My husband became a father for the first time a month after turning 26 years old. He did not know instinctively how to be a father or how to support me during labour or postpartum. The 21 year old me, rather than telling him what I needed from him, started resenting him instead. I assumed that as my partner and equal, he should just know and that I shouldn’t have to ask for the help that any new mother would desperately welcome. I expected him to be like my father and at the time wasn’t able to see they were two different people with two different upbringings. This continued on with our second and third children, each time with me building up more and more resentment to the point where it affected our marriage significantly and he remained clueless as to why. I was too stubborn to ask for help and as a result struggled and became bitter towards him and the freedoms he enjoyed.
Society is built in such a way that women are expected to instinctively know how to be a mother and a good one at that but motherhood doesn’t come easy. Our bodies do not miraculously heal and we are not born knowing how to be mothers. We may have the primal instinct to protect our young, but everything else is learnt as we navigate through uncharted territories. Postpartum recovery is not widely spoken about even amongst us mothers. We fear being labelled ungrateful if we were to openly speak about how difficult, messy, exhausting, and sometimes lonely, caring for a newborn is while we cope with our traumatized bodies. Perhaps that’s where the problem lies. Most of the child-rearing responsibilities seem to fall on the mother because she is deemed the caretaker by nature and many men like my husband fail to see the fault in that. It’s not just a cultural thing, it’s a universal thing that needs to change.
So this time around, especially after my emergency C-section, I humbled myself and asked my husband to take two weeks off from work. Initially, he assumed being there at home and washing the dishes was enough, but it was not. However, this time instead of letting resentment take over and ruin what was supposed to be a happy period in our lives, I told him exactly what I needed from him. Because I had clearly communicated my needs and expectations, I watched him transform into the father and partner I needed him to be. Because I opened up that line of communication, my husband was able to tell me that I was too much of a perfectionist and that he feared not being able to meet my expectations or do things as well as I do them. I had to learn to trust him, even if that meant letting him make little mistakes and learn (just as I had), and minimize the excessive hovering.
As a result, I watched my husband bond with our youngest daughter months earlier than he did with our other kids simply by taking care of her, gain confidence in his abilities, and then take over other responsibilities as well without being asked to. As a result I was able to take breaks to focus on rest, healing, and my mental-well being for the first time in years. Perhaps what makes me the most happiest is knowing that my husband and I are now modelling a healthy partnership to our young and impressionable kids. One day, when the time comes, my daughter will hopefully know how to ask for help and receive it and my sons will be able to offer the help and support their wives will require just as they had witnessed growing up at home.
The reason I’m sharing this today is because parenting is a partnership and we shouldn’t be too proud or ashamed to ask for support if it isn’t already or readily available. We shouldn’t just accept the stereotypical roles society has placed upon mothers versus fathers. Something as difficult as child-rearing has the potential to strengthen a marriage/relationship or break it and as I’ve learned over the years the choice ultimately lies with us and how well we communicate our needs if we feel like they aren’t being seen.
And with that, Happy Father’s Day weekend to all the wonderful fathers who make an effort and continue to do so, no matter how difficult! You make our world go round and for that we are very grateful.