Mothers often feel like they practically belong to their baby. They are immersed in babyland. Nurturing an infant is incredibly meaningful but mothers can also feel like they’re losing themselves. One minute they feel like the luckiest person in the world and the next minute they wonder if they’ll survive. I remember thinking after my child was born, “Why didn’t anybody tell me what this was going to be like?”
The maternal experience requires an internal struggle where mothers must re-find and re-define themselves, which is an emotionally complicated thing to do.
Fathers struggle too. Typically, in the baby’s first few months of life the primary attachment is to the mother. I’m not suggesting that one parent is more important than the other. Children benefit when roles and responsibilities are shared. Nevertheless, the baby’s need for mommy combined with her desire to be with her baby creates an intense bond. As fathers experience the inter-dependency between their wife and child, they can feel left out and even envious. “She has plenty of time for the baby but then nothing left over for me.”
Added to these everyday experiences are many challenging emotions: selfishness, guilt, disappointment, worry, anger and even hatred — feelings that parents aren’t prepared for and are ashamed to talk about.
The emotional and psychological trials of having a child are rarely discussed. So parents are left to question themselves.“What kind of parent feels this way?”
Actually, these darker feelings are an unavoidable aspect of parenting. Feelings, even the disturbing ones, are not character flaws or signs of weakness; they are signs of life. These painful emotions, and the confusion and self doubt they create, are what make parenting so difficult.
The challenge for couples is to learn how to understand and tolerate all of their emotions, even the ones that make them uncomfortable, without beating themselves up or pulling away from each other. Sometimes, parenting doesn’t feel very good and you won’t be your best self. It’s tempting, at these times, to blame and criticize. Instead, learn to talk about your feelings and use them to better understand yourself and your partner. Because babies make life hectic, avoiding difficult topics may seem like a good idea. The opposite is true. Open, honest, respectful conversations will ultimately lead to a stronger more trusting relationship.