Mothers aren’t always right. Lynn Beisner recalls an incident when a decision she made as a mother was wrong—very wrong—and her husband proved how skilled he was as a parent.
Before the night of The Monsters Under the Bed Incident, which I will describe shortly, I believed that fathers were parents in name only. I believed that they had no instinct for the job of parenting, and that it was hard for them to learn even the basic skills. Mothers, on the other hand, were doled out parenting intuition and skills along with boobs. And if a mother used those boobs to feed her babies, she was forever the preeminent expert on those children.
In my defense, I had been raised with a radically essentialist view of gender, had yet to read anything about feminism, but had thoroughly immersed myself in books like those by Dr. Sears. The theory of “mommies are better parents by virtue of being female” was supported by the evidence provided by my biological father, father surrogates, and my children’s biological dad. They could not have been any less interested in parenting, and they treated the role of “father” as an honorary parenting position with no real skill or participation requirements.
What changed my mind? First, I saw my second husband give his heart, resources, and time to my children. He took parenting classes and infant child CPR classes before marrying me. He insisted that we include them in our wedding ceremony and vows, and he took parental leave, sacrificing a career with a Fortune 500 tech company to be with our children when I needed yet another round of orthopedic surgeries.
The Monsters Under the Bed Incident came about because, like many parents, we had a problem with bedtimes. So, I consulted my library of parenting books and came up with a system that seemed to work. Each child was given three bedtime passes each night to use on whatever they needed other than the restroom. Each emergence from their room thereafter moved the child’s bedtime up by ten minutes the following night.
One night about a year after Pete and I married, my daughter Kassie suddenly declared her bed and her room uninhabitable because of monsters under the bed. She was 9 years old, long past the age when such creatures generally made their first appearance. So, I assumed that this was a ruse, something she had read in a book or heard from the other kids at school.
I was the expert on my children, and I had read the experts about parenting, and all of us experts agreed that a parent should not check under the bed for monsters. To do so would be confirming that there was a possibility that monsters existed and could conceivably be under the bed. So even after Kassie had blown through all of her bedtime passes and had moved up her bedtime by well over an hour, I was unyielding. Each time she came down the stairs, I sent her back up with a hug and my expert assurances that there were no such things as monsters and that she was safe.
In between Kassie’s appearances, however, I was fending off a mutiny. Pete was moved by what he saw as genuine terror, and argued that we should at least check out her room. I was immovable. I reminded him that not only had I read all the parenting books, but I had actually nursed and cared for this child every day for years. I knew what was best.
When Kassie’s bedtime moved to just after dinner, Pete revolted. The next time she came down, he said very calmly, “I know you are right, and will always be right. But I am still going upstairs with her.” And with that he took our crying daughter’s hand and marched up the stairs.
I stood at the bottom of the stairs, listening to them go up and picking out the choice words I would have with Pete when he came down. I heard his determined footfalls stop when he reached the upstairs landing. “Honey!” he shouted in a slightly panicked voice, “You have to come see this.”
I raced up the stairs and stood by my husband and daughter. Her bed was directly in front of us, and it was shaking. Noises were coming from it—bumps, scratching and an animal sound, almost like hissing.
I had that instant of sheer terror, where the blood drains from your head and you believe that Ghost Busters could have been based on a true story. I barked an order at my daughter to get downstairs, and I headed for my son’s room to rescue him before the creatures, ghosts, whatever attacked him as well.
Pete again countermanded me, asking our daughter to wait just a minute before going downstairs. Then he walked bravely into her room, and in one swift move upended the box-spring and mattress. An entire menagerie of stuffed animals flew one way. And then out from a tear in the box-spring fell the four orphaned kittens we had been fostering. They found a small rip in the fabric of the box spring, and had all climbed inside for a rousing game of stalk and pounce.
I doubt you could have found a more remorseful mother. I felt so bad for the time she had laid in that bed telling herself that what she was hearing and feeling wasn’t real. But the agony she endured that night pales in comparison to how well and truly she could have been screwed up if my Pete, her dad in every way but conception, had not been there and had not defied me. How would it have screwed with her head if she had chosen to believe me and ignore what she heard and felt? And how would it have ruined our relationship had she believed her senses and decided that I was completely untrustworthy. To this day, I still have not forgiven myself completely for that colossal parenting error.
I went down the stairs that night a very different parent than the one who went up. I was humbled, appropriately chastened. I had learned that I could be very wrong. In the months and years to come, it made me more willing to include my children in decision-making. More importantly, that was the night that my husband became a real parent in my eyes, someone who loved my children as much as I do, someone who has parental intuition, and someone who has skills.
Recently my kids and I were taking about their childhood. My daughter said that what Pete had done for them as a parent often went unnoticed. But as they enter adulthood they are becoming increasingly aware of how he moderated me, of how his expertise and skill picked up where mine left off. Of course, we talked about The Monsters Under the Bed Incident—it has been told and retold so many times it’s now included in the official Holidays Collection of Family Lore. My daughter laughed about it and said, “At least Pete saved me from the monsters under my bed. You were going to let them eat me, weren’t you?” She says this as a joke, but in our hearts we both know that there is more truth than humor in that statement.