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Parenting Double Standard

Photo by: Shutterstock

Tonight, I stood in the shower and fought back tears.

The reason? A mere thirty seconds after I began unwinding under the hot, soothing spray, the sound of the water being turned on in the bathroom down the hall assaulted my senses. Moments later, my water pressure dismally dropped and my near-scalding water transformed to an unappealing tepid.

I was pissed. You see, spending ten minutes in the shower every evening is one of the few parts of my day that is truly relaxing. As I indulged in my confrontational fantasy-soon-to-be-reality in which I marched into my daughters’ bathroom and demanded that my husband please wait until my shower ends next time before he begins filling the bathtub, a second thought occurred to me. He was giving our six year-old a bath. And I was not involved in this activity.

Earlier in the day, this same topic came up as I was getting my hair cut and colored. We were discussing how easy it was to spiral into double standards in relationships and child-raising. For example, here is my list of utopian guidelines for my household:

  • Please load the dishwasher. Oh, but not like that!
  • Help me keep our home free of clutter. Now where did you put all my stuff?
  • Get the baby dressed without any prompting. Um, what the hell is she wearing, exactly?
  • Please clean the bathroom weekly. No, wait, I prefer to use a sponge and Comet, not a paper towel with that multipurpose crap.

And the list goes on…get my point?

As much as I resent the idea of being Parenting Project Manager 24/7, I am equally uncomfortable relinquishing control. It’s a Catch-22. I truly don’t want to be in charge of everything – monitoring naptime, bedtime, nutritional intake, weather appropriate attire, doctor’s appointments, haircuts, etc. – but I have made it abundantly clear that any effort to pitch in that deviates from my superlative level of planning is unacceptable. So what’s a dad to do?

Does anyone else cringe when recognizing this practice of Parenting Double Standards?

There is a fine line between being grateful for a partner who is truly helpful and tuned in to the sensitive climate of family life, and knocking yourself out to thank a grown man for doing something that should just be a given. “Gee, thanks for spending fifteen minutes alone with the kids while I run to the pharmacy to get their emergency antibiotics. That sure was generous of you!”

I have a husband who doesn’t think it is a phenomenal act of heroism to bathe one (or both) of our children, or spend his day off vacuuming the house. Realizing this is not necessarily the societal norm is why I experienced mixed feelings about biting my tongue over the shower incident.

Then again, is it really necessary to shower (ha ha) our partner with praise for engaging in a routine parenting practice? I guess I prefer to err on the side of gratitude: after all, basic psychology would dictate that behavior that is rewarded is more likely to be repeated.

Though I struggle with sleep deprivation and the chronic imbalance that comes with having two children and a job, I am making it a priority to reign in my criticism when it comes to spousal division of labor.

When my parents were in town recently, my dad made one of his trademark flippant remarks about my “busting Shawn’s chops” over something. I cringed, and realized that I really need to lay off the irritated mom routine. Truthfully, my frustration is frequently a projection of my own failure to maintain organization and order in my daily routine and living space. Again, I can point to the parental paralysis that stems from an interrupted sleep schedule, but feel that no matter what my current mental climate is, I still need to reflect on what message I am sending with my “feedback.”

It is often difficult to stick to the popular reminder, “Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it necessary?” There will always be some excuse to succumb to negativity, but the best I can do for now is to vow to be mindful of the words that are coming out of my mouth.

Stephanie Sprenger is the mother of two daughters, ages six and almost one. As a control freak living amongst chaos, blogging has been a satisfying outlet for her parental angst; combining her passion for writing and helping mothers connect, at Mommy, For Real.

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