When I was getting used to being a new mum, I remember waiting each day for my husband to come home from work. I would clock watch, counting down the hours, minutes and seconds. He would come in from work, and have a baby thrust into his arms, and hear the woes of his beloved wife fall out of her mouth in a diatribe of emotion.
If he so much as went to a shop on the way home, I was full of envy. “You did what? You strolled through an aisle, with not a care in the world, browsing and thinking, while being uninterrupted, and slowly selecting what you wanted. What I wouldn’t give to be able to do that….”.
Poor man. I was thrust into a world that I’d never been in before. While I was getting used to it, he was getting used to me.
This “envy” thing is a big one, and it hits us when parenthood hits us. It’s big because it threatens our relationships. This is because up until now, a man and his partner have pretty much experienced the same things. Both have had to go to school. Both have had to forge a career. Both have had to answer to a boss or company. Both have had to work five days a week. Both know what it’s like to come home from work, tired, needing some food, a drink and a sit down. We are equal. We come home, we share making the dinner, we share our stories, and we share a cuddle. But, when a baby comes along, for the first time in our liberated, equality ridden lives, man and woman’s lives diverge. Now, we have a woman at home, with a baby, all day. We have a man having to maintain his previous levels of functioning at work, and come home to chaos. He needs to suddenly take care of his wife and baby, while keeping his boss happy, and keeping his own sanity. So, while she envies his trip to the shop (for the baby wipes that were needed), his point of view might go a little like this. “You did what? You went to a friend’s house for a cup of tea? You chatted, and laughed, with not a care in the world. And the house is a tip. You could at least have tidied up a little”.
He doesn’t understand the strains of being at home with a baby. He doesn’t understand that sometimes, if mum and baby are dressed and have not gone hungry all day, that is an achievement. She doesn’t understand how tired he really is. How much in need he is of his pre-baby freedom and carefree life. She doesn’t understand what it feels like to have a baby thrust at you when what you need is a smile from your loved one. She doesn’t understand that he might be worried about her, feeling like a not- good-enough husband, and guilt ridden (research shows that on average, men do not express feelings of guilt, but keep it hidden).
When we don’t understand what is going on for the other person, and when our lives suddenly diverge, then envy breeds. Envy is a big divider, as there is nothing good or helpful about it. It leads to arguments, accusations, and diminishes compassion and empathy.
There is one very simple way to avoid this happening when you have your baby. This simple solution has the following advantages:
- it gives dad bonding time with his baby
- it increases dad’s confidence at parenting
- it gives mum a much needed break
- it gives dad a chance to develop his own parenting style, his way
- it reduces the misunderstanding and envy that can arise
- it increases mum’s loving feelings towards her partner
Have you worked out what it is yet? It’s simple:
Let daddy and baby be alone together on a regular basis.
Begin with just a few hours a week. Mums, make sure you go out of the house, and leave him in the house, alone, with his baby. Then, as baby becomes less dependent on your breast, you can stretch this to full days out, when you go shopping, or to the spa, or a haircut, or skydiving. Whatever. It will do you the power of good. It will do his confidence the power of good. And he will begin to understand that being with a baby is a full time job, and why the house is a tip.
As a mum, you might struggle with this (your mothering hormones are protective and you want to be around all the time). As a dad, you might struggle (“what if baby needs a feed, or I can’t settle her”), but the outcome will be fantastic. As a dad, you will begin to feel proud of your parenting ability (“hey, I can do this”), you will bond more strongly with your little one (“she smiled at me”), you will understand why the house is a tip when you come home from work. But there’s an added bonus. Your wife will appreciate you more, trust you more, and may even be more affectionate towards you. Hey – you might even manage some action in the bedroom department (a strong aphrodisiac for women is admiration and thankfulness towards her beloved). After all, “a happy wife is a happy life”, and giving your partner a break while you take the baby AND do some housework comes pretty high up on the ladder of glory.
So, this fathers day, you have two choices. If you are already a “hands on” dad, and do a lot of the childcare, including being alone with your baby on a regular basis, then take a break, and spoil yourself for the day. If you want more time with your children, because work interferes with that, or if you have never been alone with your baby, make father’s day a place to start what you intend to continue. Be a dad with your precious, fast changing, adoring child. By next month, he or she will have changed forever. Catch it now.
For more psychological parenting tips, take the three hour Mindful Parenting workshop. http://www.yourbirthright.co.uk/index.asp?PageID=31. The workshop is suitable before you have your baby, or after and is designed to increase your confidence while doing the most difficult and important job in the world.
Mia Scotland, Clinical Psychologist, Complete Childbirth Preparation