The New Fatherhood explores the existential questions facing modern fathers, bringing together the diverse community of forward-thinking dads who are asking them. Here's a bit more information if you're new here. If you've been forwarded this by someone else, get your own one here.
This week I’m handing over to Hunter, a member of The New Fatherhood community, who learned how to navigate conflicting parenting styles from a personal experience with an exterminator. Take it away Hunter!
Every two months our pest control company texts a reminder they’ll be stopping by the house to spray for insects and rodents. We had trouble shortly after moving into our home with the local “residents” getting too cozy in our kitchen and crawl spaces. The regular spraying has done the job, but it comes at a cost: my partner and I have vastly different feelings in regards to these chemicals.
My wife and I are working out our feelings in the context of parenting. We want every single assurance that these chemicals won’t harm our children. So, as the technician came around a-spraying last week, I decided to quadruple check the company’s recommendations. Just as he had said the three times before, yes, it is safe to traverse the sprayed surfaces 30 minutes after application.
My wife, still, was not convinced. Ever since last week’s spray I have tip-toed my way around our home: avoiding the chemical residue, which could then be tracked into the house, which could then come into contact with our children, which could then cause a serious medical calamity. My bias is showing here, but it’s underscored by my pitiful morning tightrope walk across the threshold of our garage door when loading the kids up for school.
More important was the conversation with my wife following the spraying last week. She was emotionally distraught to the point of tears: partly due to the spraying, but also to the perceived lack of empathy coming from my end. “Honey,” I tried to reason, “the technician is a professional. If he says it's safe, then I’m sure it’s fine. He even says he uses the stuff in his house and he has kids, too.” No good.
There’s a clear discomfort many couples experience when there is a gulf between their views. Do I simply clench my teeth, wait for everything to blow over and prepare for the same fallout in seven weeks? Or, do we need to have a bigger conversation about why we are not seeing eye-to-eye here? What do we do, as parents, when we’re not on the same page?
Family therapist Natasha Daniels recommends a four-step plan:
Explore you and your partner’s childhood. Figure out what is driving each of your parenting styles. Learn what their intentions are behind their parenting.
Make a list of your must-haves. You might not agree on some of them – and that’s okay. Try to be open and flexible. His must-have might not be a priority to you, but it is to him. Her must-have might seem ridiculous to you, but it is important to her.
Back each other up in front of the children. Talk in private about your concerns over what you witnessed. Discuss with your partner what upsets you the most about the parenting interaction. Was it the tone? Was it how they handled the situation? What would you have liked them to do? Try not to be accusatory when discussing these issues unless you are looking for a heated argument.
Do not overcompensate for your partner’s parenting style. Try and have a dialogue about finding some common ground. If the discussion doesn’t go well, consider getting a therapist to help guide the talk and make it more productive. Your happiness, your spouse's happiness and—most importantly—your children’s happiness depends on it.
Ultimately, is it too big an ask to tiptoe through our garage door so as to avoid kicking up insecticide residue? To remove our strollers from the corner openings of our garage to ensure those pesky chemicals don’t so much as glance the fabric? Not really. And if it helps bring the temperature down across other situations, then it’s all the more reason to continue. Heck, we’ve gotten pretty good at turning anything and everything into a game with our kids. My two boys love trying to see who can jump the farthest across the “line of [insecticide] lava,” and they giggle themselves silly when Daddy picks them both up and heroically staggers through the “[chemically-laced] quicksand” when it’s time to go to school. As a father, I’m going to remember the giggles more than my own personal grievances.
Our interactions with our partners are never going to be perfect. I will continue to say things that result in a dagger-filled glare from my wife, and she will do things with the kids that result in an oafish, blank stare from me. It’s what we do in the moments following our disconnections, when we don’t see eye-to-eye, that matters. For me, the “post-game conferences” and communicating with my wife after the kids have gone to sleep every day have been all we’ve needed to get on the same page, and more. And while we may be at odds from time to time, we always find ourselves coming back to our common cause: acting with our kids’ best interests at heart.
Hunter is the proud father of two boys and one girl, and has been happily married since 2014. He is a high school teacher, life-long resident of southern California, and enjoys any and all sports, travel, and all-things Disney.
3 things to read this week
I've been making notes on a future Paw Patrol essay (and how much I hate it), but I've been beaten to the punch by Séamas O’Reilly in The Guardian: "Compared to most of the world’s population, I feel as if we have a lot of Paw Patrol toys, all of which I hate, and most of which I know by the beep of their horns and the delightful yelp they produce from me when stepped on. To my son, however, we are drastically impoverished in this field."
Even if you haven't got one in your own house, I’m sure you're familiar with Pop-It! plastic toys, coming in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours. The kids in my daughter's school are crazy for them. Here's a good primer about where they came from, and why they've suddenly become so popular.
Finally, this short comic from Edith Zimmerman is sort-of about caterpillars, but really about parenting, and the feeling of connection any tiny animal can bring to you and your kids. It'll warm your heart as we head into colder autumnal evenings.
One thing to watch with the kids this week
Simone Giertz is a Swedish inventor, maker and YouTuber who creates crazy contraptions. She turned a Tesla into a pickup truck, made a coffee table out of 20,000 matches, and (my personal favourite) created a “Proud Parent Machine”, voiced by a very special guest. The videos are kid-friendly, a constant delight, and I’m sure you’ll all enjoy this Lego selfie booth for dogs.
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