Why You Should Let Your Partner Be A Lousy Parent (Too)

Sometimes, I'm not the parent I would like to be.

Sometimes, I'm tired. Or I'm preoccupied with an adult concern. Or I just want an hour of peace to read a book.

Sometimes, I overreact. I snap at my child. I enforce a rule I've only just made up. I bring out the stern voice because she won't sit still. I cry "what did I just tell you?!" and mutter "for heaven's sake".

Sometimes, I feel so angry that I take myself off to another room to sulkily scroll social media; sometimes I sit there for so long that her tiny little face appears at the door, wanting to know she's still loved.

Even as I do these things, I regret them. I know I'm not responding in the way I consider best. I know that, in a short while, I'm going to have to apologise and we're going to have a hug and I'm going to have to tell myself that I'm teaching her a valuable lesson here - not that it's okay to make little children feel bad, but that everybody overreacts sometimes and we should all know how to say sorry.

I feel awful in the moment. I feel awful for some time afterwards. If the awfulness is lingering, I text Steve or message a friend.

But, these days, I'm a lot better at forgiving myself. I've spoken to enough other parents - enough other gentle parents - to know that we all do this. We all have days when we're tired and times when we're unreasonable and moments when we handle things badly. It's normal; it's natural; it's okay to screw up then say "sorry".

I don't have to be the perfect parent all the time.

"Your Partner's Allowed To Be A Lousy Parent (Too)"

I would tell the same thing to any of my friends: I consider them all to be great parents; it's okay if they don't always feel like one.

It's harder to remember when it's Steve, though.

Steve is a fantastic parent. I'm not saying that just to butter him up (sorry for writing about you on the internet again, Steve!) - he is (usually) patient and (usually) calm and (usually) affectionate; he's such a great parent to MM.

But it's sometimes hard to treat our partners with the same empathy and understanding we show to our friends.

* * *

Sometimes, Steve isn't the parent he would like to be.

Sometimes, he's tired. Or he's preoccupied with an adult concern. Or he just wants an hour to potter around on the internet.

Sometimes, he overreacts. He snaps at our child. He enforces a rule he only just made up. He brings out the stern voice because she won't sit still. He picks her up and moves her away from the problem, without giving her any forewarning.

And then she runs to me and cries.

And I have to fight against my natural instinct. Because my natural instinct is to defend my child. It's to shout at him that he can't treat her like that; it's to tell her that Daddy did wrong. We've talked about how we parent our kids - he knows better than X, Y, Z.

But who exactly would that help?

* * *

The times when I find it hardest to forgive myself are the times when Steve's around to witness my overreaction.

It's the times when MM runs to him, crying, and he finds a way to be the calming, consoling, considerate parent I think that I should have been. He finds a way to do that without criticising or undermining me; he makes MM feel safe and he leaves me to make my own apologies later.

And I feel awful because I'm The Bad Parent in comparison and because I'm going against the things which he and I agreed.

I try to bear that in mind when he reaches his own limits. It's hard to screw up and it's even harder to screw up when other people are watching, when they may be judging, when they may have to mop up toddler tears which you feel you've caused, when you're already trying to face up to saying "Sorry" (because nobody likes to say "Sorry").

Overreacting right back at him would make him feel worse. It would make me feel guilty. And it would give MM a negative message about her Daddy's parenting abilities - not to mention an unhelpful example of how to behave around her future partner(s).

None of us would benefit from that.

* * *

It's a bad habit a lot of us start early, though.

We tell jokes about how useless dads are before the baby has even arrived.

We send one parent back to work after two short weeks, when pretty much anyone who has ever spent all day, every day, looking after a newborn will tell you that it takes a good few months to feel like you're halfway competent - if we don't give one parent the chance to hone those skills, they're already at a disadvantage.

Mums (usually the parent who produces the milk, regardless of how the baby is fed) spend their days tweeting about how hopeless they are at parenting because their baby won't stop crying and have a damned nap already. But, when our partners get home, we snatch crying babies back off them after a few short minutes because clearly they don't know what they're doing. The word we forget to use at the end of that statement is "either"; we take it on ourselves to be the only semi-competent caregiver, even when that contradicts the way we generally feel about ourselves.

And so we get in a habit of preventing our partners from practising their parenting skills; we undermine their decisions and their actions by leaping in to criticise; we become resentful because the full burden of parenting feels like it's resting on us; and we don't let our children learn that both parents can be sources of comfort and safety.

Nobody wins when we behave in this way.

* * *

It's hard, I know.

It was always hard for me to listen to my baby crying in her father's arms; my gut response was that I should be leaping in to soothe her. But he had to learn how. She had to learn to trust him. I had to learn to step back and take care of my own needs, too.

And sometimes he had to listen while his baby cried in her mother's arms.

It's hard, now, when he snaps at her and I have to bite my tongue. But he gets to screw up now and then. He gets to not be criticised in front of his daughter. He gets to make his own apologies.

And sometimes he has to bite his tongue while I screw up, then allow me to mop up my mess.

Sometimes we talk through what happened later, once our child is in bed. But mostly we don't need to; mostly, we both know how and why we went wrong - it was a brief error of judgement; it happens to everyone.

The important thing is that we remember we're not in competition here.

We're parenting our child as a team.

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