It took over 5 years of marriage before I learned how to communicate certain things to my husband effectively. It took 10 years for others. After 20-plus years of marriage there are times when conversations still get messy, regardless of how carefully I choose my words and timing. Relationships never become perfect, but they do get easier and flow into a steady rhythm over time.
One of the hardest things for me to talk about with my husband is my expectations of what his “dad role” looks like. To be honest, it’s because while I know what kind of dad I really want my children to have, I also know what I’ve imagined the “perfect mom” to be. And I know how exceedingly short I fall from my imagined Super Mom. With my own failure ever before me, how in the world can I possibly set expectations for my husband? Am I even logical in the expectations I set for him, or do they just mirror my impossible ones I’ve place on myself?
Let’s face it- we all have fatherhood expectations. Partly because in our female intuitive nature, we see into the hearts of our children and know what it is they are craving from a male role model. Partly because we are able to more readily read between the lines of what our kids say. Possibly we spend more time with our children than their father does, if he is the primary financial supporter of the family. And well, truthfully, because we women are often the masters of harboring hidden expectations. But communicating these expectations is essential, when we do it in a constructive way.
With over a decade of walking this parenting road with my husband, here are some expectations unveiled.
1. I really want you to take the lead in our home.
However, instead of saying that, I nag and suggest and try to logically convince you into pursuing a certain course of action. The truth about why I do this: because I’m afraid. I worry about what may happen. I convince myself that you haven’t thought things all the way through. Because we haven’t dialogued about it, I falsely assume that it’s not on your radar. But as much as I try to cajole and drop hints, the ugly truth is, I really want you to be the one to make the final decision. I don’t want to be the only one left holding the bag if things don’t turn out the way that I had hoped.
All of that nagging, cajoling and hinting tells our husbands that we don’t trust them to lead. Or we don’t think they’re capable. We’re sending the wrong message and often causing them to shrink back from taking the lead. Take a long look in the mirror and really listen to what you are saying- make sure you are affirming him.
2. Our kids desperately want your approval and so do I.
Sometimes when I’ve been with the kids all day and you come home it almost seems like you are an intruder. We have been operating all day in our little world and then you step onto the landscape with your own ideas and opinions about how things should be done. I’ve spent countless hours and days creating rules and systems to keep all of our sanity while you are gone all day. And when the kids communicate, solve problems or complete tasks my way instead of yours, I need you to be okay with that. Maybe it’s not logical to you. Maybe it seems inefficient, but if it keeps the peace, acknowledge their good choices. Compliment their problem solving skills even if it is a different approach than you would’ve taken. When you step back into their world after 8-10 hours away, they need to hear the positive from you, and so do I.
Get the ball rolling by giving him the positive first. When he walks in the door, tell the children to go hug their father and thank him for working so hard for them that day, so they were able to play with toys and participate in activities. Affirm him first and teach your children to do the same.
3. Our kids are ever hungry for your attention.
As tiring as a full day of work is, it’s not over once you leave the workplace. There are two unfinished “projects” sitting at our kitchen island who are growing up way too fast. They hold the greatest potential on earth. The satisfaction of finishing these “projects” well is unparalleled with any accomplishment you will ever achieve in the workplace. Our children need your face to light up when you walk through the door, because you have laid eyes upon them. Take a few minutes to unwind in the bedroom, but please spend time with our children. Talk to them. Listen to their day. Ask questions. Engage with them. And do it in such a way that it doesn’t seem burdensome to you.
Teach your children to honor their father by giving him space for a few minutes when he comes home. Have them play in their rooms for the first 20 minutes after he’s greeted them. Schedule your kids’ media time for that half hour right when he gets home so it’s quiet. Give him some time to transition back into Family Land. Then help him in engage by starting the conversation with teasers like, “Daddy, your son has some exciting news to tell about soccer today!” making it easier for him. It also teaches your children to include their father in all aspects of their daily lives even though he may be at work during most of them.
These are conversations that it took me years to be brave enough to voice to my husband. I need to remind myself of these same things from time to time in my motherhood role. In the end, dads need to be reminded how inestimable their influence is in their children’s lives. To their children, they truly are super heroes. And when we see them engaging with our children, we need to tell them how much it meant to our kids and to us. Because dads want to lead, they want approval and attention from us. The best way to give it to them? Encouragement and “Atta Boys”….not nagging or criticism. And definitely not having a husband bashing session with our girlfriends.
Because here’s one last thing to remember….your son is probably going to pick a spouse a lot like you! And your daughter is going to talk to her husband just like you talk to yours. So set a good example.
The wise woman builds her home, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands.
So build up. Be brave. Encourage your husband. And create a legacy of time together as a family where you celebrate dad more than just once a year.