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The Other Spouse

25 Apr

This blog has evolved.

It started as, and will always be, a blog about balancing the joy-sucking demands of fatherhood with the desire to actually have a life and a libido and a buzz once in a while. But faced with the emergence of an enemy that was heretofore hidden from my non-parent self, the blog has acquired a mission: keeping moms and dads free from the judgment of the Other Parent.

The Other Parent thinks they’ve cracked the parenting code; that they know what’s best for everyone else’s kids; that their way is the right way and yours is damaging your offspring. The problem with that is that there is no code; there is no “best”; there is no “right way.” There is only what works best for you.

The Other Parent doesn’t accept this. They are self-righteous and condescending and love to call you out, often passive-aggressively, for what they perceive as parenting violations. The Other Parent sucks.

So what happens when the Other Parent is your spouse?

Everyone has some Other Parent in them (just as everyone has some THAT Parent in them as well), and everyone has moments when their Other Parent emerges. We all succumb to the temptation to judge; it’s human nature. Even Jesus did it. One of the primary challenges of adjusting to parenthood is resisting that temptation, particularly in regards to your spouse. It’s a daily struggle. Layer the other daily struggles of parenting on top of the myriad daily troubles of marriage, and it’s hopeless to expect your Other Parent to stay beneath the surface.

I’ve let my OP out on my wife, and she has let hers out on me. We are raising our first child, fumbling along as best we can, and not only do we sometimes question each other’s techniques, we sometimes take offense to harmless comments, betraying our personal insecurities about the job we’re doing. It’s not easy to criticize your spouse’s parenting, even when it’s so-called “constructive criticism,” and it’s even harder to camouflage any such criticism with a tender tone of voice or a carefully worded phrase. They know.

Figuring out how to work together to protect and nurture your kid is tricky business. No matter what you’ve been through before, nothing is as important, and no possession is as valuable, as your child.

This is especially so when it comes to raising a child for the first time. Neither of us has done this before, neither of us has been exposed to each other’s parenting styles. Before we got married we had the same chats every couple does about how’d they’d raise their kids, but none of those chats every really covered the day-to-day minutiae. It’s uncharted territory; you essentially must relearn how to trust each other in the context of your new reality and roles.

For example, I am a more anxious parent than my wife. This is due to a combination of things, including the fact that my wife is around my son more often, and has a better handle on his behavior and his limits. Not exactly things we considered in our hypothetical conversations about what baby names we like and how much TV we’d let the kid watch. I didn’t know how nervous and paranoid I would get about my son’s safety, and neither did my wife.

So when he’s preparing to slide himself off the couch with some ridiculously complicated six-point-turn type maneuver, I might let my nerves get the better of me “suggest” to my wife that she watch out for him lest he hurt himself. When I make such a comment, I am in no way impugning her parenting skills or implying that she is not watchful enough; I am just alerting her to something I think she’s not aware of. But to her, when she is fully aware and just not freaking out like me, it can seem like I’m questioning her parenting. And she’s insulted. And I’m sleeping on the couch.

When Other Parents have a problem with your parenting, it’s irritating. Having to worry about mettlesome strangers with faulty social skills is the last thing a harried parent needs. OPs are deluded enough to not only think they are experts on a topic that is incompatible with that concept, but that they have a right to advise others on how to handle their kids – usually without knowing a thing about them.

And while it sucks to be called out by a stranger for not being a good parent, it sucks even more when your spouse does the calling out, because s/he at least has a sample size of behavior to refer back to. It’s hurtful, but it can be overcome the same way every marital problem is overcome: communication and compromise. With Other Parents it’s probably best to just walk away before someone gets hurt.

There are countless different approaches to raising children, probably as many different approaches as there are children. What works for your first kid might not work for your next, let alone for a kid in someone else’s family. And ultimately, no matter what approach you use, the results are totally unpredictable.

That’s what makes parenting so hard and Other Parents so wrong.

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