“Thank you,” I said to my husband as I quietly walked in the garage door late one Monday night, finally home from a meeting. I tucked my purse and jacket in the closet, walked over to the couch where my husband had clearly been sleeping, as evidenced by his blank look of confusion, and asked how our son had been.
“Good,” was the in-depth answer I got, but it was all I expected and all I needed to hear before heading upstairs to check on my snoozing son before heading to bed myself.
That seems to be our routine any time I’m away from my son — I come home, say thank you, and peek in on my son if he’s asleep, because even if I’ve only been gone half an hour, I’ve missed him.
It’s not often that I’m the one who’s gone and my husband’s the one who’s home, but when it is the case, I feel compelled to say thank you. Thank you for making it possible for me to go to a meeting, prenatal yoga, or a doctor’s appointment without simultaneously wrangling a preschooler. While it seems appropriate — “thank you” is a way of expressing gratitude, after all — I have to wonder if it’s the right thing to say.
I say thank you for a lot of things — thank you for working so hard for us, thank you for doing the dishes, thank you for putting up with me. These are thank you’s for things I know he doesn’t have to do, but I appreciate that he does, but somehow they feel different.
I am thankful that my husband can be home with my son when I have somewhere else to be. I don’t need to have that worry that comes with having a babysitter or having someone else be responsible for my son; he’s with his dad, so I know everything is okay. Also, as the wife of a dad who is gone frequently for work, it thrills me to no end that not only is he home, but he’s spending one-on-one time with his son. So grateful, thankful, appreciative — yes, I am all of those things when my son is home with his dad.
But the more I say thank you, the more I wonder whether it’s the right thing to say. The words thank you seem to imply he’s doing me a favor. While in a way he is, that’s not really what’s happening at all. I’m a firm believer in the camp that dads don’t babysit; they parent. But it’s more than that. The more I say thank you, the more I feel like I’m encouraging the thought that he is doing me a favor and not just fulfilling his natural role as half of a parenting team.
When the tables are turned, which is often the normal scenario, he doesn’t walk in the door and say thanks. I don’t expect him to, and I would be caught off guard if he did. I feel like thanks is a nice sentiment for a lot of things, like doing laundry and cooking dinner, but not for parenting. It makes me wonder if my saying thanks is belittling his role and perhaps someone how sending him the message that he doesn’t need to be doing it and is going out of his way to do so. Maybe by saying thanks, I’m reinforcing a message I don’t believe in at all.
But not saying anything doesn’t feel right either. It’s gratitude for being there and keeping our son safe and happy that I’m trying to express, not appreciation for doing me a favor. So perhaps a better way of saying thanks is saying what I’m really thinking:
I’m glad you can be there for our son.
I’m grateful that I’m able to do the other things that don’t necessarily have to do with being “mom” without letting my son down.
I treasure the laughs and squeals and giggles I hear as I walk out the door, the ones that are reserved just for Dad.
Or maybe he just knows that if I say thanks, what I really mean is all of those things put together. —Heather Neal