“You complete me.” Remember that line from Jerry Maguire? This was the one time in the last two decades that I crushed just a little bit on Tom Cruise. We all want that in our spouse – that feeling that they fill in the holes in our personality that we can’t fill ourselves, like divots on a golf course. With marriage, we will finally be pristine, a smooth expanse of happiness for all the world to see.
Then you have kids, and that course becomes a minefield, huge chunks of your life blown to the heavens by sleepless nights and hungry mouths and dirty diapers and later on, by temper tantrums and lines crossed, until you look at your spouse and it takes a minute to remember his name.
When I married my husband, I cherished our differences for what they signaled – compromise. I indulged his night owl proclivities on the weekends; my vim and vigor in the mornings served as his weekday alarm. His laissez-faire attitude about plans calmed my hyperactive need to be lord and ruler over each step of each day. We settled into a happy medium. He got the breakfast burrito and I got the bagel and cream cheese and we shared. He added documentaries to our Netflix queue and I added Seinfeld. It was a mutual enlightening.
But somehow kids blasted my zen to smithereens. The firecracker fuse to my temper was short and primed when he finally rolled into bed in the middle of the night just as the baby woke screaming to be fed. His non-existent desire to plan left me holding too many schedules for a day that would need to be lived twice to get it all done. As the kids grew older and began to push back against our rules and requirements, I could not find my way past the bad cop role while he nestled into the good one. He was the clown coming home from work to provide a little entertainment before bedtime. I was the one who called time and ended the fun.
It took us a long time to find the compromise again, to fill in those holes and create an unbroken expanse of sanity that would provide a solid foundation for our kids to rest on, and then, fingers crossed, take flight. Here’s what smoothed our way, as we each parented with our polar opposite.
1 | Find your niche
You know what you’re good at. If, like me, you’re a morning person, take the school and breakfast duty. Then let him take the night. While he wrestles with them, let him also wrestle them into the bath and pajamas. Don’t feel bad about it, enjoy someone else taking the load. If you’re the planner, plan and then make your expectations clear. If he’s the best at winging it and making it fun, loosen the reins and let him do his thing. We all have our five-star skills. Figure yours out and let your spouse run with theirs.
2 | Talk about it (when the kids aren’t there)
There are many times in life when I wish for telepathy, when the kids are yelling or begging for a half-hour extension to bedtime, or when we’re in Target and three little people have just run in three different directions. But try as I might, I cannot say all I need to say with a look. Even if it’s supercharged with the mom-mind-meld. So, we talk, during naptime, after the kids go to bed, in stolen moments in the bathroom, about all the things that need to be sorted in order to function as a unit instead to two rogue soldiers. We get out all the frustrations and sassy snark (me) and reset before going back in the game. It’s our huddle between plays that keeps the ball on our side.
3 | There’s no “right” way
Seriously. Parenting is not a game you win. Just because the kids responded to you better that one time at the park when you counted to five to get them in the car does not mean that’s the magic answer and you get bonus points. If his solution to potty training is bribery with jelly beans and yours is a sticker chart, it’s not rock beats scissors. It’s a draw. Every day is a new day and every kid is different. Sticking hard and fast to the little things will wear you down faster than those sleepless night of yore. If you take it in stride and accept whatever solution is working for the moment, no matter whose it is, it will gently usher you out of the role as scorekeeper. No one wants to keep tally for eighteen plus years. That’s too much math and angst for one soul.
4 | Give thanks
You have a partner in crime. For better or worse, this person is the one who will walk with you to the end, through the worst of the blow-out diapers, the temper tantrums in parking lots, the emotional hailstorm of adolescence, and the final empty nest adieus. They were there before and will be after. Give thanks that they chose you and you chose them, even if the mountain path is steep and rocky and littered with the debris of a messy life, because when you reach the top, it will be a panorama you never imagined, a life well-lived.
So here’s to holding up the white flag on the parenting front and fusing the best parts of you both. Here’s to bringing together the best of both worlds and using your powers for good and not evil as you raise your kids with your contrary counterpart.