December 11, 2018

Mothering and Fathering: Learning How to Parent as a Team

Encouragement

I know that I don’t often talk about my husband on the podcast or on social media. He mentioned it to me the other day, that most of my posts are of me and the kids, and I hadn’t thought of it but he is right. Obviously I am writing to and connecting with other moms, so in my mind it makes sense to focus on me as the mother and talk to mothers about their experiences, but so much of my story, and I’m sure yours too, can be missing when we don’t talk about the dads, if they are in the picture.

In our case, Matt has been an awesome dad from day one, but we have not been without our struggles as to how to balance our caregiving work and our jobs. His heart is toward his daughters, and he looks for every opportunity to spend time with them, play with them, teach them, and engage with them emotionally. I couldn’t honestly ask for a better partner in parenting than him. Thankfully our parenting values are also pretty aligned, so we don’t have too many major disagreements about our approach either. The rub for us simply came in the sheer work that it takes to raise two kids and the default of me tending to feel like I had to do everything and do it perfectly. Similar to when we first married (which could be another post for another day), once we had children the typical mother and father roles began to come into play. Obviously when the girls were small I was the one nursing, and doing the majority of the physical caregiving. I loved being with them physically, spending time with them and being the one to nourish them, comfort them, and get them to sleep. But I also went back to work at around 3 months with both children, so once that happened my energy levels were heavily tapped.

Over time, while we were playing the typical mother/father roles out as our girls were small, I began to get very resentful. I didn’t really recognize it at the time as that, but I was. Honestly, I was resentful in some ways that he had so much physical freedom, even that he had to go to work and could get out of the house and have a reason to leave. I resented how many night wakings I had to do for feedings, and how much it felt like the caregiving and working load was placed on me. The resentment took deep root in my heart and just festered. In Matt’s mind he was doing all the things that a good father should, and I don’t think he was aware. Some of this were his assumptions about what needed to be done, and some of it was my unwillingness to ask for help. I honestly didn’t want to have to ask, I just wanted him to know what I needed and take care of it. In hindsight I see that’s not ver fair, but when you are supremely sleep deprived, caring for a toddler and nursing a baby, things aren’t exactly always rational. You are surviving, and you need a lifeline. I also realized that some things I didn’t ask for help with because if I was being really honest, I wanted them to be done a certain way.

By the time my second child was six months old, I was plunged into a dark corner of postpartum depression coupled with some very strange emotional and neurological symptoms that I would only find out later were the beginnings of Lyme Disease. Treatment would be paid out of pocket, and finances were very tough. This further polarized us, and our emotional connection was tenuous at best. We are mostly operating on caffeine and bitterness throughout that entire season of life. I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, only the darkness. We fought hard to make our way out of that tunnel once we realized how dark and hopeless things had become. We went to therapy, we read books, we recommitted ourselves to each other, even though we were consumed by our roles and responsibilities and stress.

Over time, I began to heal, our girls grew, and things began to become more clear. We were making our way out of the woods. We both had done some major emotional work on ourselves and our communication patterns as a couple. I learned how to ask, and not expect it to be done a certain way. He learned to anticipate my needs and the girl’s needs, and worked on being more sensitive to that. We both began to grow, and as we did, we grew toward each other again. We shaved off some of the rough edges and drew near to each other, becoming a true parenting team. I won’t say that everything is roses now, as we continue to have challenges and work through them, but I know that we are so much stronger than we were before.

As difficult as that season was, it forced us to do some serious digging and realize how resilient we really were. I often say that if a marriage can survive young children it’s a miracle. Becoming a parent doesn’t just change the mother, it changes the father and the marriage relationship forever. I can honestly say that although Matt and I were 30 years old, we had so much growing up to do when we became parents. As we were raising our girls, they were shaping us and helping us grow. The trials and difficulty were worth it to know that we are still committed to each other, and that we can create a home for our children where we do hard things together. I can look back now with gratitude on those years.

Please know that if you are in the thick of it with parenting, figuring out your role as a caregiver, wife, and employee or business owner, you are not alone. None of this is easy, but it isn’t impossible. I was lucky to have a husband who was willing to do the hard personal work along with me, and I recognize that is not always the case. Just know that you get stronger, and situations do change, no matter how challenging it seems right now.

It's time to thrive, mama.

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About The Author

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Hilary Barnett

Hilary Barnett is the founder of The New Mystique where she believes every mother is extraordinary, and typically writes the words that she most needs to hear.

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