Let’s Get Fungible!

Recently I have had the opportunity to talk with some moms who have young children and who work full time.  There are a number of such women in the organization in which I work, in other arenas of my life and even in my own family.  They all have one thing in common:  they are wedded to the notion that they have to do it all.

All of these women have life partners who also work more or less full time.  For some reason, each of these working moms values her partner’s jobs over her own.   The working moms are first to stay home if a kid gets sick, first to leave early to pick up the kids when the daycare closes early and the first to start another full time job when they get home from work.  That full time job is parenting.  Yet they do not expect the same of their life partners.  Here’s what they say:

  • Oh, he’s so stressed out by the time he gets home.
  • It’s so much easier for me to do it.
  • He’s willing to do it, but it’s not going to be done the way I like it, so what’s the point.

Listen, moms:  you need to give up control and LET HIM DO IT (please forgive me if I refer to the other parent as male for expediency).  Being “so stressed out” after work is A PLOY.  Like you’re not?  Who got the kids up and dressed?  Who picked them up?  Mr. So-Stressed-Out sailed off to work, worked single-mindedly (I assure you he is not worrying about his child’s morning tummy ache the same way you are), and then sailed home.  Oh, there may have been some traffic — boo hoo.  More time to listen to public radio like an adult and drive in peace!

As for it being easier for you to do it, yes, that is true.  It IS easier…FOR HIM!  So you may have to teach him a few tricks and techniques.  Think of it as an investment in the future of your family.  Spend 10 minutes today for 10 years of competence to follow.

Lastly but not leastly, no one is EVER going to do it the way you do it (whatever IT happens to be).  GIVE IT UP.  Chances are your children’s father will rise to the occasion.  You picked him as your mate, so he must have had some level of adult skills and common sense.  Do you really think he’s going to let your child go to school with ketchup all over her face?  Or with no shoes on?


And so what if he does.  Is it fatal?  No.  Is it soul-damaging to your child?  Not at all.  Will the teacher think you are a wacky contemptible  lowlife family?  Maybe.  So what.  That’s her problem.  You know the truth.  You’re simply a family with FUNGIBLE PARENTS.

Fungibility was my goal when my kids were little.  I did NOT intend to be the ONLY person who could ever comfort a sick kid.  I did NOT want to be the only parent whose cooking was approved by the little food critics in my house.  My children’s father could microwave those Perdue Chicken Nuggets just as skillfully as I could.  He didn’t see anything wrong with feeding them the same thing for days on end (so much so that we started calling this product “Boy Chicken”).  They loved it and I learned to deal with it.  The alternative — my having to be the only one making dinner — was worse.

nuggetsBoy Chicken!  Back in the day, they looked like little drumsticks, not cars.

Some moms resist fungibility out of a concern their children will love the other parent more.  Not going to happen, ladies.  Children are very smart.  They know you love them.  They FEEL it.  It exudes from you.  It is the natural default in children’s minds that their parents love them and care about them.  This is why kids still want to live with the parents who do things like putting out cigarettes on the kid’s arm, or who beat the crap out of the other parent while the kid watches.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, kids just naturally think their parents are the best and they always, always, want to be with them.  You will have to work really hard to alienate your child permanently.

Some moms can’t deal with the cacophony of non-matching shirts and pants.  Take a step back and ask yourself which is more important:  having a half hour more to sleep or fashion plate children?  Being able to take a leisurely bubble bath or impressing Miss Nancy at the preschool?  Going to the supermarket alone, thinking your own thoughts, making adult decisions and not having to sing, “No, no, no, don’t, don’t, don’t” for the entire experience, if the only price you pay is arriving home to learn Daddy “forgot” to bathe the children before they went to sleep?  At least they’re asleep!

Pig-PenCharles M. Schultz illustration

As I said, it’s an investment.  Suppose you have a family emergency that requires you to be out of town for a week? You want your significant other to know how to do everything necessary for the kids to remain alive.  Hogging all the parenting knowledge is cruel and possibly dangerous!  Remember that most little boys did not grow up playing “house” and nurturing their dolls.  We former girls have a real advantage, having had all that practice.

But dads are educable.  You can teach them everything you know.  They may resist and claim incompetence, but you, with all of your nurturing skills, will assure them they are doing fine and that practice makes perfect.  And then you must BACK OFF.  You must ignore wails coming from the bathroom.  You must accept baloney sandwiches for dinner.  You must celebrate an entire day of TV watching on a snow day, because it meant YOU got to stay in the office and finish your work.

I know it’s not easy.  It goes against the grain and it makes us feel lazy, irresponsible, worthless.  In the long run, however, EVERYONE will benefit.  So what’s the down side?  Woman up and make it happen!

10 thoughts on “Let’s Get Fungible!

  1. We are really very good about this in our house (a combo of personality and 2 moms) but there are times when I can absolutely relate. That lazy, irresponsible, missing-out-on-something feeling is one that I just can’t shake.

    1. Yes, yes, that’s what does us in. I think we are born with some bizarre sense that OUR way is the only way, and somehow the kids will suffer without us doing it OUR WAY. But they won’t! They will thrive with fungible parents.

  2. Love this. My husband will hate it – just kidding! And yesterday he had a delay at his job so he took the baby to daycare and wouldn’t you know she showed up with just one show. So of course I was cracking up that you posted that. But it wasn’t his fault. She took it off in the car and threw it and he didn’t notice at drop off. And she doesn’t walk yet, so who cares 🙂

    1. Thanks! YES: “Who cares” is the mantra. Takes a lot of practice. I must admit I was twitching when I read about your husband’s unawareness that he carried a one-shoed baby into daycare. But WHO CARES is the cure for that twitching.

  3. Generally I think we’re pretty good about this in our house but I did have a chuckle about the non-matching clothes thing. Sometimes I ask my husband to get Lills dressed and she pretty much never matches which does kind of bother me to be honest. But you’re right, just gotta let it go – it’s not a big deal and having him help with stuff like that is more important than whether she matches or not!

    1. Michelle, of course you are bothered by non-matching clothes. The issue is whether you can live with the bothered feeling, and for how long. It’s challenging. Hence my little pep talk above!

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