While I was pregnant with our first daughter, I was so sure the man I’d chosen to marry was going to make the best possible dad; I knew it, that’s why I chose him. But then something happened for a while that was completely unexpected – my husband and baby were not bonding, and the disconnect was worrying. I was becoming the default parent, and I was beginning to resent it. So what do you do when the man you love isn’t immediately floored by love for his baby? How can you fix it when your baby’s father doesn’t want to be involved? At least not as much as you’d hope.
Thankfully my husband and I came out the other side, and it wasn’t too long before he was exactly the type of daddy I always knew he would be.
So I thought I’d talk about how we found ourselves in that difficult situation, and how we were able to overcome it, in hopes it may help somebody else.
Because I feel sure this is something which affects many – at least initially. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and straight out presume I’m right. That’s a pretty big presumption to make of other people’s relationships, but that’s how prevalent I believe this issue is.
Certainly I’ve heard whisperings from friends which support my theory, and sometimes I’ve heard more than that too… (You know, like those times you inadvertently witness a couple having ‘banter’ which clearly goes far, far deeper than the humour they imagine they’re displaying through gritted teeth. Yep, you know exactly who I’m talking about because it’s all too common a scenario.)
I’m referring to the fact that very often there tends to be a default parent in the family, and I’m totally confident more than 50% of readers will agree. Right?
Primary Caregiver vs Default Parent
As a blogger, I come across frequent stories of work-at-home dad bloggers subject to not only looks of surprise, but outright sexist rubbish about how they shouldn’t be in sole charge of their, erm, charge. This is ignorant, old-fashioned, and frankly ridiculous. For whatever reason, those families have made the decision for mum to be out at work and dad to be the primary caregiver during mum’s working hours. Granted, even in this day and age it’s considered an ‘unusual’ setup – but I think it’s fantastic and I wholeheartedly promote this equality.
My point? Only that I’m at pains to make clear either parent can fall into the default role I’m describing.
I’d suggest it’s more often than not mum, based on the fact that she is the one spending the majority of time looking after the littlies – in most cases. Of course, if dad is the one at home, it’s more than possible it could be him to whom this role falls. And equally, if mum is still breastfeeding, then that could prove to be a natural pull back in her direction.
I think I’m aware of one full-time working dad who has assumed this part, though I imagine it’s rare. (Happy to be contradicted in this case.)
So, what exactly does this ‘role’ entail, and how does it befall one parent over the other?
What is a Default Parent?
Firstly, I should say that ‘befall’ is entirely subjective, because actually, it can make the passive (for want of a better word) parent feel inadequate or even jealous; it’s not always about them failing to step up – though of course it may be. In which case – mum or dad – it’s time to get on board and shoulder your share of responsibility.
I’m talking specifically about the fact that all too often when there’s a new baby, one parent ends up playing the part of main carer – even when both parents are around.
The Problem With Having a Default Parent
For us, what started as a natural arrangement, overtime became a habit which was sabotaging the opportunity for my husband and daughter to bond. And alongside that another issue was developing: I began to resent my role as the default parent – I wanted some help!
Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for giving the breadwinner a little breathing space when they walk through the door (should they want it). Although also don’t get me wrong, as a work-at-home mum I’m equally grateful that because my husband frequents the gym after work most evenings – essentially his downtime – by the time he’s home he usually wants to jump in and take straight over. It’s a damn Godsend at times.
But it wasn’t always like this for us, and I dare say such a harmonious arrangement isn’t organically the case for many.
So why does this situation seem to be so common, how does it come to pass, and – crucially – how can the balance be redressed for the sake of the whole family’s wellbeing?
How Does Mum or Dad Become the Default Parent?
In our case, the situation came about initially through my husband’s fear. Pixie came home from hospital weighing less than 5lb, and because she was so tiny he wouldn’t bathe her until she surpassed a healthy newborn weight. I’ve spoken about our personal circumstances in more detail here.
Over time, my natural protectiveness, coupled with habit, simply became our norm. It was only when Pixie got a little older and resentment began to creep in on both sides that we were able to objectively review our ‘arrangement’ and make some very necessary changes.
The unhealthy setup begins innocuously enough, but left unchallenged it can evolve into a source of great friction in the partnership. Not to mention being less than ideal for the child/ren involved.
Are You Sure Your Baby’s Father Doesn’t Want to Be Involved?
If you recognise your marriage in this post, it doesn’t (necessarily) mean your other half is lazy or a control freak (although it might).
It more likely means that during the mammoth task of raising a baby and trying to retain a little sanity through your sleep-deprived exhaustion, you’ve both fallen into an unhealthy pattern. Then, due to a lack of communication – it’s been allowed to endure. And really, who can blame you when you’re lucky if you find time to drag a brush through your hair / manage to haul your backside to work on time these days?
Parenting a newborn is hard!
Redressing the Balance In Your Relationship
A frank and unemotional chat worked for us. (We’re not perfect, far from it – the mature discussion followed weeks of bitter sniping.)
Essentially, my hubby’s role became more active in direct proportion to Pixie’s increasing age: the older she got, the happier – and more insistent – he was in being her dad. He’s always been her father, he has always been my husband – but for a while there at the beginning I’d argue that he struggled to be her dad.
The good news is it can be resolved if you’re both keen to see a resolution. While it may feel like a huge, insurmountable problem – I get it, I’ve been there! – for the couples who love, support, and respect one another, the fix is simple:
The key is to recognise the problem, accept that there’s (hopefully!) no malice involved from either party, and talk through the ways in which you’ll both feel better equipped and supported to raise your brood together.
It may be that, like in our situation, it’s not that your husband and baby’s father doesn’t want to be involved, but that he is seriously lacking in confidence in this new role. That’s something you can work with and overcome together. Of course, it may be something else entirely – discuss the problems are they can be addressed.
The important thing is that if you are both committed to your family, the issues can be ironed out if you talk them through.
It may be as simple as your partner needing some practical support with handling your tiny newborn!
Is/was this your family? Do you have any other suggestions of how to resolve the conflict and improve your situation?