How to let dad lead in parenting

This past weekend, Frank and six other dads chaperoned an epic sleepover for their daughters at our girls’ school. There were 21 girls in attendance all between the ages of 4 and 7 years old.

For my girls, it was their first sleepover with their friends. I didn’t want them to miss out on the fun, but I was nervous. We agreed they could go on one condition: mama or daddy would chaperon. Lucky for us, a few other families placed the same condition on their kids. Since it was Mother’s Day weekend, the men stepped up to the plate.

Curious and a wee bit concerned, I made my way to check things out before lights out. When I stepped into the playground I felt like I was transported to a scene out of The Lord of the Flies. It was madness. Pure and utter mayhem.

Where were the dads, you ask?

A few were hanging out along the perimeter of the playground. A few others were trying to get the TV up and running. And, another had run back out to pick up more food because two large pizzas would not feed 21 hungry, growing children.

When I couldn’t find my youngest daughter, I started to panic. After finding her happily (and safely) playing with her friends in the hallway, I took a moment to figure out what I was really doing there. Was I going to roll up my sleeves and start dictating how things should be run. Or, was I going to leave them all to their chaotic fun.

I decided to leave. Good thing, too, because the report in the morning was that everyone had the best time ever.

Taking a step back isn’t always easy. Yet, it almost always pays off handsomely when we give dads the space to parent their children. So, should you need a little help stepping back, sitting down or shutting up when your partner tries to do his thing, I’ve catalogued some common parenting scenarios and how we can get out of the way so dad can be dad.

Instead of thinking mother knows best

There remains this adage that mothers are natural caregivers. And, fathers aren’t. The same is true that a father’s bond cannot be as strong as a mother’s. I don’t believe any of it. In truth, I think they are self-proclaimed prophecies. Think something enough times, or worse still, say it enough times and it will happen.

Remember you became parents at the same time

Sure, biological mothers get a 9-month head start on getting to know their child. Mothers feel their baby move, get to know their sleep schedules and much more. Babies, too, spend time listening to mama’s heart beat, and becomes used to the rhythm of her movements. But, you both meet your baby at the same time, his cries are new to both of you and you both begin your journey as parents to this child at the same time. So, be sure to encourage dad to get in on the action right from the beginning so together you can delight in discovering your new baby.  

Instead of criticizing

It’s easy to point out someone else’s mistakes. And, truth be told, when you’re struggling to learn something new – like caring for a newborn for the first time (or even the second or third) – it can be a real confidence boost to see others failing. Doing so, at least in that moment, helps you feel less of a failure. But there will come a time when you’ll need dad to step in to take over and he’ll either be hesitant to do so or otherwise unsuccessful in providing your child with what she needs.

Focus on setting him up for success

For moms on maternity leave, we do a lot of our learning without an audience. Without anyone watching we make mistakes, learn from them and correct them next time. If we chastise dad for his mistakes, or before he can even make one, we’re limiting his ability to learn and grow as a caregiver. The best way to set him up for success, then, is to give him the freedom to try and learn on his own. Plus, if there’s something you’ve learned about baby, pass it on and let him give it a go.

Instead of taking control

You don’t have to convince me that you can do something – anything – better. It’s true for me too. Well, not really, but I like to think so. This idea that I can do it better had me regularly pushing Frank out of the way all the while huffing, “Oh just let me do it!” But, here’s the thing: we can’t do everything. And, by trying to take control of everything we’re setting ourselves up for failure in the long run.

Recruit him to take on a specific job

Other than breastfeeding, dads are equally equipped to handle any task related to baby. So, look for jobs that dad can take on fully. Have him take over bath time or put him on diaper duty or perhaps get him to keep up with the laundry. He’s going to do things differently than you, but more than likely, he’s going to get to the same result. And, who knows, he may offer a new, improved way of doing things.  

Instead of seeing him as a child

If there’s one stereotype of dad that annoys me the most, it’s the helpless one. The one who is portrayed to be yet another child for the woman to tend to. That they are incapable of doing the simplest of things without a woman taking over. Sadly, the stereotype doesn’t live in our TVs alone. If we treat dads like children and not adults, how can we expect them to be anything else?

See him as your partner

If you’ve gone into this parenting game as a duo, be sure to keep it going as a duo. That starts with setting your mind to the fact that daddy is an equal partner. It is pledging that you are in this together and committing to pulling your equal weight. Sure there are going to be gives and takes, pushes and pulls, but research has shown that both kids and parents reap huge benefits when couples commit to share equally as breadwinners and caregivers.

So, did I miss anything? How do you take the backseat to parenting so your partner can take the lead every now and then? I’d also love to hear how co-parenting has impacted your family. Tell me in the comments below.


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