Lessons From My Brother's Parenting

by Meredith Ethington
AleksandarNakic / iStock

When I was a brand-new mom, I remember hovering over my husband as he changed a diaper, bathed our daughter, or did anything. I wanted him to get it just right. I knew in my head that he was just as capable as I was (we were both clueless, first-time parents), but I had a hard time letting him do things his way.

Now, three kids later, it makes me cringe to think about how uptight I was back then, and how much I robbed him of his own time learning and figuring things out as a new dad.

The longer I’m a parent, the more I realize that sitting back and watching how dads parent their kids is not only fun, it actually teaches me a thing or two as well.

Take, for example, my recent visit to my brother’s house. We had eight cousins sleeping under the same roof and mealtimes were total chaos. I found myself in the kitchen trying to wrangle my own children, and a couple of nieces and nephews here and there, to just sit and eat their food. I mentioned to my brother that it was stressing me out.

“Why?” he asked, genuinely curious. “It’s just a meal. It doesn’t have to be so frantic.”

Frantic was the perfect description of how I felt. I just wanted it over.

The next meal that rolled around, he told me to go sit down and let him take care of the kids. I sat back and watched in awe as he went out into the backyard, got their attention, told them to line up in a single file (which made me laugh and made them laugh too), and gave them instructions one by one.

Then, in an orderly fashion, he managed to work out a system where two-by-two, à la Noah’s ark style, they got to get up and tell him what they wanted. He then made each kid their customized meal of a hot dog, chicken nuggets, or mac and cheese. They listened, did what he said, and it seemed so…unfrantic. The complete opposite of my experience.

I thought to myself, “Wow. What is he doing that I’m not?” It was all just so…chill.

Now, there are plenty of moms who are chill about parenting too. I’m just not one of them. I tend to be a ball of stress and emotions, and I count bites my toddler puts in his mouth and helicopter the hell out of bedtime and teeth brushing. Admittedly, It’s exhausting being me sometimes. But watching my brother deal with all the same parenting issues under the same roof made me realize dads are not only capable (because duh, of course they are), but they make things a lot of fun too.

My brother just wasn’t stressed about most of the things I was, and frankly, my husband wasn’t either. But when it’s your spouse, it can sometimes be annoying if you’re always told, multiple freaking times a day, “It’s fine. They’re fine. It will all be fine.”

But when I noticed my brother taking on the same attitude, for some reason, this time I paid attention. Maybe I need to be watching dads in action more often, I thought. It was nice to take a back seat and realize the things I’ve been missing about dads and the way they parent.

I’ve missed that they still get crap done, just in their own way. It may not be the way I would do it, but it still gets done, and the kids are still happy, fed, and well cared for.

I’ve missed that it really is almost always going to be fine. No, we don’t need to always freak out if our kid doesn’t eat dinner or if bedtime is missed by a few minutes. It will be okay, especially if we can actually just chill out a little about a lot of things.

I’ve realized that sometimes playtime is the better option than hurrying everyone off to bed or diving right into mealtime as soon as I walk in the door.

I’ve learned that popcorn for dinner really is okay sometimes.

I’ve learned that the dads in our lives still care just as much as we do about details — they just tend to handle them differently and don’t sweat stuff the same way we do.

I’ve learned that appreciating the quiet and taking advantage of it, by just relaxing, is sometimes so much better than hurrying to clean up the dishes.

And I’ve realized that dads love their kids fiercely and are just as capable as I am of brushing out tangled hair that looks like a rat’s nest.

I’ve learned that enjoying a happy moment is sometimes more important than taking a picture of it, and that focusing on fun can actually ease your burden and lighten your parenting load.

I’ve completely missed the fact that when my husband offers to help, he really wants to help. And even if he doesn’t help the way I wish he would, it’s completely asinine of me to control how he contributes to caring for our kids. I’m working on this, because I need his help and he wants to give it, and there’s no reason for me to micromanage his contributions.

I’ve learned that moms and dads can make incredible teams, but also that when mom isn’t around, dads will not only pick up the slack, but also sometimes exceed our expectations.

Most of all, I’ve learned that moms and dads are kick-ass parents — on their own and as a unit. And we can all learn from each other.