She's Doing my Head in
Arguing with your partner happens - even though you may be soulmates, you won’t always agree on everything, but in the end that’s probably a good thing. There are lots of factors that can cause stress in a relationship, ranging from huge life changes like becoming a parent or changing careers, or smaller stuff like someone always leaving wet laundry in the washing machine.
Help is at hand
There are lots of free services available to parents and couples. If what you’re arguing about is something like money, there are organisations that can help you with long term financial planning. A professional may be able to see solutions and alternatives that you didn’t know about, and having a third party work with you can also help keep the conversation practical and stop unhelpful arguing.
Two heads are better than one
Try to work through problems together and be supportive of each other. You both need be aware of what needs to be done. In some cases, you may feel like you’re protecting your partner from stress – but actually for one person to be in the dark about what is going on whilst the other takes on all the work will inevitably lead to anger, resentment and more stress for everybody.
Becoming a parent
Some dads talk of ‘falling in love’ with their baby as soon as they see them. But if that’s not your experience, don’t panic. Let’s face it, ‘Love at first sight’ is not unheard of, but only happens to a lucky few. The reality is that all relationships take time to develop. Lots of new dads feel under pressure make all the right noises, but under the surface, find the reality of fatherhood a bit of a letdown at first. A lot of fathers feel a little bit of a spare part too – the first few weeks can seem all about mother and baby. A little jealousy is completely natural (though not many men would openly admit to it!)
The good news is that a bond will naturally grow over time and the even better news is that you can do some things to speed along the process.
It may seem like an obvious thing to say, but remember that you are dealing with another human being, with their own personality and moods. Sure, the baby might not seem that interesting at first – all that crying, sleeping and feeding - but it doesn’t take long for their character to shine through. Many fathers only fully realise how apparently pre-determined this personality is with the birth of their second child (and the surprise that they are not the identikit version of their firstborn)
But how do you get to know a new born baby? Especially when their whole world seems to revolve around their mum? Here are some top tips:
- Be proud of the important role you play in your baby’s life. Most baby products and services are aimed at mothers, don’t let that put you off or make you feel less important.
- Don’t spend time worrying about how you feel. Becoming dad is a shock to the system. Let yourself feel what you feel; there is no need to have guilt over your emotions. Talk to your partner or a trusted friend; or speak to one of the many great parenting services out there.
- Be part of the baby’s routine. This both gives mum a rest, and helps baby recognise you as a main carer. Feed (or burp, if mum is breastfeeding), bathe, cuddle, carry, change nappies… you can be just as much part of baby’s life as the mother if you choose.
- Be silly. Okay, so you may not like to admit it to your mates – but what better excuse is there for playing than the arrival of your child! If you can sing in the shower, you can sing to baby. If you like dancing, put on your favourite tunes – don’t think you have to stick to nursery rhymes. You will soon learn what makes baby smile – and when you do you’ll soon get hooked on it. There is nothing more honest than a baby’s toothless smile – and little more rewarding.
- Don’t be afraid of physical contact – having a warm baby sleep on your chest is a great way to relax. Cuddles and tickles help build bonds.
Bringing up Children
Do you want to be the sort of old-fashioned chap who leaves all the messy baby stuff to your partner, and only gets involved when your child is old enough to take to the park and play football with? We should hope not. Besides lightening the load for her, doing the mundane day-to-day tasks of looking after a baby helps reinforce the paternal bond.
How much you can do depends on your working situation. Take all the paternity leave you can get and/or afford – your partner will take several weeks to recover from the birth, so she’ll appreciate it, and you might never get another chance to take this kind of time off. You are entitled to at least two weeks. If work aren’t happy about it, stuff them. However important your work is, this is important too. They’ll cope.
During paternity leave, take on more of the physical domestic tasks like food shopping, cooking, tidying and so on. Also take a share of nappy-changing and, if you’re bottle-feeding your baby, that too (although breast milk is of course medically recommended, bottle feeding at least lets you split the workload).
When (and if - being a homedad is a perfectly acceptable choice too!) you go back to work, it’s up to you to find the balance. You’ll want to get some time with the baby anyway. But remember that just because you’ve had a tiring day at work, it doesn’t mean your partner hasn’t had just as tiring a day at home.
Stressing out over big life changes like a new job or new baby, moving house or redundancy often leads to endless arguments, but the small gripes like whose turn it is to do the washing up and pick up the kids also add up.
Some rows are a natural part of every relationship, but talking about a problem calmly when it first rears its ugly head is always much better than bottling up your feelings and letting resentment build. Once you have expressed your concerns, you’ll be able to move forward.
It is likely that you can only start to address whatever the issue is when you both know and accept the size of the problem. As with all potentially difficult conversations, timing is key.
Allow yourself some space – don’t try tackling a subject which you think will be prickly if either of you is really tired or in a mad rush, and don’t ambush your partner either. Schedule some quiet time together, in a space where you won’t be interrupted.
It is never helpful to lay blame, even if you feel really angry. Try to keep the conversation going in a direction forward and looking to find solution – nobody likes arguing for the sake of arguing.
Finding time for each other
Three’s a crowd
Your life’s never going to be the same; and your relationship with your partner has changed too. Be warned that this is a much, much bigger hormonal change than her monthly period. She’s tired and the demands on her body are huge, and her instincts are telling her to put all of her efforts into looking after this little cub.
Up until now, you’ve had one big advantage: you’re a man. You’ve not had swollen ankles, a sore back, piles and morning sickness. And right now your nipples aren’t sore and you’re not lactating in public when you hear your child cry. The best thing you can do for your child at this stage is to support its Mother and get involved with the childcare as much as you can.
What you can do
- Take over some of the baby care to let your partner rest. This is also a great chance for you to bond with your child.
- Be patient with her demands – offering her help in advance will make things easier.
- Take over many of the household tasks your partner might normally do.
- Think ahead, take some of the planning burden off her – make sure things like the shopping are taken care of.
It will take time for your partner’s sexual appetite to return, so be patient. There’s a perfectly natural reason for this: she’s just had a child and it wouldn’t be good for her or her child for her to become pregnant again right away. Also, she may not physically feel like it for sometime. It's easy to let this initial rejection push you into the realms of isolation and fantasy, but don't let this become a source of resentment - instead find other ways to remain close to your partner. Having baths together, indulging in foreplay and making her feel loved and protected will all help her appetite return soon enough.
Intimacy, Romance and Sex
Intimacy means way more than sex – intimacy is really about bonding in a way that goes beyond words or fancy meals. Sometimes it can feel like you’ve “lost that loving feeling” – especially if you’ve just had a baby. Intimacy is sexy, so here are some top tips for nurturing a return to it:
• Massage. Make a massage a special event by buying some scented massage oil—cinnamon and orange is a classic, though many women might prefer something a little less pungent. Light some candles, play some music (more Marvin Gaye than Metallica) and enjoy!
• Music. Remember when making a mix tape for someone was the ultimate way to show you cared? You and your partner could spend an evening (quietly) going through your music collections and playing music that’s special to you as a couple.
• Showers/Baths. Try washing each other’s and taking your time—you can do this when your baby’s asleep for the night, or during nap time.
• Date night. Sometimes the sexiest and most romantic thing is just to spend time alone together, with dinner, music and conversation, at home or at a special bistro or café. So, if you can, maybe you and your partner can leave the baby with a family member or trusted sitter, and get to know each other again, date-style.
• The baby in the room. If your baby sleeps in your room, you might feel more comfortable and relaxed having sex in another room, or by moving your baby. Think of it this way—you can make love all over the house, like newlyweds, teenagers, or randy pensioners.
Some jealousy is normal in a relationship – it’s one of those things that tends to come with a heart. However, there is a point when jealousy can become toxic, or even abusive – it can make your partner feel like she isn’t worthy of your trust, or make her feel like she can’t trust you with her thoughts and feelings.
Have you ever:
- Noticed that your partner is scared to tell you what she thinks, or disagree with you?
- Stopped her from seeing particular friends or family?
- Told her what to wear or not wear in ways which made her feel frightened, picked on or upset?
- Accused her of flirting or having an affair if she spoke to a man or stayed late at work with a male colleague?
If you have done one or more of these things, particularly if you have done several of them or one in particular regularly, you’re crossed the line from having a pulse to endangering your relationship, and hurting your partner.
It’s time to take action and seek help: everyone wants to feel loved in a relationship, but sometimes the best way to show you love someone is by trusting them, and enabling them to trust you.
Becoming a Dad for the first time can be scary, especially if you weren't planning on giving up your swinging bachelor lifestyle quite this soon. But don't worry, it's not as bad as it sounds - you'll still be able to sit around in your pants watching action movies and eating take-away, you'll just have to wait till the baby's in bed first. But you'll gain a lot too. In a few months’ time, a tiny person is going to come into the world who will be your kid. No matter what happens, you will always be their dad. Suddenly, you’re on the fast track to growing up.
While you're probably glad you're not the one who'll have to carry the child for 9 months, you'll still have to look after Mum. She's going to have seemingly endless medical appointments, her hormones are going to be all over the place – and there are risks to her and the baby’s life during childbirth.
How you can help
During the pregnancy it may seem that all the focus is on mum, but what you do makes a huge difference. As things develop, she’s going to need you to get off the sofa and help with the shopping and housework. Aches and pains will be common for them. If she has swollen ankles or sore feet, make she she’s able to take some time to put them up. If she gets heartburn in the night, give her a cuddle. If they get cramp in their legs (caused by lactic acid), massage it out. You'll both get back to sleep quicker and feel connected at this alienating time.
She'll need plenty of emotional support too, and you'll need to compliment her, hold her hand, put her first and even slog down to the late-night garage for carrots and ice-cream if that's what she needs.
Try and be as involved as you can, to maintain a connection with your unborn child. Go to scans, midwife appointments, listen to the heartbeat, feel the baby kick. You can also help by going to ante-natal classes. It will help you too, because you’ll meet other dads-to-be. Women have their own support groups, but men have almost nothing – so it’s also a great chance to chat to the other guys about their experiences. Arrange to go out for drinks with them now and then. With all the fuss around the mum, it's easy to forget that you need a bit of support too.
Don't forget that you have the right to 2 weeks’ paternity leave - many men don't use it. But taking that fortnight off work will make a massive difference to your new family, and will help set you on the right path to becoming a great dad.
You may be surprised to learn that men suffer from body image issues to, and it's not just women who are concerned about the size of their midriff or thighs. But you probably aren't – either because you've heard all the recent media hype around “manorexia,” but perhaps you've also felt uncomfortable at times looking in the mirror.
If you're the father of a teenage boy, or if you're uncomfortable with your appearance, it's worth knowing that being worried about how you look is not just a feminine trait, and it's not emasculating either. It was once common for men to wear corsets underneath their officer's uniforms and accompanying swords.
Whether you're a man or a woman, comparing yourself to models on magazine covers at the newsagent's is a zero-sum game. You may find yourself thinking, “Why can't I be that ripped, chiselled, and quaffed?” Well, the answer is simple: you've got other things to do.
You don't have time to adhere to a ridiculously tight diet, spend all day working out or tanning, and then be primped and airbrushed for hours on end before your photos go through the Photoshop treatment to make you look even more perfect. Being a model isn't just about being pretty: for professional models, it's their full time job to look that hench, thin, or groomed. You probably have other priorities – your job, whatever it may be, your family, and all that comes with it.
There has also been a trend for male models to be super skinny instead of the traditional beefcake Calvin Klein underwear dudes. But contrary to what you may think, being that thin isn't necessarily healthier than carrying a little extra padding – not eating enough, or enough of the good stuff like fruit, veg, whole grains and leaner meats can put your health in danger.
It's best to eat a healthy diet and to watch your overall health than to worry about looking like the guy on the cover of a romance novel. To compare is human, but remember that being healthy will always make you look your best.
Step families / Step parents
Being a stepdad is tough. Really tough. For starters, the child isn’t yours, and his or her mum will already have a much closer relationship with them than you. At first it'll seem like you have a ridiculous amount of lost ground to cover, but take it slow. While you can’t expect your new partner's child to be calling you “dad” by the end of the first week, being a stepdad can be incredibly rewarding, even at the beginning.
Being a Stepdad comes with a lot of challenges and joys. Everyone’s experience is different depending on:
- How old the child is, and if there is more than one
- Whether the child is a boy or girl
- The relationship to their dad, if their dad is still around.
As a stepfather, there are perhaps more boundaries for you as a parent. Respect those boundaries, and be sure to follow the same parenting rules as your new partner.
Whilst you might think it’s unlikely that a child who isn’t yours will love you as much as their biological father, you’d be surprised at just how much and how quickly they can grow to love you. Remember that all children look for role-models and father-figures, so you're slotting into a natural place. Above all, be open, friendly, and give the child time to come round to you, rather than forcing the issue.
Being a stepdad is one of the more difficult relationships to get right - give yourself some pats on the back when you do a good job and don’t worry if you get it wrong sometimes - because you probably will. You are going to be able to make a real difference in a child’s life, and you’ve already taken the first step by taking on that responsibility.
Here are some tips to help you cope with stress and stay healthy through times of change.
A problem shared
Don’t be ashamed to talk about your feelings. Just being listened to can help you feel supported and less alone – and you aren’t alone. We all need a little help from time to time – don’t be too proud to ask for it. Your family or friends may be able to offer practical help or a listening ear, so maintain your support network of friends or family. They can offer you a different perspective on things and help you solve practical problems.
Sometimes you may need professional help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. If you don’t think you are coping, see your GP – while you might think of him or her as looking after the health of your body, they can offer help and advice with you mental health too.
Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, sleep, look and feel better – getting exercise can mean something like taking a walk every day, not just pounding the treadmill at a gym.
Drinking alcohol is not a good way to manage difficult feelings. Occasional light drinking is perfectly healthy and enjoyable for most people – but make sure to monitor your intake to keep it healthy.
There are strong links between what we eat and how we feel. Eat healthily, at least three meals each day and drink enough water.
Accept who you are
Be proud of who you are. Recognise and accept what you are not good at, but focus on what you do well.
Many couples find that, after they have children, it is easy to fall into gender stereotypes. Even when, before becoming a family, they were in an equal partnership and supportive of both careers, when baby comes it is very easy to start thinking in terms of ‘bread-winner’ and ‘home-maker.’
Nature has a part to play in this. Women, by default, take on the lion’s share of responsibility when it comes to nurturing – firstly, by carrying the baby for nine months, then labour, birth and breastfeeding. In fact, it is not uncommon for men to feel rather left out and looking for a role, so new dads often see work as their way of ‘doing something’, focusing their attention on bringing in as much money as possible, and subsequently missing out on lots of bonding opportunities with their newborn.
Not so long ago, dads were seen as the provider for the family – and keeping the family afloat financially is still a big worry for most men. Bu children benefit hugely if they have input from both parents. Mums and dads tend to interact with babies and children in different ways. Dads will often be more playful and promote physical activities, encouraging independence and achievement. Mums can often be more nurturing and protective.
Establish boundaries with work early on and your employer should soon adjust; if you used to regularly work late, then you might make an effort to leave on time. Babies and children love routine – knowing you will be home for bath time, for example, will help them to feel secure and loved.
You should also take time for yourself. A few minutes can be enough. Taking a break may mean being very active, doing an activity that you’re good at and which achieves something boosts your self-esteem. Or, it may mean not doing very much at all. It can be good to have an interest where you’re not seen as someone’s dad, partner or employee. You’re just you.