When a new baby first arrives the focus is on the new mother and child, fussing over them, caring for their needs. And that's understandable. Everyone wants to see and hold a new baby, check in on the new mum and ensure that all is going well. The flurry of activity from an ever-changing array of people in attendance, including midwives, mothers, sisters, friends can mean though that home is full of people and the new father can feel almost redundant.
But men also undergo a radical shift in their circumstances after they've become a new father and one in ten are diagnosed with some form of post-natal depression. The birth is likely to have turned their lives upside down. There is often support, at least at first, for a new mum, for when she feels uncertain, overwhelmed and out of her depth, resulting in her perhaps becoming preoccupied and immersed in caring for the baby and herself. Consequently, checking-in on her partner can sometimes be inadvertently put on hold.
- Several men have said how much they struggled to bond with their new baby. Whilst the mother has nine months or so to connect with the growing life inside her the new father may only really appreciate that the child is a reality once it's been born and becomes a physical presence in their home.
- It's not uncommon for men to say how overwhelmed they feel when faced with a helpless, crying baby. They've concerns about hurting it, don't know how to engage and interact with it when it doesn't 'do' anything, often finding a baby a rather unnerving presence. The men I've talked with felt they had very few outlets where they could discuss their concerns. Many found themselves having only brief conversations with friends or family, feeling disinclined to disclose too much about their personal apprehensions due to reticence about how they'd be perceived.
- Some men reluctantly volunteered that post-baby they saw their partner in a whole new light, especially if they were present at the birth. Singer Robbie Williams described the birth of his child as like 'watching his favourite pub burn down'! It can be a shock for a man to see his partner giving birth, not knowing how to support her, seeing the pain she may be in, whilst witnessing the actual delivery. Then afterwards feeling bad, guilty, ashamed for having been so affected by it all.
- It's inevitable that a couple's relationship changes in practical terms. From being free agents, able to do whatever they want whenever they like their timetables are suddenly thrown into disarray, totally taken over as they focus completely on the new addition to the family. And home suddenly seems untidly full of baskets of lotions and potions, a pram, cot, children's laundry and paraphernalia everywhere. A tiny baby apparently needs roomfuls of 'stuff' to support it. So, home becomes a nursery.
- The notion of free time, spare money, spontaneous breaks and time away usually has to be shelved, at least for the first twelve months or so, especially if the baby is being breast-fed and needs to settle into a regular sleep routine. A new mum often needs time to navigate her way into this different role, to physically and emotionally adjust, to feel more herself again. Her hormones need time to readjust, her body may have changed post-pregnancy and that can cause her concern and even distress. She may need love and reassurance from her partner to feel secure and confident about herself, that she's still interesting and attractive.
- The financial balance of the relationship often shifts too, regardless of what was discussed and agreed in advance. A new mother's focus may become less career-orientated, more home-based, whilst the new father may also discover his priorities have changed, juggling the desire to spend less time at work and more at home.
- This often results in men finding themselves torn between their old life of adventure holidays, fine dining and golf pulling against the desire to become a good provider, someone whose goal is a nice home in a smart neighbourhood, with good schooling. Suddenly life's more serious and adult with the desire to succeed and do well careerwise and be a good family man. Hopefully, it's possible to accommodate both.
- Sexual intimacy can take a little while to resume. Men may feel cautious about taking the lead in initiating sex, not wanting to appear insensitive. A difficult pregnancy and birth may have resulted in physical changes and even pain, which needs time to heal from. Plus, sleepless nights and the exhaustion of coping with a new baby can mean that bedtime for both becomes totally focused on sleep and little else. Making time to talk, cuddle and be affectionate are important ways to reconnect and enjoy this next phase of the relationship.
- Being sensitive to what's said as well as not said, accepting that some decisions made pre-baby may need to be modified or changed are two other important considerations in supporting the transition to a positive parenting experience when you become a new father.
Men and women face different challenges as they adjust to life as new parents, challenges that some people seem to comfortably sail through. For men, getting used to being a father, perhaps receiving less attention physically, emotionally and sexually may take awhile to adapt to, but making time for each other, enjoying each other's company, finding time to discuss each other's needs can provide mutual support at this next stage in life, so that both feel equally involved in the new family.
Susan Leigh, Altrincham, Cheshire, South Manchester counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer & media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. She works with individual clients, couples and provides corporate workshops and support.
She's author of 3 books, 'Dealing with Stress, Managing its Impact', '101 Days of Inspiration #tipoftheday' and 'Dealing with Death, Coping with the Pain', all on Amazon & with easy to read sections, tips and ideas to help you feel more positive about your life.
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