Before I moved into coaching women through pregnancy, maternity leave and their return to work, I had a busy practice supporting women who had recently delivered or were in the vulnerable first month or two post birth.
I would often receive calls from new fathers desperate to provide their usually confident and competent partners with some much-needed TLC and support whilst their partners struggled to pretend they were fine and not emotionally confused and exhausted. These smart and sophisticated couples often fought against allowing their deeper emotions to surface where both could admit they felt scared and overwhelmed.
My on-site hospital sessions of reflexology or neck and shoulder massage coupled with some basic coaching would often help to release some resistance, restore some harmony and lighten the mood. Often the treatments would simply allow both new parents the space to feel everything they felt – without judgment or fear. By the time their baby reached the 6-week milestone we had all developed an incredibly close connection, in a relatively short space of time.
Recently I declared that men and business need to man-up and support women in the workplace and whilst I believe that sentiment I am also aware that women need to open up to receiving help, especially in the home. And men need to be allowed to take the lead (sometimes!) and be encouraged to share their emotions, especially around the birth of their baby.
Huffington Post’s #BuildingModernMen campaign is drawing to a close with the end of the month but the challenges highlighted mustn’t be put away for another year. We as men and women need to openly discuss how we honestly share our roles, we need to give up the stereotypes and traditional set ups for us to truly move forward into a future of equal opportunity for our sons and daughters. If we’re being truthful with ourselves, that requires a shift in women too.
Often our relationships are built on certain patterns of behavior and when we experience something that causes a significant emotional shift – such as birth or bereavement, we need to be comfortable to allow an adjustment. Even the most intimate and connected relationships can be tested especially because men and women react to birth and babies differently.
Couples I know who have chosen to share parental leave or who have been in a situation where there is flexibility around Dad’s work have found their relationship has strengthened immeasurably as both parents experience the challenges of a newborn first hand and discover what to do together. The pressure and expectation of “Mum knows best” no longer becomes the mantra and both parents figure out what soothes, calms and settles their baby equally well.
Data from the Fatherhood Institute supports the fact that both men and women can feel the same strong emotional responses to their child but will exhibit these feelings differently. Yet despite the importance of this period of emotional adjustment for both parents, the argument for shared paternity leave still circles back to money.
Whilst there’s no doubt financial implications need to be considered many women when pressed say they feel reluctant to share their maternity leave. There is now a sense of entitlement to take the legally allowed 12 months even though most women are not paid for this length of time.
There is no reason why a mother couldn’t do a phased return possibly using accrued holiday for even 1 or 2 days per week post 6 or 8 months, sharing the care of her baby with her partner yet many businesses seem reluctant to allow this approach. Yes, it takes work to create a flexible structure and not have someone available full-time and full on, but we all need to receive a little slack and flexibility to breathe in our working lives from time to time. If you are unaware of the merits of a flexible workplace, Working Families can help you become happy to talk flexible working.
Businesses must learn to encourage and share new father employees with their partners and create more flexibility for men and women to manage this time emotionally as well as commercially so we can develop real acceptance around men sharing parenting and mothers can stop defaulting to the automatic role of primary carer.
In the New Year we will be sharing stories of pioneering mothers and parents managing maternity differently, the lessons they have learnt and the priceless benefits they have received by breaking the mold.
Whilst sharing may not work for all it’s something most adults teach their children yet may struggle with themselves. Children generally understand the concept of sharing from about age three but it will take a while longer before they fully develop empathy and care about another’s feelings. Most three-year-olds and four-year-olds put their own needs first, and can get upset when the needs of others get in the way and in business we can see this reflected all too often.
Here are 3 ways we can learn to share parenting more effectively:
1. Make it fun
Enter into cooperative behavior where you have to work together with others, to find a mutually beneficial solution rather than having a competitive mindset that focuses on a winner and a loser, a tried a tested way versus a new way. Try improvising, saying yes to thinking through fun and creative solutions and letting go of limiting and restrictive beliefs. If you have a team, involve them.
2. Don’t punish yourself for not wanting to share – but question your choices
It can be embarrassing to see a child snatching a teddy from a friend, or throwing a tantrum because his turn with the trucks has ended but in the same way if you tell a child that he’s selfish, or force him to hand over a prized possession, he may get the message that sharing has negative consequences. As adults we have often received that message so feel ashamed, embarrassed or defensive when we don’t want to share.
Keep in mind that it’s natural for you, just as you may have done as a child, to want to keep your baby to yourself. Most of us had a favourite teddy or comfort blanket, that was “ours” and there is a strong biological protection you will feel but unless you are a solo parent sharing the care of your child is something to embrace and feel more playful about. Men and women will approach the care of their baby differently but a father generally has an equal right and competency and often just needs more hands-on practice to look and feel as comfortable and confident as a mother.
3. Talk it out
No one generally relishes difficult conversations but intervening before things become too heated is always advised. Talking to your boss and /or your partner about sharing child-care earlier rather than later will be helpful and opening up to all available options will help you all. All of you may feel resistance so listen and discuss the situation in a thoughtful and compassionate way and then see how you can all give and take to create a win/win.
Thank you to Babycentre for their article on ‘how to teach your child to share’ for inspiration.