I’m not sure about you, but there are many times when I feel like a shitty parent. My kids tell me I’m the world’s meanest mom because I won’t let them play the Xbox for five hours straight. The “experts” tell me I’m screwing my kids up by letting them stay up too late and using time-outs. The sanctimommies make me feel like an asshole parent for letting my kids walk to school alone and feeding them non-organic, deep-fried junk food.
And the most critical voice of all? The one in my head that is constantly judging me. For anything and everything.
But the one person I can always count on — not just for support, but for praise and inspiration — is my husband. And quite frankly, this means everything to me.
From early on, my husband and I realized that we needed to form a united front to deal with the hooligans we’re raising. After all, they can sniff out dissension like hungry wolves and will try to tear us apart limb by limb if they suspect there’s a weak spot. For this reason, my husband and I save (most of) our parenting disagreements for behind closed doors.
But this goes beyond avoiding arguments about the kids in front of the kids; it’s more than just not telling them “yes” after I’ve already said “no.” Instead, my husband goes out of his way to praise me and validate me in front of the kids, and as much as I would like to think that it is solely for my benefit, I know that it’s as much for our kids’ sake as my own.
A few weeks ago, I was driving our family home from a baseball game in the middle of a torrential downpour, and by the way my husband acted, you would have thought I had accomplished some kind of Herculean feat getting us home safely.
“Isn’t your mom doing an amazing job?” he said repeatedly. “It’s so hard to drive in weather like this. Thanks for getting us home safely.”
Honestly, his praise was so profuse that it was a little embarrassing. I mean, it was stressful driving in the rain, for sure, but it wasn’t really that big of a deal. After he said it a few more times, though, something strange happened: My kids started to praise me too, and not just for driving, but for lots of things. They complimented my singing (I’m a truly atrocious singer, but I do know the lyrics to lots of songs). They thanked me for buying the snacks they like and for doing their laundry. I chuckled, shyly, but basked in the praise and gratitude — if only for the four minutes that it lasted.
My husband’s praise and appreciation for everything from the small stuff like driving in the rain and making dinner to big things like publishing a book or working hard at a job does so many things. It shows ours kids that he loves and respects me, and as they say, one of the best things a parent can do for their kids is love their other parent well.
It also shows my kids — two boys — how to treat a woman with mutual respect and admiration, as an equal in all ways. And it shows our kids how to co-parent well by acknowledging and appreciating the gifts each other brings to the relationship and the family.
But even more than that, my husband’s praise, appreciation, and compliments reinforce my role in the family. Even though my husband is the primary breadwinner, his words remind everyone in the family that my work and contributions (financial and otherwise) to the family are meaningful and important. As the primary at-home parent, my kids spend the majority of their non-school hours with me. I’m the one who gets them out the door wearing clean underwear and matching socks (well, most of the time anyway). I’m here when they get home after school or camp or basketball practice. I’m the one who nags them to brush their teeth, take out the garbage, and finish their homework.
After a while, my voice becomes white noise and my requests go ignored. My husband’s words remind my kids that I’m not just some lady living in the house who cooks, does the laundry, and finds lost blankies before bedtime. I am their freaking mother. I am a force to be reckoned with, my dear children, and don’t you forget it.
Parenting is hard but good work, and we all need someone to remind us that we’re doing a damn good job, whether it’s emptying the dishwasher and changing diapers or closing deals and putting money in the bank account — or both. Praise from a spouse, partner, or co-parent gives us that pat on the back when the negative voices get too loud. They remind us that we are important to the family.
I, for one, will be the first to admit that I could do a better job of talking up my husband in front of the kids. Because he totally deserves it, and dads need the praise and affirmation too. We all want to feel valuable and important to our families. But we get so caught up in the daily grind of parenting that we forget to acknowledge and appreciate the people who mean the most, and all the little things they do for us.
After all, the little things really are the big things — including the thank-yous and good-jobs while driving home in the rain.