Newsletter, Issue 17
Change 2) New Roles and Expectations
Our ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ Blueprint
With the arrival of a baby comes the arrival of a ‘mummy’ and a ‘daddy’. OK, pretty obvious! However perhaps not so obvious is that these new roles instantly bring new baggage with them. They bring the couples own experience of being parented, or not, by their ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’, however that looked and with it a range of expectations of ourselves and our partner as parents. Most of these are unconscious and it is only when we notice ourselves re-enacting something our mum or dad would have done, or strongly reacting to something our partner is or is not doing as a parent, that we start to realise we have a set vision of how we want ‘mummy’ and daddy’ to be like.
How often have you heard someone say “I sound just like my own mum/dad when I say ‘x’ to my son/daughter” or that they are scared that they are turning into their mum or dad? Despite months of waiting and preparing, the reality is that we become parents overnight so, usually unconsciously, we act from our first blueprint – our own mum or dad.
Gender differences are also exaggerated at this point. For example, many dads feel on the edge, excluded and lost when their baby arrives and unsure of their role. Fathers inevitably have a different relationship with their baby from that of the mother as the mother has physically ‘known’ her baby for months before he / she arrives. This can very easily leave dads feeling angry, resentful or jealous, some of which may be old feelings that have been triggered. For us mums there can be a whole new level of feeling torn and guilty as we try to balance responding to our baby’s needs alongside our own. And whilst a dad might return to some sort of normality with work, as mums at home with a newborn we have a whole new job without any job description or pay.
Belinda Phipps, CEO of NCT, recently said “relationship breakdown for couples is highest in the year after birth”. A statistic that emphasises that becoming parents, whether for the first, second or additional times brings greater pressure in our relationships, and that this is a stage in life where relational support can be invaluable.
Tip 2) How to Become Aware and Manage Role Expectations
Of course we have a choice and can consciously decide to parent differently and break family patterns, yet inevitably some patterns will be repeated. Changes tend to come as a reaction to our own experience or in a more sustainable way through new and increasing self-awareness. Ask yourselves:
* What did you each learn about the role of a ‘mummy’ and a ‘daddy’ from your parents?
* What expectations do you have of yourself as a parent as a result?
* When do you particularly sound or behave like your mum or dad?
* How did they divide the childcare between them? Was it equal or did one parent do more?
* Who managed the practicalities and logistics, the emotional stuff, the entertainment and fun and the discipline?
Having a discussion with your partner about what your parents were like and how that was for you as a child is very revealing and can bring new compassion for each other. It can help you both consciously create a joint vision of how you want to parent together; what you will choose to repeat and what aspects you will be trying to change. It will also flag where there is tension from differing views and how you might handle these. Be particularly aware of the natural gender differences, especially in the mother-baby bonding, and try to acknowledge your different roles and appreciate each other in what you bring rather than competing.
Dads are Vitally Important
I find it helps men to know that a dad’s job in the early days is to support and protect the mother and baby unit. Psychologically the bond between a mother and her baby is the basis for that child’s wellbeing as they grow up. Understanding this fact helps dads know that this support is a vital job and gives a clear focus rather than a sense of helplessness. As a child grows and starts to seek independence, a dad also makes all the difference by being available to his son or daughter so they can learn more from him and feel supported and safe as they separate from that early bond with their mother.
Richness and Compassion midst the Messiness
As I was writing this, I frequently noticed the desire to stop writing about what is such a complex topic, a bit for fear of not explaining it well and a bit for wishing it was easier and more humorous! Yet I have a passion for sharing my learning and perspective as it is this awareness that has made a difference to me as a mum and in my own marriage, and in my work with clients. The messy parental path and family stuff can lead to greater choice and richer relationships and above all a greater compassion for yourself and your partner, for both family and friends in their relationships and particularly for those who are new parents as they navigate the early years together.