A year or two before my husband Galvin and I got married, I remember going wedding-crazy. When my pastor reached the part in the wedding sermon about “two becoming one”, my heart would skip a beat, and my mind conjure up images of the two of us working hand-in-hand at upkeeping the house and smiling dreamily at each other.
Fast forward to eight years and two kids later, amidst the daily rush of feeding little ones, disciplining them, and putting them to bed, my perspective has shifted. I now see my husband first and foremost as the father of my children – co-inheritor of chaos and practical helpmate; parenthood has overtaken romance.
Who does more?
As anyone who has ever been stuck in a two-person canoe over a long distance can tell you, partnership entails hard work. When the going gets tough, tension arises as you begin to wonder whether the other person is pulling their weight.
I have learnt that it is unproductive to go down this path. Raising children and running a household running are complex tasks, and it is not possible to quantify who does more. Many have weighed in on this topic, with ideas ranging from academic Anne-Marie Slaughter’s concept of a “Lead Parent”, to French comic writer Emma’s viral comic, “You Should’ve Asked”, which highlights how women tend to bear most of the mental workload of managing family affairs, even when fathers are highly involved in parenting.
While these ideas explained the exhaustion I feel as a mother, they did not provide a solution for managing my emotions and perceptions of unfairness.
Loving Parents, Obedient Children
I found my particular solution in a marriage practice inspired by family-life authors, Gary and Marie Ezzo. In their parenting workshops, the Ezzos explain that the first step to taming unruly behaviour in children is to cement the relationship between husband and wife. Children need security in order to respond with obedience, the logic goes.
A practical step they suggest is for couples have regular “couch time” – a daily habit which allows children to observe their parents connecting emotionally, and displaying affection for each other.
Children need security in order to respond with obedience.
The first time my husband and I tried this out, my children’s responses were hilarious. Far more accustomed to being the target of our affections, they barely knew how to react when they found themselves removed from the centre of attention. After some time of observing us snuggling together, my first-born decided enough was enough and attempted to squeeze himself between us. My youngest could not resist the family fun and the ten-minute session ended with us all in a tangle of laughter.
Seeing the surprise and then happiness on my children’s’ faces was a lightbulb moment for me. I realised that for them, seeing Daddy and Mummy happy together made them happy.
This epiphany has refocused our approach towards parenting. We worked hard to be at peace with our roles within the family, and made supporting each other in our strengths and weaknesses our priority, rather than being fixated about achieving that elusive “equal” distribution of workload.
Living it Out Daily
Galvin and I make it our priority to keep our marriage in good shape. While he tries to be sensitive and checks in on me when I’m feeling down, I also do my part to monitor my own thought life and emotions. This sort of self and mutual care is important for the health of a relationship.
While we are not able to schedule in regular dates yet due to our current childcare arrangements, we work towards having little moments of connection daily. The general rule is to “do it even when you don’t feel like it” (e.g., a goodbye kiss amidst the morning rush), and the feelings will follow.
The general rule is to “do it even when you don’t feel like it”
and the feelings will follow.
When it comes to disciplining the kids, we take on slightly different, and complementary, roles. I tend to prepare the children in advance and lay out expectations of behaviours required. I also remind and encourage them to take small, daily steps of obedience. When the children are out of line, Galvin does a brilliant job taking them aside for “time-ins,” which sometimes includes physical discipline if necessary, but mostly features heart-to-heart explanations and reasoning with the children once they have calmed down.
While our roles are interchangeable, the key for us is to communicate often and to come to an agreement on what we require of our children and how best to guide them.
Parenting with love and staying in love with our spouses are interrelated but difficult tasks. However, we have found that success in one aspect helps in the other. A steely commitment to maintaining a loving attitude towards our spouse can enable all of us to become the best partners-in-parenting that we can be.
Charmaine has been an educator for over 10 years and has a tender heart for young people and children. She enjoys spending time with her two little ones, aged two and four, and is thankful to have Galvin as her permanent partner in this never-ending life project called marriage.
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