Perhaps, you thought that you and your partner would be on the same page in terms of “growing up” and taking care of your new little baby? Perhaps, you thought you’d both suddenly be so much more mature? Perhaps, the reality of where each of you are in your development as new parents is causing you distress?
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…
Have you ever heard of the word, “generativity?” This is a fancy term coined by psychologist, Erik Erikson and basically it means becoming less selfish and more selfless. Moving into this stage of generativity usually happens somewhere in adulthood and it often coincides nicely with people who are becoming parents for the first time.
This makes sense to me – a baby is born, a family is created and suddenly you find out what real responsibility means. You now have to take care of this completely helpless person. You are “nudged” into growing up and maturing into the role of parent so you can put your needs on the back burner while you attend to all of your baby’s needs.
It would be so lovely if both you and your partner grew up and into your role as parents at the same time and at the same pace. But oftentimes, this isn’t the case.
Maybe it’s the sheer physical demands that the person with the baby on board goes through during pregnancy, or through the birth itself, but they’ll often reach this state of generativity at a quicker rate than their partner.
This can be cause for great conflict in the early weeks and months of life with your new baby. Because of their physical ties to the baby, especially if they’re breast/chestfeeding, the postpartum person might feel resentful toward their partner who’s still finding time to carve out a quick run, a long game of golf on the weekends, or a regular evening out with their buddies. “Don’t they see that all I do is give, give, give to our baby day and night?”
Partner might see you in your role and doubt whether or not they’re ready or able to fill such impressive shoes – their learning curve is oftentimes much steeper than it is for the person who’s given birth as they might not have had as much exposure or experience with babies. Partners often think to themselves, “If I can’t do it (diapering, bathing, soothing the baby) the same way they do it, I’m a failure.”
And society still sends the message loudly and clearly, that if the birthing person identifies as being female, they are automatically the “better” parent (which is utter crap!) But if they ask their partner to be more focused on the home front, they might actually end up feeling stifled and controlled.
This does not make for a happy couple on the other side of giving birth to a bundle of joy that was supposed to bring you closer together!
For partners, especially male partners, pregnancy and birth might be the first time in their lives where they feel completely out of their element. And from a societal standpoint, we do very little to welcome them into this world of women.
They might go to every clinic appointment and ultrasound, they might want to be really involved – but still end up feeling like a third wheel most of the time. Or maybe, deep down, they’re completely freaked out and long for the stereotypical good ol’ days when they’d be smoking cigars in the waiting room and not required to step foot into the labor and delivery room! But if they tell anyone that, they’ll be labeled an insensitive, uninvolved jerk. They have LOTS of feelings about what it means to become a parent – including vulnerability – but may not feel safe in expressing them.
What if we tried to meet them wherever they are during the pregnancy (without judgement) and then support them better in their role as expectant parent? I think this might be a good first step.
Communication between the couple has to happen early and often so that you both know where the other is in terms of adopting your new role of parent. This can feel like an emotional land mine if you don’t respect the “zero judgement” policy.
Your partner needs to be able to reveal their true feelings about becoming a parent. And they need the time and space to move into that role.
But there’s also something to be learned from our partners as those of us who’ve given birth move into our own version of the world of parenthood. We need to remember the importance of self-care and of figuring out what individual needs we have that we don’t want to lose in our new role of parent.
Instead of feeling resentment toward our partner, maybe we can learn from them how to carve out the time and space we need to feel whole and separate from our role as parent.
Of course, I’m speaking in general and gendered terms. Sometimes our partners are beyond ready for their role of parenthood and it blows us away, and it’s us newly postpartum folks who are slower to catch up.
The reality is that very few couples reach this stage of generativity at the same time. But instead of putting a wedge into your relationship, perhaps this can become a new and better way of understanding each other as individuals. Perhaps we can learn from each other as opposed to being intimidated by or resentful of one another. Perhaps this can be a period of growing together, rather than growing apart.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…
You might think you know the song of this same name, but I’m not sure if you’ve heard the band Cake sing it. If you like Cake, like I do in all it’s many forms, then this version is worth a listen. (I love it when I can find a tune that goes with my blogpost – it feeds the rocker in my soul!)
Can you see how you and your partner might be approaching parenting at a different pace from one another? Is this helpful to realize how very common and normal this stage of development is and that it’s possible to “catch up?”