My wife, Jackie, and I were very careful to lay down ground rules before adopting our son, Henry, now 10 months old. Whenever possible, we would decide things together. If we couldn't agree, I knew I'd win some arguments and she'd win some, but we'd have an equal say-a fifty-fifty partnership. I just never counted on the mob.
"We have to change doctors," Jackie said one day.
"At the checkup, they only let me see the nurse-practitioner. Our doctor won't get to know Henry if we get a different person every time."
"That doesn't seem like a big deal. How much can a busy doctor really know an infant? I'm sure Henry'll get good care."
Okay, that's one vote for changing doctors, one for staying put. Enter the mob.
"Carrie said she'd never take Bella somewhere she couldn't see the same doctor every time." Carrie is my wife's friend who has two kids and seems to be consulted on every parenting decision -- which doesn't mean her neuroses have to be mine.
"Wasn't the nurse practitioner good?"
"She was fine. That's not the point."
I don't see the point -- at least I don't think it's a big deal, and I wish I didn't have to answer to my wife's friends every time a new parenting issue arises. When Henry had colic and I let him sleep in his car seat at night, the mob attacked me for setting a dangerous precedent. Personally, I had trouble imagining Henry at college still sleeping in his Graco. Perhaps if my wife's friends had listened to Henry wail for two hours straight, they might have felt otherwise.
- Stay-at-home Dads: The New Normal
- Why Dad's Parenting Style Can Be Better
- A Dad's Guide to Postpartum Sex
"I don't think seeing the same doctor's important, honey," I say, hoping my lack of concern, coupled with a term of endearment, will carry the day.
"Marsha said I was being totally reasonable, and she's a nurse."
"Who the hell is Marsha?" I ask her pointedly.
My wife's eye roll suggests this was not the first mention of Marsha. "She's married to Mark. They live in our building."
In addition to my wife's closest friends, the mob includes an ever-expanding group of women she met at baby music classes, walking the dog, or riding in elevators. The team of experts has gotten so large, I can't keep track of all the players. They stand in solidarity with Jackie like those khaki-wearing minions in the Verizon ads, a network of supporters ready to back her up. I'd turn around, but I know I'm alone. I have no network.
It's times like these I wish I talked to my male friends about parenting, so I could say, "Dave's, Peter's, and Rick's kids just see whichever doctor's on call, and they're all fine," but of course my friends and I talk about jobs, sports, and gadgets. Our parenting discussions are woefully rudimentary.
"How's your kid?"
"Great. He farted so loud the other day that he woke himself up."
"Cool. You watching the game?"
Not the best testament to our sex, I admit, but conversations like these avoid the messy problem of forgetting whether our friends have boys or girls and their approximate ages. All we care about is the gestalt sense that things are well.
"I don't want to change doctors," I say, digging in my heels. My wife reels off opinions from a half dozen high school friends and former backpacking companions, but the discussion itself exhausts me.
Nowhere are men's and women's hunter-gatherer differences more apparent than in parenting matters. As the hunter, I crave quick, decisive action, even if it's the wrong action. I prefer to exude confidence despite my ignorance. As the gatherer, my wife seeks to collect as much information as possible and won't make a decision until all the data is in. But since there's no end of data in today's society, there's never a decision, and nothing makes a hunter want to kill something more than watching a decision go unmade.
Don't get me wrong. It's not that I'm, in the ultimate male stereotype, just afraid to ask for directions. The mommy masses hold a collective wisdom of parents, books, nannies, and doctors, and I value their opinion, at least when I ask for it. I've only been parenting ten months. They've been parenting forever, and I realize there's experience in numbers.
But here's the real thing. I feel like my parenting is marginalized enough already. Since returning to work, I spend less and less time with Henry on a daily basis. I lose track of his routine -- does he get formula and then plums with cereal, or is it the other way around? Do I wake him from his five o'clock nap after an hour (as Marsha, the nurse married to Mark in our building, advises) or do I let him sleep? It feels like my say in all child-rearing matters is shrinking. Henry follows Jackie around, and why not? She's with him constantly, while I spend a bleary-eyed hour with him in the morning and return to give him a bottle, read him a book, and put him down.
Henry is growing up way too fast and we're not planning on having another child. Important decisions fly by, and I hate to miss even one, though I miss more and more every day. That's why I soldier on and fight the mob. I must defend what little daddy territory I have left, lest my son be brought up by committee. But deep down, I know no one goes up against the mob and wins. The best I can hope for is to skim a little parenting off the top and pray I don't get whacked.
Glen Freyer is a writer and an executive with truTV in New York City.