I think I'm a pretty good mom when it comes to the big stuff — love, acceptance, boundaries, etc. — but when it comes to the day-to-day details? I totally suck. My house is normally a bit of a disaster, I'm always (always!) super behind on laundry, I let my kids eat too many gummy bears and watch too much TV, and I routinely forget to send back the forms they get from preschool even though I really, honestly, mean to. For my own sanity, I've tried to let a lot of that stuff go — I already know I won't do a great job at staying on top of a lot of those things, so why stress about them? — but then I thought, hey, I have a capable co-parent, why am I not outsourcing some of this stuff to him? I figured I wasn't very picky about my kids' appearances, so I let my husband dress our kids for a week to see if it would be one less thing I'd have to feel like I'm doing a crappy job at. And it didn't turn out at all like I expected.
As a semi-SAHM, I often find myself automatically assuming a lot of the parental responsibility (my husband's job is super demanding and his hours are long, so he's not around as much as we'd all like him to be), but doing that doesn't help either of us, or our kids for that matter. What that means is that, even though my husband is perfectly capable of doing an equal amount of the parenting, a lot of the details fall on my shoulders. What the kids wear, whether their clothes are clean, making sure they have snacks and diapers/wipes packed when we go places, packing their backpacks for school — somehow we unofficially decided that should all be done by me, even though, uh, I'm not even very good at any of it.
Even though I do a disproportionate amount of daily parenting stuff, my husband really is totally down to do more, and I clearly need to work on making that actually happen. He's a great dad, but since I'm home much more than he is, we've fallen into the trap of believing that I'm better-suited at handling a lot of parenting stuff, which is so untrue (and really unfortunate).
I realized that, even on the days when I'm working from home and Matt is responsible for getting the kids ready and dropped off at school, I still get peppered with unnecessary questions: "Where are Reid's jeans?" "Are their backpacks ready?" "Do they need jackets?" "Can you do Maddie's hair?" I thought that by handing off total responsibility for getting the kids dressed in the morning, Matt could learn that he really doesn't need my input at all (I don't actually know where Reid's jeans are half the time, and rarely think ahead to prepare their backpacks, so it's not like my answers are ever particularly helpful), and we'd both realize the benefit in being a bit more equal in our parenting responsibilities. This would be awesome, right?
Outfit #1: Mix & Match
The first day of my experiment, I was pretty excited at the prospect of being able to work without also having to keep tagging in to get the twins ready for school. I told Matt he was totally able to get them dressed on his own, and he could put them in whatever they wanted.
I am a huge lover of hand-me-downs, and there are few things I enjoy more than receiving clothes for the kids that my friends' children have outgrown. I'm also big on giving away the twins' clothes once they've outgrown them too, because, you know, sharing is caring, paying it forward, and seriously this stuff is still practically brand new, OMG. But I will admit that I am a little bit particular about what actually ends up in my kids' drawers. I am so grateful, for example, for that giant bag full of frilly dresses, but, well, TBH I'm probably just going to pass them on to someone else. And all those little boy t-shirts with jokes about being a ladies man or a big, strong tough dude? Not a huge fan. I mostly dress the kids in more basic, simple stuff, because, whatever, they aren't North West, so who cares what they wear?
I was surprised at how much more nit-picky I became in regards to the kids' outfits than usual. I realized that, as much as I feel overwhelmed by a lot of the parenting tasks that fall on my plate, I was having a difficult time letting them go.
It turns out that my husband had a bit of a different idea. He wanted to pick something "cute" for Maddie, so he put her in some denim shorts with polka dots and a white top with little red bows (which I could already tell was bound to get stained by the end of the day). Honestly, she looked totally precious, but when it came time to brushing her hair and putting it in a ponytail, she flat-out refused, and insisted she'd rather wear a rainbow-colored beanie instead.
"Maddie, you can't wear that hat, c'mon let's do you hair," he said, while Maddie protested.
"Why can't she wear the hat? I think it's adorable." I said.
"She looks cuter with a ponytail," he replied.
I already knew that, if it were me, I would have been all for that hat, or whatever other non-matchy accessory she decided to wear, so I was a little surprised that Matt wasn't. But she got bored of the hat after a few minutes, and agreed to have her hair brushed and ponytailed by dad — and, watching that, I realized that there was more too this ritual than I realized.
Matt really seemed to enjoy having Maddie sit with him while he did her hair, and it reminded me of the times when my own dad would brush my hair when I was a kid. While my mom was largely the one in charge of that stuff, I can still remember the handful of times when my dad would put my hair up, or when he'd massage conditioner into it while giving me a bath. When I'm getting Maddie ready, I'm just trying to get her hair neat and out of her face, just as my mom used to. But it occurred to me then, that having these moments with Matt might end up being things she'd remember too one day. And I was really glad she didn't wear the hat after all.
Outfit #2: Shades Of Green
One thing I did notice after a few days was how little thought Matt put into the color combinations of the clothes he was picking. Nothing that looked bad necessarily, but definitely not clothes that I would put together. And that bothered me way more than it probably should have.
"Are you sending him to school like that?" I asked. "Don't you think a different pair of shorts would be better?"
"He looks fine," Matt replied. "I thought you were going to let me decide, anyway?"
He was right, that was the entire point, but I was surprised at how much more nit-picky I became in regards to the kids' outfits than usual. I realized that, as much as I feel overwhelmed by a lot of the parenting tasks that fall on my plate, I was having a difficult time letting them go.
I realized that the big difference between us was that, when it came to picking out what our kids were going to wear, Matt chose based on what he thought looked nice and that was that. But for me, it was a little more complicated, a little more tied up in bigger ideas about how I wanted to raise my kids and what was important to me.
I made a point then that I was going to keep my opinions to myself, since that was my end of the bargain, but after they left, I looked over some of the photos I took of our son as a way of documenting the experiment. And that's when I realized, well, his outfit didn't actually look that bad after all. I wonder how many other comments I've made that have been totally uncalled for that I could have just kept to myself?
Outfit #3: Pink For Days
As much as I believe in gender-neutral parenting, I'm not necessarily anti-pink. Pink is a nice color, and my daughter can wear pink if that's what she wants (but for the record, so can my son). I do try to put her in all sorts of different colors though, and try to steer away from anything too princess-y, but it turned out that, while Matt was in charge, pink was his go-to color.
I'm not sure if it's because he felt it was easier to match when he just put her in pink, or whether he just thought the clothes he picked look cute, but Madeleine wore pink an awful lot that week. And even though I tried to remind myself that I didn't get a say, and that the whole point of this experiment was that I didn't get a say, it bothered me.
As a woman, I know a little bit about what it will be like for Madeleine to grow up in the world as a person who happens to have a vagina. I remember being not much older than Maddie when I realized I was "supposed to" like pink, that pink was "what girls liked," and I know it won't be long until she starts to learn things like that too. And even though I wasn't doing it on purpose, that understanding has led me to want to put Maddie in as non-overtly "girly" things as possible. She rarely wears dresses or skirts, and I have no issue giving her her brother's hand-me-downs. But even though Matt identifies as a feminist, he didn't really understand why I would make that choice.
That's when I realized that the big difference between us was that, when it came to picking out what our kids were going to wear, Matt chose based on what he thought looked nice and that was that. But for me, it was a little more complicated, a little more tied up in bigger ideas about how I wanted to raise my kids and what was important to me. And I wondered if perhaps that was really why I was finding the "little" stuff about motherhood to be so difficult: to me, the little stuff was still big stuff.
Re-Evaluating The Getting-Dressed Routine
By the end of the week, it seemed funny to me that what had begun as something that would just give me one less thing to worry about in the morning ended up uncovering some of my biggest fears as a mom. Before I got pregnant, I remember thinking about how much I wanted a family, and how I'd work so hard to do right by my children and give them the life they deserved. And since then, I haven't stopped worrying about whether or not I'm doing it right, whether or not I'm following through on my promise. I want my children to know that they're perfect no matter what they wear or look like, and I really want to shield them as much as I can from everything in the world that is going to try and tell them differently. I want to give Maddie as much time as possible wearing her brother's clothes, and Reid as much time as possible wearing pink, and feeling like there's nothing wrong with it before someone inevitably tells them there is.
The rub, of course, is that all of this is a losing battle. I'll never be the perfect mom, I'll never be able to make my kids immune to the fact that the world is unfair, and I'm probably always going to be worried about whether or not I'm doing a good enough job, especially because I want to so badly. But maybe getting the kids dressed doesn't have to be wrapped up in any of that. Maybe the real value in Matt dressing the kids wasn't so that he could do more parenting stuff, but because, well, they're just clothes. It really doesn't have to be any more complicated than that.