When Equal Childraising Isn't
I read an interesting column in The Irish Times last week by clinical psychologist, David Coleman. The column is Dr. Coleman's answer to a father who notices that his two preschool children currently have a strong preference to be comforted by their mother rather than their father. The father wonders - should I let this happen because it is 'natural' or should I work with my wife to make things more equal (which is what the father wants)? I should mention that this father claims that they have shared childraising rather equally over time, although he currently works more than she does. The father also says that his wife is more of a pushover in disciplining the kids, whereas he has clearer boundaries.
Dr. Coleman's answer is generally acceptable to an ESP father - don't take it personally, continue to be available to them, don't reject them because they are rejecting you, etc.
But one recommendation rings hollow for me: "If indeed [your wife] is exhausted by the way things are now, then you might want to look at other parenting responsibilities you can take on to free her up so that, for example, the night-time comforting becomes her main responsibility and you pick up slack in other areas such as cooking, cleaning, transporting and so on."
Don't do it, ESP father! It's a trap! Fix your wife's exhaustion from being the primary parent by relieving her of half the primary parenting - not housework. Don't let your kids learn that comfort comes from one of you more than the other, especially from the one who is soft on boundaries. Give them a strong message that you are equally there for them, capable of listening and handling any problem and committed to your relationship with them. If you cave in when they go through a Mommy phase in preschool, think of where you'll be when they are older and you've been relegated to cooking and cleaning instead.
ESP childraising isn't a steady diet of "you do the cooking and I'll comfort the kids." It is also more than just an equal division of childraising tasks - mental and emotional equality count too.