Why You Shouldn't 'Let' Your Husband Help With the Kids

Husband parenting Image via Shutterstock

I’ve had a book in the works for a while, since 2006 to be exact. I didn’t realize I was writing a book at the time, but I had two young children and a growing list of friends in need of new baby advice. E-mails became blog posts which became articles. I kept updating and sharing as the questions kept coming, and my experience taught me more. Last year, I started organizing and compiling the collection into rough chapters. Now, I wish I had it ready because women are about to collectively discover that they need new motherhood advice.

Last week, The Intern hit theaters, and this week, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book, Unfinished Business, comes out. The weeks before that, Slaughter and her husband Andrew Moravcsik published articles to prep the public for the book: "Don't worry, working moms: Just leave Dad in charge at home" and "Why I Put My Wife's Career First." Each covers how women can have it all by letting men be more involved with child care. That’s right -- letting.

The need to let men be involved with early child care has been one of the primary points of the new mom advice I’ve been sharing for almost 10 years. From a 2010 post, The Baby Timeline, 0-6 Months:

After the first milk demand, start involving your husband more with the baby.  For instance, have him watch the baby while you take a walk. Leave the house. Get out of his way. Only go for 20 minutes or so (you won’t be loaded with energy, but you will be loaded with milk — you ain’t goin’ very far for a while).  Soon call up a friend for a quick lunch and leave him for an hour. Later, go for a night out. You get the idea.

Hold your tongue about tarnished silver. If, for example, he gives the baby a bath, do not offer any comment or instruction unless he is in danger of flooding the house or drowning the baby. He will put the diaper on wrong, and it will leak. Shut up. You learned that lesson only 10 days earlier. He will likely be rougher and louder with her. This will annoy you. Shush. Learn to trust him to watch the child he would gladly die for. Do this, and the payoff will be HUGE. Be aware, though, of the difference between "Let him get a taste of how hard this is!" and "Let him get his own rhythms with Peanut." You are facilitating his bonding with his child, not launching a score keeping war. It is a little bit of mental pruning that you must do for the health of your marriage.

What has often struck me about giving this bit of advice is that it seems like it would be self-evident in the post-Second Wave world. Men of the Don Draper and earlier eras reached high career success when they had a spouse handling the homefront. For the ambitious woman to match male success, of course she would need a partner willing to do the admin duties surrounding the kids and life in general. But the advice is not self-evident. You can hear that in my tone from five years ago. This was not an exercise in advice giving, it was an exercise in persuasion. This bit of advice gets only slightly less resistance than my sex after a baby advice, which also covers the issue of husband "help":

 Again, marriage is a partnership. Do not fall into the modern trap of thinking that childbirth means you must — or can — go full domestic as soon as you get home from the hospital. True, housewifery isn’t rocket science, as the Second Wave feminists liked to berate us, but it is a practical skill…which takes practice. Nor is maternity leave a time to prove your Enjoli woman abilities.This way lies tears, exhaustion, and husbands who do not help because they think they are not allowed. It is one of modern women’s many ironies that as our mothers told us domestic chores were unintelligent drudgery we then assumed that they’d be easy to execute cold to prove our feminine powers. That we attempted this gambit while changing the preferred childrearing term from “mothering” to “parenting” is a little proof that there must be an intelligent controlling force in the universe who has a dry sense of humor.

The resistance I encountered while giving the "let dad get his own rhythms with the baby" advice actually led me to all of my writing on the mommy wars. Whether a woman is a stay at home mom or a working mom — or a national feminist organization resisting male involvement in child rearing — women on the whole do not want to give up child care, ever. Not even when the kids are out of the house (or should be). Helicopter parenting is an all-consuming job, usually performed by mothers despite the gender-neutral name. I spent a lot of time in thought, research and conversations over tea or wine to figure out why.