A few months back, I wrote about a chili recipe I cooked during my week of “maternity leave.” I spent that time cooking, cleaning, and looking after my elder two children while my wife recovered and took care of our new daughter, Taymiyyah.
Before her birth, I was pretty much a “hands-off” dad – diapers, babysitting, feeding, and cleaning up after them was taken care of primarily by my wife. And since they didn’t like leaving her side, it was easy for me to say, “See, if I take them, they’ll just cry, so you keep them.” About the only time I’d take them was when the signs of a nervous breakdown were apparent on my wife’s face.
I had an epiphany of sorts after walking a week in her shoes – I was practically placing her in a position of involuntary slavery. It was simply too much, with a 4 year old, a 2 year old, and now a newborn. After some thought, I realized my contribution as a husband and father had been inadequate, and change was in order – here are a few I made:
1. Time Blocks
Each part of my daily schedule is sliced and allocated for certain categories of my life, so activities related to that time block happen there and there only. In the evening after maghrib (maybe after asr as days become longer), I now have a block of time allocated to spend with my kids (they always want to play PS3 or rough house). I’ve also told my wife to take this time off to do her own thing, whether that’s being alone or hanging out with us.
From what she’s told me as well as the feedback she’s received from other sisters, many of them are starved for personal time away from the kids. My suggestion for brothers is to work out a scheduled time for this to happen with their wives, rather than waiting for them to meltdown.
2. Diaper Changing and Other Chores
I have a confession. I hate changing diapers, but I can handle it, and most other chores. As I mentioned earlier, I used to leave all the cleaning for my wife (though I was one of those rare guys raised by his mom to know how to clean the whole home) as well as the diaper changing, but I’ve since changed my ways. I help out with everything as time allows, including the diaper changing.
I know, I know, I’m outing a lot of us saying this, but do we take one part of the religion and leave another? Or more accurately, do we emphasize on some of the sunan and leave others? I definitely was. The Prophet was in the service of his family, and none of us can claim we were more busy than him.
3. Family Outings
Another area I was able to improve was family outings. I previously left it to my wife to feed the kids and would only get involved if I thought the next words out of her mouth would be, “HULK SMASH KIDS AND HUSBAND!” Same thing with events at the masjid or classes with gender segregation – leave ’em to mom.
These days, I look for opportunities to help out. If the kids are clinging too much to my wife, I’ll make the effort to entice or convince them away from her so they’ll stay with me. When my son is eating (my eldest daughter eats on her own now), I’ll feed him and allow my wife to eat first.
About the only time I’ll leave the kids with my wife is if I’m in a masjid in which the presence of children elicits drama queen-like responses from the community. In masjids where kids are not only tolerated, but welcomed (even if they walk around during salah), I’m happy to take my kids.
That’s the direction I’m heading in my own journey of fatherhood/ husbandhood. It’s not a straightforward topic, but I thought I’d share some strategies I’ve used successfully to relieve the daily stresses my wife faces with the children. I’m under the impression this is an issue for many married sisters, so if it is, please chime in and offer your own thoughts. And any brothers who know better in this, please offer your strategies as well =)