The next time you see a father out shopping with his kids, you might need to check your assumptions.
“I’ll get the, ‘Oh, look, it’s a dad! That’s so sweet!’ “says Jonathan Heisey-Grove, a stay-at-home father of two young boys in Alexandria, Va., who is pretty sure the other person assumes he’s just giving Mom a break for the day. In fact, he’s part of a growing number of fathers who are minding the kids full time while their wives support the family and who say societal expectations are not keeping up with their reality.
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According to research, the biggest drop in marital satisfaction occurs after the birth of the first child. Anyone who has cared for a newborn understands the all-consuming nature of caring for a very young baby. The challenge for couples is to integrate a little one into their lives, while retaining a sense of themselves as a couple.
Although it is certainly nice to be able to go out on a formal date, carving out the time to do so can be unrealistic for many new parents who may also be very nervous about leaving their newborn. Maintaining a connection with your spouse can be less complicated and less time-intensive than you may realize. Try these simple strategies for staying close:
1. Get physical. Eye contact, smiles, warm embraces, holding hands, sitting close to one another, or giving a quick neck massage are easy ways to maintain a physical connection without it taking much time. Resuming your sexual relationship is also important whenever you are both ready.
2. Express words of appreciation and support. Words are tremendously powerful in fostering connection. If you were a new parent, how do you imagine you would respond to your spouse saying the following things to you?
“I’m so glad to see you.”
“Thanks so much for letting me get a little sleep. I really appreciate it.”
“This is hard work, but I’m so lucky you are in here with me.”
“I miss you.”
“You are amazing with the baby.”
Kind words do not take much time to utter, but can have long-lasting positive effects on the bond with your spouse.
3. Establish yourselves as a team. Parenting is much easier when you are truly working together. Much too often, what actually happens is that Mom becomes the parent, while Dad moves into the position of being her helper. Even our language reflects this arrangement: “Is your husband helping you with the baby?” The first few weeks of parenthood are a vital time to negotiate your partnership as parents. It is important you support one another as you both muddle through the challenges of caring for a new baby. Don’t be too quick to swoop in and take the baby if Dad is struggling. If you are breastfeeding, consider pumping occasionally so Dad can bond with the baby and you can get a little rest.
If you are able to move toward one another and work your way through the challenges you face after a baby enters your lives, your relationship will definitely emerge strengthened.
Working moms multitask about 10 hours per week more than working fathers according to a study published in the December 2011 edition of the American Sociological Review. On average, working mothers spent 48 hours per week multitasking, while working fathers averaged 39 hours. Women in the study were more often juggling childcare and housework, while men were more likely to be engaged in less labor-intensive multitasking, such as returning a business call while watching their child playing. The study’s authors, Shira & Schneider, suggest these findings explain why women report feeling more rushed and stressed out than their partners, even when both may have a similar workload.
Because women are under more scrutiny than men for their abilities as housekeepers and mothers, they found multitasking to be a more negative experience, while men experienced multitasking as positive. The study’s authors suggest it is important for men to share household and childcare tasks more equally, and that employers need to allow men more flexibility so they can be more involved in home life. Here’s the link to the full study:
Multitasking and Well-Being among Mothers and Fathers in Dual Earner Families
What is your experience? Do you feel you and your spouse share tasks equitably? If so, what did you do to make things feel fair?
NPR has an interesting article today about how your spouse’s behavior can affect your mental health: Mate Doesn’t Have Your Back? That Boosts Depression Risk.