Feb 25, 2007

Who's the Boss?

"Daddy is the leader of our house."

That’s what my four-year-old told me the other day. I wasn’t threatened by this. Joe has certain responsibilities, I have other equally important ones. The simplicity of the declaration amused me.

"Why is Daddy the leader, honey?"

"Because he’s the one who fixes everything," Amos replied.

I’m never been much of a feminist but I do recognize this as something that would have horrified me, before I had kids. Before I had kids I was bothered by the traditional male chauvinism of family models like the Bradys. I’m not bothered by it anymore. In fact I’ve worked pretty hard to create the illusion.

"Mommy can I get the new power ranger?"

"We’ll ask Daddy when he gets home from work."

I’m aware that this looks like Joe’s THE DECISION MAKER.. But he’s not. I’m just being lazy, and putting off the commitment (if I say yes), or the fuss (if I say no). Joe does have a little more of an understanding about our finances on a week to week basis (I think I’m the true leader of the house, having delegated all of the bill-paying, check-balancing, keeping-on-top-of-car-and-mattress-payments to him), but I do not ask his permission before buying something and could say yes to a power ranger all by myself. This is a stalling tactic. It makes Amos feel hopeful, implies a yes from me in the ‘fine with me, let’s see what Daddy says’ kind of way, and then I can go back to my magazine, or telephone call, and Amos can go back to enjoying whatever it is he’s doing.

"Mommy can I have another cookie?"

"What’s Daddy going to say when we tell him you had cookies for dinner?"

In this scenario, Joe appears to be STRICT HEALTH CONSCIOUS PARENT. He’s not. True, I eat more junk food than my husband does. But we both agree that as long as the kids have eaten one good meal per day we don’t really come down hard on them for the junk they eat. Sure there might be a “you ate WHAT?” or “you’re going to turn into a cookie!” or even a more manipulative “if you eat too much junk you might not be able to keep your body healthy and then we might have to go to the DOCTOR or take some MEDICINE” (two powerful threats to two children who seem to have invented their own version of christian science when it comes to medical intervention, splinter removal, etc.) but no one is going to get in trouble for this digression, not the cookie-eaters, and not the cookie-allower. The ‘what are we going to tell Daddy’ pseudo-threat merely keeps me from seeming as permissive as I am. I get to let them eat what they want, and I get to imply general disapproval at the same time. We all win.

"Mommy my _________ is broken."

"Put it on the kitchen table and Daddy will fix it later."

Joe as CAPABLE HANDY PARENT or (more appropriately) JOE FIXIT. I am really good at fixing broken toys. I own various types of glues, cements, and other adhesive compounds. I also have a lot of common sense in this area--understanding that smooth things should be sanded before being glued, or that in some cases glue should be applied to both sides before attaching. Joe is good at drilling, nailing, screwing, gluing and clamping together larger furniture-types of things. The kids put their broken toys on the table and they either a)get fixed by one of us--but the kids always assume Joe did it, or b) sit there overlooked and unfixed for a few days or weeks, and then are either fixed by one of us, or thrown away if deemed unfixable (since at this point the item’s been out of play for so long it’s been forgotten). I don’t mind attaching a foot to the amputated action figure, if I’m already up and about and am in the mood to have the fleshy pad of my forefinger cemented to the fleshy pad of my thumb. Telling them Daddy will fix it takes the pressure to do it off of me, and allows me the time to fix the _________ after building up the energy to do it.

"Mommy this toy needs new batteries!"

"Tell Daddy."

In this scenario Joe is KEEPER OF THE BATTERIES. Truth be known, I’m better at putting batteries in things than he is (I’m more apt to follow the little plus and minus symbols) but they’re in a box in a closet and fetching them usually requires getting up and moving and sometimes finding out that we’re out of a certain kind of battery. Also, now that Philips head screwdrivers are involved in so many battery-replacements (I’m opposed to this if anyone’s counting) I am happy to pass this off as a Daddy-job since I don’t want to have to rummage through his tool box (it really is his tool box--something I have no problem accepting since I gave it to him for Christmas several years ago). In this win/win scenario for me, I get to avoid dealing with the batteries, I get the peace and quiet that the now-powerless toy offers, and I don't have to accept responsibility for the fact that we may have run out of 'D's or 'C's.

Then there are the following unprompted Daddy’s-the-Leader-of-the-House threats and statements:

"SHHH Daddy’s coming upstairs, what will he think if he hears you’re still awake?"

Daddy is MEAN BEDTIME ENFORCER. This is sometimes true, but more often than not I’m really the mean bedtime enforcer and this is just part of my ‘quick get into bed’ repertoire. Joe would not be visibly upset if the kids were still awake past their ‘bedtimes’ (since they don’t really have ‘bedtimes’ which is why I put ‘bedtimes’ in ‘quotes’). Joe is usually in charge of getting at least one of the kids to bed which is why the above threat/comment is rarely heard. The fact that they hardly ever hear it makes it particularly effective (no established pattern of this being a hollow threat so they have to consider being nervous about it each time).

"Wait until I tell Daddy that you hit your sister."

Joe is PRIMARY DISCIPLINARIAN. Ha! He has never once enforced a time out in his life. I’m the time out champ. They rarely get time outs (since that would usually require me to get up and expend energy picking a spot on the staircase, pointing a finger, looking angry, fake-storming away...) but when they do it’s all me. This is another example of a threat that is rarely heard so it sounds convincing when I use it.

"We have to put the toys away before Daddy gets home."

Joe as NEAT FREAK. True.

"Let Mommy do the dishes, Daddy’s going to be home soon."

Joe as JUDGEMENT PASSING NEAT FREAK. Also true. And not bad for the kids to understand. We’re all happier when Daddy’s happy so we need to do our part to straighten up, even if it means I’ve left the dishes until the last possible minute and need the kids’ cooperation to clean up quickly.

In addition to all of the implications above, Joe is the BILL PAYER, the LAUNDRY DOER, the PLANT WATERER, the GARBAGE TAKER-OUTER, the SCHOOL DROPPER-OFFER, and THE LUNCH PACKER. All fine with me. He manages all of this while holding down a full-time job that he likes some of the time. On a good day, Joe's also the TICKLE MONSTER, the HUMAN FERRIS WHEEL, the JOKER AROUNDER, the BORDERLINE BATHROOM-HUMOR SONG-MAKER-UPPER.

What do I do? I am the PARENT WHO'S NEVER CRANKY. That's pretty good.


Joe’s THE FATHER, I’m THE MOTHER. I’m not threatened by my children’s assumption that he’s the leader of our house--maybe all of his duties do add up to that. I’m comfortable with our different roles. I’m glad that Daddy's in charge of so many things and I think I was smart to make it seem like he’s in charge of so many other things. Ask Daddy, Tell Daddy, Daddy can do it, Daddy’s the boss? Who cares. I'll be the Mom anyday.


Anonymous said...

Wow, this is seriously passive aggressive parenting. You do all these things just to go back to your own thing?

Don't pat yourself on the back too soon.

Anonymous said...

Seriously. Yuck.

Don't your think that your kids are figuring out that Mommy is an incompetant people pleaser?

Last week my friend (a "Let Daddy Do It" type) and myself were out with our eleven-year-old daughters. I had left my car lights on, and my battery needed a jump start. My friend's daughter was horrified. "Who will help us?" Seriously. No man = no car. My friend, a grown adult, was clueless. My daughter, however, was not. She knew that WE WOMEN could jump start the car, no problem. And we did. I felt very sorry for my friend's daughter, and the (non) role-model my friend was providing.

Anonymous said...

Well, not every woman feels inclined to learn/do traditional manly things (I don't mean not being able to take care of yourself outside the house.)

There's nothing wrong with that! Yes, it's 2007, but still--when you boil it down, men will be men, women will be women.

OOTHM seems to have no problem with that.

"Passive aggressive" and "Incompetent people pleaser" is not what her kids will see. What they'll see is a mom who models what womanliness is and a dad who models what manliness is.

Both of you smug commenters seem to have issues with this kind of parenting-- possibly because it's traditional?

Anonymous said...

It's not "traditional." It would be one thing if OOTHM simply didn't know how to fix toys/whether they had money for a power ranger/etc, and had no desire to learn and let Daddy do it because he was the one who could. She CAN do all these things and simply CHOOSES NOT TO because it would be an inconvenience and because then she'd seem like "the mean one." I mean, maybe to you a mother brushing off her kids because she can't be bothered with their requests and wants to be left alone is "traditional parenting," but it's not so much to me.

Anonymous said...

I don't think wanting to be left alone sometimes is bad parenting. It's a part of life. She said she does all kinds of other things. Maybe she doesn't feel the need to fix her kid's toy instantly. Toys aren't that important anyway.

NPHooks said...

"I’m never been much of a feminist"

Translation: I have no idea what feminism actually means outside of a bad cartoon of "man-hating", otherwise I'd embrace the feminist title because it's because of feminists I'm even allowed to write a blog in the first place because my GOD, women have brains for something other than having babies? Women can actually write about things, including raising those babies? PERISH THE THOUGHT.