The XX Factor

Accepting a “Different Parenting Style”

The New York Times ’ Motherlode blog has a plea for advice from a young mother who says parenting is “ruining her marriage .” I scarcely need to offer you a synopsis of her plaint: Essentially, she performs singing puppet shows with cutlery while her spouse is thumbing through his e-mail on his BlackBerry. Who hasn’t heard that before? In fact, this month’s Parents magazine highlights an argument so nearly identical to this one for its article on “How to Fight in Front of the Kids ” that I had to double check to make sure I’d actually read two separate pieces on the topic. The Parents mom makes a healthy breakfast on weekend mornings and heads to the playground, while her partner turns on both the TV and his laptop. What’s a “good” mother to do with such a “bad” dad? Because while neither complaining mother used such inflammatory adjectives, the subtext was clear. One parent is clearly not pulling his weight.

And because the Motherlode mom actually asked for advice, I feel free to offer mine: Dump him. Just pack up those two kids under 5 and walk away. A number of my friends have taken this route lately, and all report that somehow, dad-whether he’s half-time dad, weekend dad or even primary-care dad-has managed to step up to the plate and parent those kids when mom’s not around. No child has yet expired from an overload of sugar or from kicking and screaming at bathtime. And the newly single moms (other than some nagging emotional stresses and that little matter of having “forever” turn out to mean “until we get tired of dealing with each other”) often look rested (from their interruption-free nights) and fit (more time for the gym).

Of course, if this seems a little extreme (and I do hope everyone can tell I have tongue firmly in cheek here), then why not implement the strategy without the messy accompanying divorce? Every parent has to find his or her own way to be the parent he or she wants to be. Turning dad into mom (“I don’t see why he can’t just ape my parenting techniques”) isn’t a good solution. Letting dad (and I’m sorry, it just happens that the offending partners in our two sample cases here are male) figure out how to be dad is. Your kids are young, complaining spouses of Motherlode and Parents , and the parenting learning curve can be quite steep. Your only job is to let it happen. If the resulting screams at bedtime bother you, close your door and turn up the radio. If dad offers a cookie bribe for good behavior, have a cookie, and don’t talk with your mouth full. And if what you’re really saying is ,”But I do more than he does and that’s not fair ,” then the problem isn’t his-it’s yours. If making the spoons talk to the forks while you empty the dishwasher makes you surly and resentful, then just put the flatware in the drawer and walk away.

Photograph by STR/AFP.