“My husband’s getting on my nerves a little. The baby is just six months old and now I’m back to work, too, but still Brett is starting to bug me more and more for attention, affection, sex, etc. Doesn’t he understand I’ve got a lot on my plate?! Can’t he grow up and deal with his needs or whatever and then in a while when things settle down we can connect more?”
We truly understand where you are coming from: Jan gave Rick pretty much the same speech at least a dozen times when our kids were little, plus we’ve heard similar comments from many, many others. It’s natural to feel both absorbed in your baby and worn out, so that any extra tug on you from someone else can seem like a hassle, if not an intrusive burden.
Having said that, from painful personal experience and much professional contact with literally thousands of parents, we also think it’s a terrible mistake to set your husband or partner aside when baby makes three. It is as big a mistake as the one many fathers make, to downplay the impact of motherhood on their partner and to fail to pull their weight with childrearing and housework.
Frankly, if all new mothers made a serious effort to stay emotionally and affectionately connected with the father, and if all new fathers made a serious effort to understand what the mother is going through and be a strong teammate in making a family together, we believe the divorce rate among couples with children would be cut in half.
And even if there’s no divorce, the impacts of events during the sensitive years when kids are little are so great that they can lead to permanent coolness, cankerous wounds, and a vulnerability to challenges down the road (e.g., an illness, unemployment, a temptation at the office).
So there are plenty of reasons – some altruistic and some enlightened self-interest – to take good care of a father. (The ones who stay engaged, to be sure, not the pitiful ones who abandon their children.) Previously, we published a column titled “10 Reasons to Take Good Care of a Mother”, and here is its companion piece. (For simplicity, we use gender specific pronouns, and the terms “marriage” and “relationship,” and “husband/wife” and “partner” interchangeably.)
10 Reasons to Take Good Care of a Father
1. He’s a person – Every human being deserves a chance to be happy and healthy.
2. He does real work – Most fathers step up their efforts to be a provider when kids come along. Plus the typical dad today is doing more housework and childcare than his own father did. Any kind of demanding work calls for respect and replenishment.
3. He contributes to others – Every day, for twenty years or more, engaged fathers help make a family for innocent and precious children. Their giving gives them moral standing, and a valid claim on the respect and support of their partner and society as a whole.
4. The workplace isn’t very friendly to men who put their families first – While it’s certainly hard for women to juggle home and work, men who stick up for their role as fathers often get even less understanding on the job than mothers do.
5. It’s good for the children – A father’s well-being affects his children in a thousand ways, and shapes the course of their entire lives. A vital way to take good care of children is to take good care of their fathers.
6. It’s good for the mother – Fathers who are happy in their marriage are usually more empathic, helpful, and loving with their wife.
7. It’s good for the marriage – Fathers who feel cared about, listened to, seen and valued as a lover and mate (not just a co-parent), respected and appreciated, and – frankly – sexually satisfied are much more likely to stay married than those who do not. Besides the rewards for children and their parents, lasting marriages benefit society in many ways, such as bringing stability to communities and fostering respect for family.
8. It helps the economy – Family and marital problems stress fathers and lead to physical and mental illnesses that increase the nation’s medical costs and decrease workforce productivity. These are public health problems, and addressing them would add hundreds of billions of dollars each year to our economy (with related benefits to tax revenues).
9. It’s good for society – A culture that takes a stand for families by respecting and supporting the fathers as well as the mothers at their center will be more humane and decent for everyone.
10. It’s good in itself – Being compassionate, considerate, and generous with a father feels good in its own right. It is also a deep form of spiritual practice to “love your neighbor as yourself” – including the one sitting with you at the dining room table.
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This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture (2002) by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.