The parenting standoffs between my husband and me after deployment rival those that I've had with a two-year-old who didn't want to put away his jacket, with a colossal impact on my marriage.
Like my toddler refusing to give up control, enjoying a preschool power trip of defiantly yelling "no" at Mommy, I was addicted to the satisfaction and independence of military parenting that running solo with ultimate decision-making and discipline power brings.
Sure, I craved the help of having another adult around but, in his absence, I had evolved into the parent subject matter expert, leaving my husband on the losing end before he could say "reintegration."
He wanted nothing more than to have "us" again in a co-parenting team, and to me, that felt scary.
He needed a win so he could keep moving forward. As a father who parented differently from me, a soldier who wanted to return to his family and a husband who wanted his wife back, he needed to feel like he was an important part of our family -- not an outsider.
The uninvited standoff I found myself in came as a surprise. But I realized that if I were going to see our marriage last through the parenting years, I needed to learn to put my marriage first and my parenting control second.
I realized that I had believed three lies about myself and parenting -- and that keeping them risked sabotaging everything.
Military Parenting Lie 1: "My identity and purpose is only found in motherhood."
The uncertainty of military life made me feel out of control. My career felt impossible, military timelines were never concrete -- but motherhood was something I could succeed at. Sure, I couldn't control my children either, but I could control our routine, structure and ultimately how I handled the day. I not only found a sense of purpose tending to my children, but I also found them to be constant companions.
Winning at parenting was easier than winning at marriage. I knew I would win that standoff with my two-year-old because I was the authority figure and he was learning how to obey. Marriage doesn't work that way, though, and I knew that choosing my marriage would mean me letting go. It is often easier to put energy toward something at which I feel I will be most successful.
Ultimately, I believed the lie that my first priority, above myself and my marriage, was to the kids. For my marriage to succeed, my purpose and identity must extend far past the parenting years.
Military Parenting Lie 2: "Letting go of control means something has to fail."
The illusion of control is that it masks pride. When you have been the sole caregiver, it is easy to believe that your way is best. Perhaps it is best, for you.
But it was quite prideful to think that my style of parenting was better than what my husband offered. Choosing to become a united front again as a couple involved me trusting that children benefit from different parenting styles -- not just the one I had to offer.
My husband's voice is louder than mine and magically commands attention better than mine. The kids and I had grown accustomed to the sound of my gentle voice for discipline and nurturing temperament. As tempting as it was for me to correct him or ask him to parent like me, that would not benefit our relationship.
It is amazing that we trust our service members to protect their battle buddies, but claim that they can't parent like we can. Although he asked for my help updating him with what had changed in the home, he did not need my help on how to be a father.
Now that my kids are older, I know that had my husband been there during the 20-minute standoff with our preschooler, it would never have lasted that long.
Your spouse brings a set of parenting strengths far different than your own, and your children will be better adults for having experienced it.
Military Parenting Lie 3: "I have nothing left to give."
The early years of parenting are likely one of the most unflattering and exhausting seasons of adulthood. You feel out of control of your body, and you are covered with your little one's bodily fluids most of the day. Feeling poked and prodded all day long while also managing the home and keeping kids alive will leave you exhausted.
As much as I was thrilled to have my husband home and our family together again, I wasn't sure I had enough energy to give to another human being. I believed the lie that I alone had to carry the responsibility of everyone's emotional well-being and success throughout separations. The result at the end of the day was a burned-out mom in pajamas who felt entitled to make it all about her, and a husband who felt he needed to wait in line.
In truth, it never rested fully on me, and the weight of your family's success doesn't fully rest on you. Finding the balance of taking care of you while parenting small children takes time, but it is worth it for your own health and that of your marriage.
Looking back, I set my husband up for a win when I let go and trusted the process. I won my freedom from the lies I believed, and our children won by seeing their parents learn to collaborate as a team and win at marriage.
-- For more on ways to put your marriage first during the early years of parenting, listen to the Lifegiver Podcast.
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