Mama Knows Best: Letting Dads Have a Seat at the Table

Posted on: June 30th, 2020 by Jessie Topalov

Before writing today, I asked my husband’s permission to write a piece of our story. You see, I wouldn’t be able to write about dads without writing about Martin. Martin has lovingly given me permission to write this blog (with the promise of a preview!).

Martin and I are two very different people who love each other very much. Prior to becoming parents, we were still figuring out who we were as a married couple (spoiler: we’re still figuring it out). Martin is from Bulgaria and had only been in the US a year before we married. He was working on an American degree, acclimating to society in the US and, eventually, a new marriage. I was building a business and was really the only independent woman he’d ever met. His romantic and playful nature drew me to him and my fierceness drew him to me.

My husband also grew up in a very poor country that holds zero space for men to feel. Martin was traumatized in ways I believe many men are and, unfortunately, this deeply impacted our marriage.  But Martin is brave, kind, and loves our family with all of his heart. Martin is doing the work of healing his own heart to live his best life for himself and our family. This means I’ve got work to do too. I need to make more space for him here.

Parenting and Gender Roles

Mama Knows Best: Letting Dads Have a Seat at the Table blog featured image. Photo of a father holding his newborn son.Last summer when I was at the height of, “this shit won’t fly,” (in regards to being the primary caretaker of our kids and “emotionally woke” member of our family) I read “All the Rage.” I was lost and confused as to why as a modern woman, married for my fierceness, I was still the only one who planned meals, read sugar content on labels, sorted whites from darks, actually knew what drawers clothes went in, so on. I was a full-time mama and a full-time businesswoman. I only signed up for one of those titles yet here I was holding both. 

In reading, “All the Rage,” I have to be honest; I wasn’t reading it for Martin, I was reading it for my sons, Henry and Declan. I was going to raise good husbands. Their wives or husbands would thank me someday and tell me both parents were equal contributors to their children and marriages. No socks on their floors! In an equal marital situation, the damn whites would be sorted! What I didn’t realize is that in future planning for our children by myself, I was signing up for 18 years of continuing to carry the full load at home.  Not cool. No way. So I had to take a hard look at our marriage and parenting. I had to be brave. I had to shake it up.

Discussing Parenting Roles

This past October Martin and I had a very serious discussion about how we had gotten into our respective gender roles and why he was so angry all the time. We dove headfirst into finding a new way to be great parents. A new way to build a life together we could both be proud of.  We’ve been doing work every day since that discussion. It’s been ugly and beautiful all at the same time. The ugly part shows up because we’re human. A lot of emotions come out. The beautiful part is the fact we are both willing to honor who we are, what we need, and how we want to show up–all as individuals.

I knew this was true for me. I couldn’t continue to be the martyr and knower of all things for my children. I’ve always wanted to be a model of how to live authentically. Martin knew he needed to begin the journey of unpacking his past and understanding his emotions so he could learn who his authentic self is. My husband did not participate in our marriage and child-raising because society ingrained in him to man up. “Man up” is a swear word in our home now.  We don’t label genders, period. Tell one of my sons to “man up,” and I will find you. I’m serious!

For the better part of 25 years, Martin was taught to let women do the housework (he’s Bulgarian but, come on, it’s happening here too) and push down his emotions at all costs. For reference: Martin, my husband, will giggle at puppy and baby videos all day. He’s a softy with a resting “um, you know what” face. I was taught by my own independent mother how to nitpick male inadequacy.  My mom was frustrated in many ways about the mental load she carried and still does, and rightfully so!  We were her daughters and so she confided in my sister and me.  What she didn’t do, however, is call bullshit on my dad for letting her carry the load. Honestly, she’s too kind to call bullshit on family members; that’s what I’m for. So, for the last 3 years, since we’ve had children, Martin pushed back on domestic life and I nagged him to death. I couldn’t be more proud of my “bullshit call” last October.

Sharing the Parenting Load

Research shows that babies are attached to the caregiver who responds to their cries more quickly. It’s a simple stimulus to the response equation. Yet everyone believes that the baby just wants mommy. Nope. They want the person who will meet their needs. Don’t we all? Yet if women continue to be the “knower” of all things in the home, and men continue to stay emotionally repressed, we will make no progress towards an equal domestic life. We just won’t.

This brings me back to the reason for writing this blog: men need a seat at the table without us tearing them apart. Men and daddies everywhere need to be allowed to choose what is best for their children without constant feedback from us mamas. Mamas then need to know that daddies are leading from a place of love and emotional support for their children. Even if it’s Dad making mac and cheese for dinner 5 nights a week, our children need to be seen as the beautiful beings they are. Mistakes and all.

In my family’s home, this is still a work in progress. I’m currently on a weeklong criticizing hiatus. It’s a hard habit to break! I’m trying really hard to let Martin do things his way and unconditionally remove myself from being a martyr in our home.

Yes, I asked permission to show him how to put up a baby gate this morning. No, he doesn’t want to see and we walk away. It’s uncomfortable but freakin’ worth it! I’m not willing to continue to complain about how my husband can’t “fill in the blank,” because I decided it was my job. This also means I have to keep accepting imperfection–even my own imperfections.

Ladies, mamas, women: let’s stop this madness together. Let’s ask our husbands what hurts (I’m guessing it’s a first for many), listen to them, give them space, and give up the goddamn dishwasher stacking war! Let’s raise good men (and women) together.

 

Thanks, Marty, for letting me write this. You are an amazing papa and brave man.

 

Xoxo,

Jessie

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