There are some challenges we can face as a working Dad with a stay at home gentle parenting wife. Most of the days we’re out at work. Our wives can need our support more than our ancestors who lived with bigger support networks (see my wife’s previous post about a lacking support village). It takes a fine balance in the few hours we’re home to know when to step up, but also importantly, when to step back. This blog post looks at the reasons why we may need to step up or take a step back, and then we look at how to achieve this.
Stepping Up to the Parenting Role
We are all on a steep learning curve when becoming new parents. So many questions and expectations are placed on us by other parents and onlookers. I am ashamed to admit but I found become a new Dad rather easy. My wife probably found it comparably harder. I continued having my own free time in the evenings whilst she woke and fed our baby during the night. I left for work with no awareness about what my wife and baby were doing all day. I felt frustrated if I came home to a messy house.
My life and role as a father really developed when my wife went into hospital ready to have the twins. I had to take sole care of our daughter for a few days, for the first time. The first couple of days my sister came to help with the food and house, but after that I was alone. It was a wakeup call to what my wife had been doing for nearly 2 years. It was tough! My responsibilities as a father continued into the parenting role with the newborn twins too. My gut reactions were telling me to run away from the crying babies, but I had to try and support my wife to the best of my abilities too.
Some men apparently naturally fall into the role of being a father. You hear of incredible men who are rocking and bouncing their babies through the night to give their wife a few hours rest. I guess I didn’t fall into that role initially. Perhaps my wife didn’t need me or want me to. She seemed happy to respond to our daughter’s needs. With her breastfeeding on demand, to be honest, she seemed to breastfeed her anytime our daughter cried. That was a skill I could not do…
I feel I did naturally find my feet as a Dad when my eldest turned into toddlerhood. We have a really close bond now and I feel my wife and I play an equal role in her care, in the hours I’m not working. This has helped me also have closer bonds with the twins too. The benefit of COVID lockdowns has been that I’ve had even more time available to share the parenting role.
Knowing When To Take A Step Back
We have now had 2 lockdowns in the UK, and each time has reminded me at what an incredibly challenging role my wife does for our children. I even find it hard to cope whilst she is with me, so I’m not sure how she does it everyday alone whilst I’m working. She even tells me the intensity of their needs got signficantly easier from their 2nd birthday onwards. Before their 2nd birthday she was non stop rotating children to feed them, sometimes with 2 or 3 crying together.
As a result of her time alone with the children, she has significantly more experience at helping our children understand their emotions, responding to their needs and holding boundaries. This is when I have to remember to take a step back. If I feel unclear about how to cope (survive?) a situation with our children, I have to remind myself not to react in the moment but to seek my wife’s support.
Not reacting, in my wife’s research, is about staying on the ‘high road’ where you can empathise and communicate effectively. See more about the ‘high road’ and ‘low road’ in her previous post. In that post my wife explains how to stay on the ‘high road’ by dealing with personal traumas where possible. She also includes some steps to disciplining our children lovingly. If I remember to follow these steps, so far, they have worked 100% of the time, even for me. If I enter the ‘low road’ and feel frustrated or annoyed, I know that the best thing for me to do is step down and let my wife take over. I can then take a breather to get myself back onto the ‘high road’ quicker.
Knowing How to Step Up
As a working Dad, we are not necessarily around for many hours of the children’s waking hours. We have to go to work and earn money otherwise our family may quickly be in financial difficulty. However it is clear that in the hours we are around our families, we need to step up to the father role to help our children grow up feeling loved.
Stepping up for me means to support our children and / or my wife in the parenting duties. When our children were babies, that meant I took over the cleaning and cooking roles. Now they are toddlers, it means being present and available to them when I’m home. Sometimes this comes easier than others, depending on how stressful work is during the day.
This need to be present to our children is something we can all work on. It involves consciously thinking about putting everything else aside for the moment and spending it focused solely on our children. For further tips on connecting with our children, my wife’s post about how to connect is really useful.