When you decided to have children you imagined you would be doing it together, you’d be working as a team and it would bring you closer together. The reality is that sometimes you feel like a single mum because you’re doing the lion’s share of parenting. When you ask your husband for help it doesn’t make a difference. So it just seems easier to do it all yourself. But this is not what you imagined when you decided to start a family.
Sound familiar? It can help to understand why your husband is not the hands on dad you imagined. Because once you understand it makes it easier to do something about it. And to understand what’s happening now, it means going back to when you first became parents and what happened then.
The reality of parenting
When you went to ante natal classes and were decorating the nursery, you talked about what it would be like to be parents and thought you were doing all you could to prepare yourself. Whereas the reality is that nothing can prepare you for what it’s really like. As Nora Ephron says
‘A child is a grenade. When you have a baby, you set off an explosion in your marriage, and when the dust settles, your marriage is different from what it was. Not better, not worse, but different.’Nora Ephron
And you were having to handle these changes in your marriage at the same time as learning the new skills of looking after a baby whilst being sleep deprived. It’s no wonder that you didn’t have any chance to figure out what it meant for your marriage. Because all your attention was on what your new baby needed and you didn’t have space for much else.
How you experience parenthood
The way in which mums and dads experience parenthood is different. For mums our bodies are flooded with hormones to encourage us to take care of our new baby. This doesn’t happen to dads. Nature does not give them a helping hand to adjust to their new role as a father.
Becoming a mother has been described as a metamorphosis because of the new deep and selfless love you feel your new child. This results in a huge shift about your priorities in life and you discover you are willing to make enormous sacrifices for your children.
Your husband watched this happening when your first child was born. So when your husband says you’re different than you were before children he’s right. Because nature gave you a rush of hormones to help you adjust to the role of being mother and your husband is noticing the changes in you.
He felt left out
Before having children you had lots of time together, and could do things spontaneously. That all changed when you had a baby. Whilst you both knew this would be the case, you probably weren’t ready for just how different this was going to be. And particularly for your husband who can feel like he’s been replaced by the baby in terms of your attention and affection.
He saw you spending all your time looking after your baby, cuddling and nurturing them. Your baby became the centre of your world, when previously this was probably your husband. And this left him feeling left out. And perhaps begrudging how little time you had for him, or that you were always tired.
Now I get that you were doing a lot of hard work and that night feeds and disturbed sleep were not fun. But we’re trying to understand what it was like for your husband at this time, so that you can figure out why he’s not the hands on dad now.
What does this mean now
This all has a lasting impact on your marriage. The shock of the reality of a new baby, the changes that happened in your body along with how your husband handled it all changed your marriage and relationship with each other.
It makes sense that in those early weeks and months your attention was focused on your new baby. But the changes it makes to your marriage can stay stuck. What started as your husband complaining ‘you’re always preoccupied by the baby’ becomes ‘you never have time for me’.
But most of all your husband can miss you, because he’s now having to share you. Even though you made a joint decision to start a family, your husband probably wasn’t aware of the feelings it would create for him.
And what this means for lots of dad is that they don’t experience the transformation to parenthood with you, so get left behind. They’ve not kept up with you on the journey. Leaving them kind of stuck in the no mans land between what life was like before children and the reality of parenthood, but not fully engaged in family life.
So it can look like he’s standing back and not stepping up to the plate. Whereas the reality is he hasn’t kept up with you in the seismic changes which having a baby made to your marriage. He doesn’t know how to handle the unexpected mix of thoughts and feelings he has. He doesn’t know what to do so ends up doing nothing.
If you’re frustrated because you feel all the parenting is left up to you, I hope this blog has helped you understand the reasons why. Because once you understand, doing something about it is so much easier, which I cover in my next blog How can I get my husband to help more with the kids?