Editors Note: This is a four-part series of articles that examine the pressures a child places on your relationship and some of the things to try and remember, especially when times get tough.
There seems to be this misconception that having a baby brings you and your partner together, to the extent that some people mistakenly believe that having a child will save their relationship.
I can categorically say, it will not save your relationship, in fact, quite the opposite, having a baby has the potential to destroy relationships, even ones that seem rock solid. Adding a child into the mix will test you and your relationship in ways you could not have imagined.
We are all still grappling with this modern man thing and a generation of fathers who are not only more involved in child-rearing than any previous generation but significantly involved. And so sometimes when something is new and not quite normal yet, we fall back into old habits, even if those old habits are bad for everyone.
There is no doubt that even in 2019, moms still run the parenting world. But where does that leave the father who wants to actively and impactfully father his children? The father who doesn’t want to just be plan b, but wants to truly co-parent. The father who wants to be your partner. Well, it leaves him often feeling like the assistant parent.
There is a term called “maternal gatekeeping” (yes it is a real thing, Google it) and this behaviour is partially, but significantly, responsible for how involved a father is with their child.
Basically, this concept is where the mom (who is often positioned as the CEO parent, by society and then adopted as fact by parents) attempt to micro-manage a father’s parenting style and practices – this plays out in different ways from ridiculing, hovering, instructing, distrust or an inability to let go and leave him to his own devices. All of these undermine his confidence in his abilities and make him feel devalued.
This “maternal gatekeeping” is not coming from a malicious or intentionally antagonistic place, but from a mother’s instinct to protect her child and her conditioning by society that she “knows” best.
But regardless of the intention or contributing factors, this behaviour almost always results in a counter behaviour from men – they remove themselves and leave it to the mom, whilst harbouring an unhealthy amount of resentment.
And in turn, the mother sees this stepping back as being a father not sharing the load, moms are often unaware of their role in this behaviour, which results in her harbouring her own little stash of unhealthy resentment. And so begins the fighting, and blaming, and doubling down and round and round the merry-go-round, we go.
While I was pregnant, I was chatting to my sister-in-law and her husband about how some moms seem so possessive, they don’t even trust their husbands to do anything for their kids, aside maybe from taking the kid for a walk around the block but only after she herself had strapped said child into the stroller.
My sister-in-law said something that really stuck with me, “Unless he has dropped the dummy in poo and is about to put the poo dunked dummy into the infant’s mouth, say nothing. Do not say anything about how he does up the nappy. Do not say anything about how he holds her. Do not say anything about what he dresses her in or how he does her hair. Do not say anything about what he makes her for lunch. Because if you want him to do it at all, he has to be able to do it his way.”
My sister-in-law is quite a smart cookie, and this is very good advice. Really hard to always stick to but good advice to try and stick to none the less.
Not only can treating your partner like your assistant cause them to retreat from being an active, engaged and nurturing parent, it can also cause the disintegration of your marriage as well.
As a mom who wants a partner who does his fair share, I have to accept that the way we parent is different, that we will almost never tackle the same task from the same angle and that my way is not the only way. And really unless he is endangering your child’s life (which I seriously doubt will ever be the case) then who cares how he does what he does, as long as it gets done?
Also Read: Relationship Series Part 1
Another aspect of treating your partner like an assistant positions him as your helper. He is not your helper, as this implies ownership on your part, and not his, he is your partner, you are not his boss.
When you ask your partner to “help” you in tasks that are communal – like taking out the trash, packing a lunch box, dressing the kids – you are positioning yourself as asking a favour, positioning yourself to be indebted to his part in completing the task. This is why men are often praised for doing the most random of tasks, but what’s more, it is why they expect to receive accolades for doing these run of the mill chores. Because we have told them, maybe not in so many words, but clearly none the less, that they are not capable to do anything more than performing the function of second-in-command to the mother, the assistant, the helper.
As hard as it is to reign in that instinct to take control and do what our predecessors have always done – raise the babies, in today’s world with dads who want leading roles in their child’s life, not just an extra, we have to lean back and let them lean in to the role of father.
You are both equal, and while you might tackle things differently, he is equally qualified as you are to parent. You both have exactly the same resume with exactly the same amount of work experience.
Leigh Tayler is a writer, a Leo, a feminist, a fan of The Walking Dead, a lover of all things unicorn and nearly succumbs to rage strokes on the daily. Oh, and she also happens to be a mother to one small feral child. She wears her heart on her sleeve and invariably tells it like it is, the good the bad and the ugly. She juggles her writing, her family, her sanity in-between a demanding career in advertising. She has no shame in sharing her harebrained and high-strung anecdotes on her experience of motherhood, no sugar coating, no gloss, just her blunt truth with a healthy side order of sarcasm. Find her on her blog, The Ugly Truth of Being a Mom.