When the youngest of my three children started preschool, my husband informed me that I could have as many more children as I liked. He, however, was never changing another diaper again for as long as he lived. I could make of that data what I will. It wasn’t an idle threat.
Unlike women who say they might as well have been single parents when they were raising their kids, my husband was extremely hands-on with all three. Besides the aforementioned diapers, he slept with the kids in a separate room when they were infants (I’m a horrible sleeper under any circumstances, all the baby had to do was yawn and I was awake for the rest of the night) and only brought them to me for feedings. Later, he stayed up with them until midnight, and gave the final bottle while I went to bed at 9 p.m., so that the younger would then sleep until 7 a.m., giving me time to get the older off to school.
When the kids were younger, my husband and I pretty much agreed on everything about their upbringing, which primarily involved keeping them alive. (Though he and I still have an ongoing debate over whether a hood counts as a hat. Also, with our baby daughter, he insisted she wear diaper-covers. He wasn’t going to have his daughter going out without underpants on. I insisted that the diaper was underpants. He disagreed. Strongly.)
As they got older, though, we encountered philosophical differences.
For instance, when my daughter forgot her water-bottle at gymnastics class, I wasn’t about to get off the subway, turn around, pay the extra fare, and go back to look for it. I told her she’d just have to wait until the next class and see if it turned up in the lost-and-found. It did. When it happened again on a day my husband was picking her up, he went back for it. When I found out (my daughter was happy to boast about how awesome Daddy is), I told my husband I wanted her to take responsibility for her actions and not have us swoop in and rescue her (or, in this case, her water bottle).
He, on the other hand, had a different take. He told me that if we just wait and see if the bottle turns up in lost-and-found, then we’re teaching our daughter she doesn’t have control of the situation and fate comes down to dumb luck. By going back for it, he showed her that it was up to her to fix what went wrong, and not sit by passively.
Huh. I’d never thought of it that way.
With our 6th grader, my husband was pushing him to participate in the school science fair. He had the previous two years. But, this year, he was too busy with other activities and, even though I prompted him a few times and he made vague noises about ideas he had, nothing came of them, and I let it go. I didn’t think it was that important. He could do it if he wanted to, not do it if he didn’t. No matter to me, either way.
But it apparently mattered to my husband. He was upset when he found out the deadline for entering had passed. I asked him what the big deal was. Our son does tons of science and tech projects on his own (in fact, he has a whole website specifically devoted to what he’s built).
So what difference did it make if he formally presented his creations or just went on tinkering in his room? The difference, my husband explained, was that if he worked in isolation, he would get the erroneous impression that he’s all that. Participating in a science fair would force him to see that the world was full of people smarter than him, creating more interesting and more complicated things. In the words of Han Solo, “Don’t get cocky, kid.”
Huh. I’d never thought of it that way.
But where we’re really butting heads these days is over our oldest son and his college search. For me, the key word is HIS college search. I’m staying out of it. My contribution stopped at telling him how much we could afford to pay, explaining that we’d be applying the “Fiddler on the Roof” approach, “Because you’re a girl from a poor family, so whatever Yenta brings, you’ll take. Right? Of course, right!”
We are not poor by any stretch of the imagination. Compared to people in the rest of the world, we are filthy, stinking rich. But we can’t afford private college, or even out of state fees for a public one without significant financial aid. I am not taking out any loans, nor am I co-signing any for him. Ergo, he has a pre-set budget, and, like me above, can make of that data what he will. I don’t care where he goes, I don’t care what he majors in. As long as he can afford it. His life, his choices.
My husband disagrees strenuously.
I got no guidance with my college applications (my parents were immigrants, they didn’t know how it worked). I went to the state school literally 10 blocks away, lived at home, and didn’t go into debt. Maybe I would have been more challenged at an academically rigorous university. Maybe my life would have worked out differently if I’d gone somewhere prestigious with future Masters of Universe. But, it’s not something I stay up nights thinking about.
My husband also got no guidance with his college applications. He wanted to be an engineer and so he applied to exactly one school, MIT, because he was told by a classmate it was the best engineering school. He went to MIT, and though he enjoyed his time there, he also got into massive debt that he was still paying off when our oldest son was born. He then took his engineering degree and became what he really loved: a middle-school math and physics teacher. You don’t need a MIT degree for that.
My husband wants to save our son from making the mistakes he did. I want our son to make mistakes so that he’ll learn from them and be able to make his own decisions.
My husband and I disagree on a lot of things when it comes to our kids. And that’s OK. Because every time we don’t come to a meeting of the minds, it shows that we can disagree…and life will still go on. A good example for the kids. It takes the pressure off to be right all the time, when you realize there can be more than one right answer.
The fact that I publicly agree he might sometimes have a point (or, dare I say it, even be right) is my Father’s Day gift to my husband.