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New Dad More Reluctant to Help After Constant Criticism










QUESTION:

My son was born a month ago, which happened to be the most exhausting and exhilarating day of my life. The connection I felt with my wife went to a whole new level.

However, after about two weeks, the way my wife started communicating with me and treating me (in all aspects of our life, not just our baby) have taken a 180 turn. I expected her focus to turn wholly to our son, but it seems anything I do anymore is met with criticism, incredulity, and doubt. I want to practice techniques of soothing and calming, but I can never really try when she comes to the rescue after a short moment of fussiness. When I try to give her a break and baby starts fussing she comes running into the room telling me, "No, you're not doing it right!" and takes him to the next room. That's just a single example of an action that's pushing me away. I've noticed in myself that I'm reluctant to want to help out. I really want to bring up how my wife's behavior is affecting me, but the times when the baby is calm, she's usually napping with him. How can I bring this up when fussy baby isn't stressing us out already?




ANSWER:

This is classic gatekeeping – it is innate in new moms going back to cave moms; since saber tooth tigers, etc. etc. no longer exist, you have become the major threat to her baby because you don’t do it her way. She is also overwhelmed and sleep deprived in taking care of her baby and on drug-like supercharged hormones, and may be angry with you that you don’t know how to do it "right." (Though all the research says babies are better off with both parents caring for them in their own way.) Avoiding gatekeeping is a high priority among moms-to-be in our Boot Camp for New Moms workshops; they learn talk about it with dad-to-be before the baby arrives.

Understand it is normal, do not take it personally, and avoid being pushed away from your own baby by:

  1. Becoming an expert on calming (their crying peaks at 6 weeks or so, and the worse it gets the better for you because she will be more likely to accept help)
  2. Getting mom out of the house alone, leaving the baby with you
  3. Taking your baby out of the house with you (the ultimate bonding time for a new dad and his son).

Your other challenge is broaching the issue with mom, which goes well beyond gatekeeping. Two-thirds of new parents find their relationship suffers in the long run, and unresolved issues like this are the main cause. Learning to work together is the ultimate challenge for new moms and dads, and if you get this issue fixed, you two will have taken a big step forward towards teamwork. Tell her something you learned on calming “her” crying baby; write her a concise note saying you want to be a great dad for her child and need her to give you the opportunity; and if she does not respond, tell her “we need to talk for the sake of our baby”.

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