I still remember standing in the hallway, 13 and full of hormones. I had done something wrong and my new stepdad had punished me. I was devastated.
It wasn’t the punishment. It wasn’t the way he did it. It was just that someone else was disciplining me, someone other than my mom. It was different and it felt wrong, yet looking back I know it was right. It wasn’t about what he said or what he did, but just that he was doing it at all.
My mom often says it was one of the hardest things about getting remarried. She needed to let my new dad discipline me, even if he did it differently than she would. That choice allowed us to pave the way to our own relationship.
20 years later and I was changing my daughter’s diaper after work. I unbuttoned her little coat and looked at her outfit. The pink bunny top with the green striped pants… and no socks. Always no socks. I huffed a bit before unsnapping the pants, and then I noticed the diaper. It was nearly falling off. Well, not really, but it wasn’t all snug the way I do it so it stays right to avoid the blowouts up the back. It was all wrong.
My husband had dressed her. I couldn’t believe he would do it like this. I mean, how could anyone put that shirt with those pants? I reached into her drawer to get the pink pants that go with the bunny shirt. Looking at her, I realized the green striped pants weren’t dirty. The thought of one more piece of laundry gave me pause.
Was she dressed? Yup.
Was she comfortable? Seemed like it.
Was she happy? Sure was.
Then I realized that maybe it was okay that the pants and shirt didn’t match. Maybe it was okay that my husband had done it differently than I would. Maybe he had his own way of doing it and neither one of us was right or wrong.
The longer I parent, the more I see that there is seldom a right and wrong way of doing things. The spectrum is wide and there’s often plenty of room for grace, as long as we give it.
I kept those green striped pants on her that day. Walking out of her room, I’m not sure if my husband even noticed the significance of this choice, but it did send a message. He didn’t get it wrong. I could’ve used that moment to change her and explain to him why he can’t dress her that way and why the bunny shirt goes with the pink pants, but the only thing he would’ve heard is that he did it wrong.
Parents need to pave their own way with their kids. Dad may make the mac-and-cheese extra cheesy while Mom tries to sneak carrots in it. Mom may let you stay up late to watch a movie while Dad herds the kids to bed at 8pm. Dad may put the bunny shirt with whatever pants he can find while Mom searches for the matching outfit. It’s all okay.
In fact, it’s more than okay. It teaches kids how to be themselves and how to handle different ways of doing things. It teaches parents how to work together and when to compromise. It teaches us all that we are unique.
Of course, parents should work together and communicate, but the fact is that my husband is going to do things differently than I am. Just like my dad had to find his way with me, we are each parents finding our way, learning as we go, and grateful we don’t get graded on how we do.
The truth is, if my husband picks a mismatched outfit or puts the diaper on differently, it’s one less diaper that I have to put on. That’s a win.