Yesterday morning I watched from the window as my wife and children drove away in our dinged-up, dirty Citroen minivan.
I waved and made funny faces at my kids as they disappeared down the driveway, then turned 180 degrees to face the dining table.
My funny face melted away.
Before me, it looked as though a hurricane had passed over our dining area, the bloody remains of breakfast cakes and toasts strewn not only all over the table, but also thrown feet into the air, the crumbs reaching as far as our living room couch.
Juice and herbal tea oozed from underneath mugs and glasses, as if every drinking apparatus in our home had sprung a leak.
Dishes, that were supposed to “always be placed neatly in the dishwasher after use,” were left staring up at me sadly from their original setting, their owners having abandoned them in the typical hysteria that accompanies getting out the door.
The next three hours of my life were spent as follows:
- First, clearing off the table
- …then washing the dishes now removed from the table and putting them in the dishwasher
- …then starting the dishwasher
- …then vacuuming up the crumbs on the floor around the table
- …then vacuuming up the crumbs spilling into the living room
- …then cleaning up the unanticipated sister hurricane that had passed through the living room
- …then mopping up the living room
- …then mopping back into the dining area
- …then mopping back into the kitchen
- …then unloading the dishwasher that had already run a full cycle in the time I lost in the living room
As the wheels of our minivans came crunching up our gravel driveway, I looked around with pride at my spick-n-shined world.
“Just look at that table! Look at these floors!” I said to myself, a boyish grin creeping across my face.
Carnage had been replaced by order.
I had made it happen.
Well done me!
Then, the front door opened and my four boys came spilling in from church, looking strangely as though they had just been wrestling with farm animals who had just been wrestling with even dirtier farm animals.
My happy face melted away.
If you’ve read this far, you are a dad, and can relate to the above story, there’s an 85% chance you’re not a deadbeat (according to my very non-scientific calculations).
For the other 15% of you (most likely prompted by a loving nudge from your partner) look on the bright side — at least you’ve got a great spouse that believes in your ability to crawl out from your Man Den of Subpar Performance.
In a previous article, I talked about the Full-Time Dad Mindset, a frame of mind that allows you to focus first on what matters most (being a husband and father), and allowing everything else to fall into place.
I loved this comment posted by Ian James:
“I’ve been in an Executive MBA program for the last two years, and over that time my emerging mantra has been “father first”. In going along with the idea of finding the right mindset, I’ve found it helps me to frame career as an extension of family: my primary life’s work is my family, and my career is a supporting actor. Now my task is finding work that exchanges capital for value instead of time.”
As Ian teaches here, having a mantra of “father first” is a great way to arrive at the nirvana of daddy-dom, where work supports your true life work, instead of eclipsing it.
One of the things I’ve loved most about adopting a Full-Time Dad Mindset is the partnership I’ve developed with my wife.
In our household’s Christian faith (Mormon), it is taught that husbands and wives should lead together in the home:
“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”
— The Family: A Proclamation to the World
Often, especially in conservative Christian faiths, we oversimplify this definition of marital partnership to something that looks like this:
TO be perfectly honest, I lived the first 15 years of my marriage by this model.
I was a good husband and a decent father (depending on the day and depending on the child), but I assumed my role was to generate the income and my wife’s was to oversee household operations.
And I was unhappy, because I knew something was missing as I spent hours toiling away at my desk that was physically and emotionally removed from the home.
And my wife was unhappy, drowning in the day-to-day tasks required to make a home run effectively. She also struggled to see me carry the sole burden of providing for the family, wishing she could help.
We were living our lives as “partners” by title, but not much more.
We were both trying to do what was best for our family in well-established silos. I didn’t really understand what was happening at home, and she had no idea of what I did at the office.
When we finally got together to talk at night, we were so exhausted that rarely did it make sense to try and understand each other’s world.
I will concede that perhaps there are households where the above chart works for the best, but for most of us it’s a leaking model that will eventually burst, spewing out all kinds of undesired buildup.
Instead, what I’ve learned over the past few years is that the Full-Time Dad Mindset looks more like this:
It’s definitely messier (not unlike our living room by 8:00 PM every night), but here are three reasons why the Full-Time Dad Mindset works best for our household:
- It acknowledges that both Mom and Dad are adults, with separate and valuable interests and talents that bring to each a sense of self-fulfillment. This gives permission for each person to let go of some of the things they feel obligated to do, in exchange for some things they’d really really like to achieve.
- It acknowledges that managing a household is hard work, requiring a balanced set of man-hours and woman-hours in order to run smoothly. Note that I use the word balanced, not equal. Your marriage’s definition of balance is uniquely yours and will fluctuate often.
- It acknowledges that consistent interaction (not just communication) between Mom and Dad will result in more consistent action in the home. It’s hard to have consistent communication when one or both of you are so disconnected from the day-to-day operations that you’re unsure how to start the washer (I required multiple days of training).
Our households, whether we have one kid or 11, are much more complex than we imagine.
There are multiple worlds living inside these four walls, worlds that are changing, growing, and being redefined daily.
To think that one parent alone can shoulder the intense physical, emotional, and spiritual demands of all those worlds is utter folly.
Partnering up, will, in the end, be the only way we thrive instead of merely surviving the day-to-day.
Thanks for reading!
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