Show me a father who isn't afraid to practice his parenting skills while folding laundry or washing dishes and I'll show you a grateful mom.
For me, the willingness on the part of Dad and Mom to share in both kid care and the less glamorous chores of the household is simple domestic survival.
Take the time when my husband saw my eyes glaze over with that look of: "If I have to do one more chore in the presence of toddlers, I'm going to buy a one-way ticket to Baja." He sent me off to soak in the tub.
I listened as our sons, Kynan (three-years old) and Shane (10 months), helped their dad clean up the dinner mess. The roll-out cupboard trays slid back and forth plastic cups clattered to the floor. An egg beater was used as a drum stick on the dog food tin. Then the top of the tin slid to the floor and I heard a couple of consecutive "plops" into the dishwasher.
"Hey guys, no dog food in the soapsuds, please!" The refrigerator squeaked open and something dropped. "What's this red soapy stuff on the floor?" asked Kynan.
There was a slight pause and then, Dad: "OK. Everybody out of the kitchen!"
I jumped out of the tub, wrapped myself in a towel, and invited the kids to join me in our tiny bathroom. Our lion-of-a-dog dashed in first. Shane shifted into his race crawl mode and reached the entrance just as Kynan shut the door on him. Soon after I had settled back into the tub, Shane's sleeves were soaked to the armpits and droplets magnified his eyelashes as he zestfully splashed my water. I abandoned my wet newspaper when Kynan threw in the dog's chew toy for me to play with. "OK. Everybody out of the bathroom," I called. John poked his head in the door and coaxed the kids out.
These times of rescuing one another are what keep us sane during the early years of parenting. It's not that we don't enjoy being with our sons. It's just that our togetherness is so often filled with the wild abandon that kids bring the moment that a small dose of this time together is enough to make us long for the calm and stability that solitude offers.
Now that the boys are 4 and 7, John and I continue to cultivate an intuitive sense of when the other needs a break. We try to intersperse fun family times with solitary getaways. One of us takes the dog for a long walk while the other completes the pajamas, dessert, story, teeth, prayers, (and finally) bed routine with the boys. On cross-country ski outings, one of us takes an exhilarating trek alone while the other cheerfully pokes along the trail with the kids.
This summer Kynan watched me load gear into my backpack for a weekend in the wilderness with a friend. "But Mom, I could keep you company. And I'd even carry my own stuff," he offered. I hugged him and tried to explain how important the occasional "alone time" is.
When I returned, I felt refueled and ready to jump into projects with the boys again. And I left my map spread out on the table so John could plan his own adventure the following weekend. Daddy's turn!
Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.