more like playmates (on top of being providers), and it’s clearly evident in our house even though we hadn’t planned it that way. I never thought myself as a girlie girl or a mom’s mom but somehow our daughter has shaped our respective roles with her, and inadvertently, our gender. We became the typical mommy cautious and daddy fun family. Bummer. And here I thought I would be the cool parent...
Still, it’s a comforting fact that kids actually do benefit greatly from different parenting styles. As long as the parents share the same philosophy, apparently how we exert our influence is less of a consequence. (Don’t you love it when research and experts validate your life?)
Sometimes I do wish I have it more in me to just let loose and let be, not having to worry about the checklists as much: Balanced diet on her dinner plate? Personal interaction? Educational fun? Songs? Clean diaper? Check check check check and check. It would be nice if she’d laugh with abandon when I’m around too, not just when daddy’s here.
But then again, in our two hours together, I’m already trying to jam-pack all that I’ve missed as a parent when I’m away from her, perhaps it’s OK that My Guy, the other half of our parenting equation, takes on the roles and responsibilities I find difficult to fit in. We’re a team after all - he does the bath and bed routines - and I can’t be everything to her, nor should I hope to be.
Just wish I was the one with the cool gig…
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Do you find that you and your spouse/partner play definitive roles with the kids too? If so, who’s the fun one?