Being a single father for a while forced Edwin Lyngar to realize how valuable an equal parenting duo can be.
When I was a younger man in my first marriage, I thought the majority of raising kids was the mom’s job. I don’t hold those outdated views anymore for a lot of reasons, but I also don’t judge my younger self too harshly. Even though I was always an involved father, we had a more traditional marriage where I worked outside the home much more than she did. What I didn’t know then was that I was shortchanging myself in the best parts of my life. There is much more to be gained by both men and women by sharing parenting tasks and challenges.
When my first marriage fell apart, my first wife gave me the tremendous gift of leaving me my children. She had other things to do, so I was primary caretaker for two kids, aged 3 and 9 at the time. Nothing gives a person more appreciation for a partner like being a single father.
It was an overwhelming burden at first. I can’t lie and say it wasn’t. However, as the years passed, I grew protective of my “power” as a single parent. I didn’t have to argue or fight about how I wanted to do things. I put them to bed when I wanted, took them wherever I went, and I cussed or not as I pleased. A lot of parents would perhaps be horrified at my parenting choices. I even heard some criticism at the time, always muted and whispered. To those people, I adopted a standard retort: “Raise your own fucking kids.” I became, for a time, quite an asshole about it.
But time and attitudes march on and I remarried. My current wife and I had three more kids for a combined brood of five. Aside from the difficulties that a blended family created (a topic for a much longer essay), my wife and I mostly agree about how to raise our kids. I successfully became half of a parenting duo again, but it hasn’t always been easy.
I’m not always sure how my wife feels about it, but I’m very sensitive to any assault on my ability to parent. She does many things better than I do, and she does more than I do. I have to face it. But I never shirk my parenting duties, and I am always engaged. I like to think we have an egalitarian household, even when our opinions don’t line up.
In general, some women have a hard time letting men parent or do certain household chores. Some men (like me) do some things badly, like laundry perhaps or changing diapers. The temptation, for some women, is to shove the man out of the way so she can “do it right.” Likewise, some men specifically act like befuddled “Homer Simpsons” just to avoid being asked to do some household or parenting chores. These behaviors are bad for both mothers and fathers.
I don’t always do things like my wife does, and there are moments when our cross purposes cause stress, especially when I dress the kids. Our youngest daughter is 3, and I never dress her like my wife might. I’m not great at doing a little girl’s hair either, but I get the job done.
As our kids age, our disputes fade, but they will never go away entirely. Sometimes I am very tempted to embrace my inner Homer and let my super competent wife do all the work. At that moment of temptation, I am so grateful for my experience as a single father. Without it, I would not have the confidence to assert my parenting role. I only hope I’ve come too far to go backwards.
Edwin Lyngar is a writer and author living in Reno, Nevada. He graduated from Antioch University in 2010 with his MFA in creative writing and also holds an MA in Writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Bellingham Review and Ontoligica. He blogs about parenting, family life, and writing at www.edwinlyngar.com and is in the process of finding a home for his first book, a memoir titled Guy Parts.