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If you are thinking about having a baby, or expecting one, I would suggest discussing with your partner how you are going to share responsibility for bringing up your baby, before the wee one arrives. It would be much less stressful. We all have different expectations of parenthood, and it is important to explore your expectations, and how they compare to your partner's.
My son, Coby, turned nine months today. I didn't fully appreciate the importance of having this dialogue; I guess I was focusing on my pregnancy and thinking ahead to the birth. When our baby was born it was challenging for both of us readjusting to being parents for the first time. It's a huge shift in your life, and in your relationship. Then, on top of that, you have different ideas about what it means to be 'mum' and 'dad'.
You don't realise how much work it is looking after a baby before they arrive, you feel completely unprepared. I thought I was going to be a lady-of-leisure to which my mum laughed, she knew better after six children. A friend insists that after her baby is born she is going to work from home full-time, and look after her baby at the same time; really? She's in for a big shock. Even after explaining to this friend how full-on it really is, she is still offering me work to do at home because I have 'time on my hands'. Several people have asked 'what do you do all day?' as if you are sitting around twiddling your thumbs.
For the first few months my partner got quite involved, I guess it was a novelty. Then his involvement gradually stopped. He was comfortable with me doing everything. But it felt impossible with a baby who didn't sleep much during the day, up several times in the night, and recovering from a c-section. It hit rock bottom when I asked him to give his son a bath one evening and he said 'that's your job'. I got the same response when I asked him to feed his son. It wasn't that I was being difficult, I was carrying out other work tasks. He really thought he didn't have to bother.
Of course, he works during the day so the main chunk of childcare is my responsibility. And that is a role I cherish. But, surely there is a responsibility on men to ensure their partners are getting enough support for their health and well-being? And, of course, to spend quality time with their baby.
When I was born my dad wasn't present at the birth, that was normal in these days; the father tended to be the sole breadwinner and had very little responsibility for parenting. I don't think that detached relationship served fathers or babies very well. By the time my little sister was born, sixteen years later, things had changed and he was present at the birth. Times change. This has been a good change, however, I think things could still be improved.
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Every new mum I have talked to has some struggle getting the support she needs from her partner. I guess that surprises me as I thought this was a thing of the past.
One new mum shared with me how she had a meltdown because she couldn't do everything. The outcome was the husband 'helping out' by carrying out the nightly bath, but at the same time refusing to put on baby's pj's and nappy afterwards. Is that not simply ridiculous?
Another new mum is struggling because she hasn't had any time off in fifteen months, that's a long time. You feel for her as she isn't taking care of her needs, and at what cost to her health? Mothers need to be healthy to take care of their children.
It is a shame for the fathers as they are missing out on special moments with their babies, and a shame for the babies as the relationship with their fathers is limited. I think it is a good thing for babies' emotional and social development to have a stronger relationship with their fathers. This is what I seek for my son.
Simple actions can make a huge difference:
- When you are not working, share responsibility for looking after your child. For example, why not be responsible for the daily bath or reading the bedtime story?
- Make sure you both get enough sleep. It is extremely exhausting looking after a baby, especially when your sleep is interrupted. Why not let your partner have a long-lie once a week?
- If your partner asks for help, offer it. She's asking because she really needs help, not because she's lazy.
- Spend time looking after your baby to give your partner a proper break. For example, why not take your baby for a long walk in the park?
Lorna Balfour is a personal trainer, lifestyle coach, and new mum.