6 Valuable Parenting Lessons You Can Learn from a Man
From a Couple to a Family
It’s hard to find a woman who has not—at one time or another—felt frustrated by her mate’s parenting style. New moms often exchange more war stories about their husband’s approach than the number of diapers they changed in the last 24 hours or how much sleep they are (not) getting. Nonetheless, while men are often more aware of who’s about to score a touchdown than who’s crying, more interested in how to edge their lawns than how to match pint-size pants with shirts, there are areas in which their styles can prove quite valuable as new parents make the transition from a couple to a family.
Mothers worry. It comes with the job. However, women often approach parenting as though “Perfectionism Required” is the first item listed in the job description, and that increases the worrying and anxiety tenfold. I will admit there was a day when I became so tense over the chaos in my home that I actually paged my husband with a 9-1-1 simply because I felt I needed to contact him immediately to let him know that it was unacceptable not to replace the toilet paper after he used the last of it. His response: “I don’t understand what the big deal is. It’s in the linen closet.” Sure, but the linen closet is upstairs and I’m already on the toilet! If you can believe it (and I’m sure you can), he then matter-of-factly suggested I store the toilet paper somewhere different in the future—as if its storage location is the problem.
The “roll with it” attitude that men often maintain frustrates the other half from time to time. A woman’s more anxious, emotional approach can make her mate a bit crazy as well. In our defense however, someone has to maintain a nervous system that is able to execute the escape plan with calm hysteria and a strategically stored whistle if the house is on fire. Nancy Drew said it best: “If worry were an effective weight-loss program, women would be invisible.”
As much as it pains me to admit it, there is merit in the male approach as it appears to allow one to maintain an emotional state with peaks and valleys far less dramatic than those of the newest roller coaster at Six Flags. So, as long as there are at least two diapers in the house and the collection agencies aren’t calling, I personally am trying to let more things than usual slide off my back in the high-strung department.
Men seem to have cornered the market on strategies for appeasing every would-be visitor of a new baby. They are able to coordinate the endless stream of well-wishers while keeping smiles on their faces and proud swings in their steps.
A woman, however, often sits on the couch worrying about who will show up next (and when), if she’ll still be in her pajamas, if she’ll have a breast hanging out when visitors arrive, if they’ll be dumb enough to ring the doorbell and awaken the baby she just got to sleep, or if they’ll notice the path of dirty laundry from the steps to the laundry room.
One of the biggest benefits of a man’s laid back attitude is that he’s not likely to argue with your needs, especially when he knows your hormones are raging and so he barely recognizes you anyway. (Frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with telling your husband that your hormones are raging for one reason or another every day for the rest of your life.)
Inform your other half early on of your ground rules with regard to visitors. If you would prefer that no one come over before 11 AM, or if Saturday and Sunday are the only days on which you are willing to accept visitors at any point in time, communicate that. If you feel that you need an hour’s or a day’s notice, mention that as well. Let him worry about the details of who’s coming when (and what delicious dinner item they are bringing).
Remember, if at any point visitors are expected and you suddenly feel you cannot entertain them, you have the perfect excuse to stay in bed. They need not know you’ve got a great magazine and a newly rented movie in there with you!
If women could learn to sleep as soundly as men—in other words, would not hear a bomb going off outside the bedroom door—they would not have to bear the burden of hearing their babies cry themselves to sleep as they sat outside their rooms convincing themselves through muffled sobs, “She has to learn to sleep. This is for her own good.”
If women could sleep as soundly as men, not worrying about the fact that the baby might wake in two minutes (or two hours), they would reduce the exhaustion-induced puffiness under their eyes by at least 76 percent.
If women could fall asleep in front of the television as easily—and as often—as men, we would definitely log more hours dreaming than wondering when we’ll get to the grocery store.
Men care about their children—and they still sleep well. My husband says it’s because he has a clear conscience. I cannot conjure up a single response to that. I’m too tired. Women get into bed and think … and worry … and think … and worry … and plan … and doze a bit … and wonder why the baby hasn’t made a noise in 27 seconds.
During those times when you’re feeling really exhausted, it’s important to make sleep a priority. It may mean turning off the TV before the late-night reruns of Seinfeld that you usually look forward to, or dozing off for thirty minutes instead of checking your e-mail, but in the long run, it’s a trade-off worth making. And it will save you a fortune in under-eye concealer!
When they don’t have to worry about being spit up on or having mashed peas thrown at them, most men leave the house each morning and return home looking relatively put together. Much of corporate America has gone more casual in its dress code, and even still, it’s possible to look good and be comfortable in something other than a suit and the latest fashion trend in uncomfortable footwear.
I’ll admit, whether I’m working in or out of the house, I’m far more comfortable in a pair of baggy sweats with my hair in a ponytail than I am in the adorable new heels being worn by every celebrity in People magazine, a cashmere sweater, and full makeup. However, most professional organizers profess that one critical component to feeling organized is getting dressed each day. And they probably mean in something other than sweatpants.
Luckily, there is a middle ground between baggy comfort and opera-night-worthy attire. Be sure to allow yourself a few weeks after your baby is born to lounge around in whatever you want all day and all night. This is one time when you have complete permission to wear whatever makes you comfortable. Beyond that, ensure that you have a pair of jeans (without holes in the knees), some comfortable khakis or corduroys, some unstained shirts you feel good in, and some flattering lip gloss. I’ve read that having a makeup routine that consists only of lip gloss can make your face appear brighter. And comfortable shoes are critical. If you spend a bit of extra money on anything, spend it on shoes that look good and will keep you blister-free.
Quality of Life
Variety in life is a key to survival—especially for a new mom. Women believe that men often take the little luxuries such as a morning shower, monthly round of golf, or occasional dinner meeting (paid for by someone else and usually inclusive of lobster, cheesecake, and a vintage bottle of wine) for granted. These small treats can make all the difference to a woman who suddenly feels as though her life has become completely one-dimensional.
One thing I’ve come to accept is that by and large, men simply refuse to give up those things that are important to survival. A shower is important on a number of levels, and so is getting out and doing something for yourself once in a while.
Be sure to schedule at least one personal outing or bit of time for yourself each week. Men are often hard-pressed to give up their weekly basketball game or hour at the gym each night. Don’t give up time when you could be doing something for yourself to do the laundry. Go to the bookstore, sit in your bed with a good magazine, take a walk, or join a knitting group. Find something you look forward to and vow that you’ll cancel only if you’re ill.
My husband often calls home late in the afternoon to check in—a gesture I appreciate. Yet shortly thereafter, he becomes the recipient of irritated remarks regarding the fact that it’s going so badly that I haven’t had time to eat so much as a chocolate sprinkle. He rarely offers me much sympathy in this department because he is insistent that I must make time to eat. Frankly, he’s right. There may not be time to make a gourmet meal, but finding something that can be made quickly (and eaten with one hand if necessary) isn’t as hard as I often make it out to be.
It’s seldom easy to find time to eat if your children are very small. You must make time. Microwaveable meals work well for lunches. Another option is to make breakfast and/or lunch the night before so that all you have to do is open the refrigerator and retrieve it. Besides, you’re probably more likely to eat a meal that you don’t have to carve out time to prepare and eat.
On Sunday nights, cut up vegetables and fruits for the upcoming week. That way, it’s easy to grab a handful. If there are no cut up veggies in the refrigerator and I have time to grab a handful of something, it’s going to be a handful of M&Ms or bagged popcorn, and the veggie alternative is certainly better on a number of levels.
Katharine Hepburn once said, “Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.” This is a fabulous idea; unfortunately, I can’t afford to pay mortgage on the house next door in addition to my own! Men’s and women’s approaches can be so different that it’s nearly impossible to determine how opposites ever attract. But as mothers, one thing is for sure: we’ll latch on to any opportunity to make the journey easier. Perhaps taking a few minutes to appreciate the potential value that could be had from tactics that often frustrate us to the point that we spend too much money on relaxing shower gels and consume unacceptable amounts of ice cream (some nights I just grab a half gallon and a spoon) would garner a new trick or two to get us through our days.
Now, if only men would invest a bit of time in understanding the importance of replacing the empty toilet paper roll.
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