When I gave birth to my first daughter almost four years ago, I was ecstatic. I had always wanted to be a mother, and there I was—after a long 40 weeks—holding my beautiful newborn baby in my arms. I was young, in love and scared, but really, really excited.
Oh, and also really, really protective.
The only way I know how to describe how I felt is to say that I went into Mama Bear mode. I had a hard time letting anyone else hold my daughter for longer than a couple of minutes. I needed her with me, near me. I needed to be accessible because I was the one who knew what she needed, right? I was the mom.
And if I didn’t know what she needed, well, I was going to figure it out. By myself. Because that was my job. I, for some reason, felt like she was my responsibility. I was breastfeeding, I was staying home with her—I needed to figure this out.
So in those first few weeks of my husband and I trying to figure out how to be parents, I corrected, I interjected, I micromanaged, I criticized. With every diaper change my husband took on, I was breathing down his neck making sure he wiped her the correct way.
I was quick to show him the “right” way to bounce her and I just nursed and rocked her to sleep myself because it was easier.
I realize now that I was a hardcore maternal gatekeeper.
If you look up the definition of “gatekeeper” it says, “A person or thing that controls access to something.” This made me feel really sad. I was the person controlling my husband’s access to being a parent to his daughter!
That realization felt terrible. I never imagined myself being a mother like that. I imagined myself being laid back and carefree. Just sitting around swooning over my husband doing anything with or for our baby.
But I wasn’t—not initially. My perfectionism took over and that gate was closed more often than it was open. I felt that because I was the mother, I should know what I was doing—it should be easy to be “perfect” at this.
What a ridiculous thought, when I was brand new to this parenting thing, too. Just like my husband.
I wish I could say I cured my need to be the maternal gatekeeper quickly with my first child, but I didn’t. However, my desire to supervise every bit of my husband’s interactions with our kids lessened quite a bit with the birth of our second daughter.
I simply didn’t have as much time to worry about whether my husband knew exactly which crevice each specific item belonged in my diaper bag or what my snack time strategies were. So I naturally backed off a bit.
I gave him—them—some space together.
And now with the birth of our third daughter, I’m realizing that I pretty much forget what gatekeeping even feels like. I, quite honestly, need my husband’s teamwork more than ever.
I am grateful for him and fully trust his parenting skills. He is an amazing, confident father, and I am—in a way—a much calmer mama this time around. I’ve learned a lot about letting go.
In reflecting back on when my oldest daughter was a newborn, I’m realizing that somewhere along the way, I forgot that my husband wanted to figure things out for himself, too. That he was a very willing and able parent who wanted to participate, who wanted to be there.
And somewhere along the way he proved how capable and fun and responsible he is.
Once I opened the gate and traded in criticism for encouragement, my mindset shifted. I was no longer the only parent who knew how to do things “right.” I no longer had to worry about whether my husband was going to forget something or do something “wrong.”
Today, when my girls need something, I am quick to say “Your dad is right here—he’d love to help.” When I need time for myself, I am much better about letting go of the reigns and going to the gym or out with friends. I don’t even change their mismatched outfits that my husband tends to dress them in—I actually find it pretty adorable now.
I’ve realized that I needed to throw out these incredibly high standards of parenting I held myself and my husband to. No parent is—or needs to be—perfect. So now when he’s the one responsible, he’s responsible. I back off and enjoy some freedom off the clock.
(Although I will tell you a secret—I do still smooth the bumps in his ponytail masterpieces. But don’t tell!)