Do you wish your husband would share his feelings with you more? Join the crowd! This is one of the most common complaints women have about their husbands. They wonder, Why do men clam up and isolate themselves from the pregnancy? Well, it’s mostly because of the pent-up feelings I’ll discuss.
Here’s the first one:
We Feel Responsible.
Pregnancy is all our fault. A loving husband often says to himself during pregnancy, “Jeez, here’s my lovely wife, puking nonstop; she can’t sleep at night, her back is killing her, her hair’s falling out, and the only relief she’ll get from this pregnancy is through an excruciating childbirth!”
But it doesn’t stop there. Seeing his wife needs extra help and that he’s in a position to protect her, the expectant dad will often feel it’s his obligation to make sure the pregnancy and birth go off without a hitch. What if something bad happens to my wife or baby during pregnancy? he thinks. What if I’m so nervous that I get in a wreck while driving my wife to the hospital while she’s in labor? What if the baby comes so fast that I have to deliver it myself?
Here’s what other dads have shared with me:
My fear is about not knowing what to do. What do I do when our baby cries and my wife’s not around?
I’m afraid that I won’t meet my wife’s standards and expectations. And also that I will let our son down by not knowing what his needs are.
I’m afraid there will be something wrong with our baby.
I keep worrying that I’ll miss the birth.
We Feel Afraid and Intimidated, but Can’t Express it.
It’s a slam-dunk that your husband has fears of this type, too. Of course, so do you—you’re probably also afraid of stepping into your new role as a mother and making sure your kids have what they need. It’s a big job, no matter how much your finances, family, or friends can help with it.
But keep in mind that as a mom, you’re allowed more of an outlet for your fears because your friends and family will not consider you “unwomanly” if you express those feelings. What’s more, you can counterbalance talking about your fears of motherhood by talking about the delights of motherhood with other women and with your husband.
There are hardly any books or classes for dads: across the country, the services for new and expectant moms far outnumber those for dads. In the parenting section of any bookstore, you’ll find the shelves stuffed with books geared toward moms, but hardly any for dads.
While you’re pregnant, your husband may feel more comfortable opening up to some other men who are already fathers, so you could help by suggesting he hook up with another expectant dad, or a dad with young kids. Your husband may have met a guy he could be friends with at your childbirth class, and they may have even exchanged phone numbers, but since they’re guys, they’ve probably never called each other!
If you want to get your husband to share his feelings with you as well as with other men, then you must share some parenting activities with him, starting right now. Otherwise, he’ll probably take on a grin-and-bear-it, stiff-upper-lip attitude toward parenting for the rest of his life. Validating his feelings and encouraging his involvement by asking him to participate is a good start toward effective communication habits and strong team parenting. For example, you can involve your husband in activities such as prenatal checkups, getting your sonogram, birthing classes, the baby shower registry and the baby shower, learning how to use new equipment, and the birth (cutting the umbilical cord).
When the baby is born, don’t underestimate the importance of cutting the umbilical cord if your husband tells you he wants to do it. Make sure one of you tells the doctor before, during, and after the birth that he really wants to do this, because doctors can forget.
We Feel Helpless When We See You in Pain.
When someone you love is hurting, how do you feel? Awful, right? How would you feel if the man you loved were in some kind of horrible pain and your role was to just, well, stand there?
For one thing, you’d be frustrated. Most guys are used to being the tough ones in the family, and they’re demoted to hand-holding while their wives are screaming. Most guys who have seen their wives give birth will come back to class and say something like, “Man, I have so much more respect for my wife now that I’ve seen what she went through. She’s so tough!” A statement like this is a sign that your husband is growing emotionally. It has the added benefit of making you more attractive to your husband when you probably feel, as some of the moms in my workshops have said, “like a cow.”
We are also Tired, Stressed, and Overwhelmed after the Birth.
While men admit they can’t hold a candle to the physical pain and exhaustion their wives undergo after childbirth, they may also be tired, stressed, and overwhelmed during the pregnancy and when the new baby arrives. While your needs and the baby’s physical needs may be the most pressing, don’t forget to ask your husband how he’s doing once in awhile, or even prompt relatives and friends to ask how he’s doing. As a mom, you can also reply how both of you are doing when people ask how you’re doing as a mom. The point is to acknowledge that your husband is a dad and has a place in the family.
Forming a team parenting relationship starts now, so give him space and permission to gripe a little. If he says, “I’m really tired,” don’t snap back, “Well, how do you think I feel?” He may not be as tired as you, but if you want to parent as a team, and if you want him to open up to you, you need to let him gripe sometimes. Try saying, “It sounds like you’re pretty tired. Why don’t you go take a nap?” He might do so, he might not, but the point is that you’ve noticed and acknowledged that he is tired.
Some things to remember:
- Your husband feels responsible for the pregnancy and any pain you will go through as a result.
- Your husband may be freaked out about the possibility of things going wrong in the delivery room (or on the way there!). He might also be frustrated that he can’t take away your pain, or scared about taking on his new role as a father.
- Your husband has fewer resources than you to draw on.
- Your husband may not feel like he’s “allowed” to share his feelings with you.
- Be aware that your husband may be a few steps behind you in terms of adjusting, but that doesn’t mean he’s not catching up.