By Carolyn Hood – Gentle Evolution
When I was pregnant and reading books, I talked to my husband about the role of being “keeper of the birth space”. Lighting, music, being the go-to person for people entering the room. He was happy, possibly relieved, with this role and did a good job. But since then, I realise the role of “keeper of the space” extends well past the birth and I truly believe is one of the most important roles of a father today.
The reason holding the space is so important is because we are doing it differently now. We aren’t living in villages and we aren’t sending our children off to the workforce at age four. We aren’t telling our children to be quiet, giving them a smack, sending them to their rooms, letting them cry themselves to sleep or all of the above. We aren’t giving them nourishing milk and energy from our bodies until only three months, then feeding them jars of baby food and Heinz spaghetti. Instead, we are responding to our child’s emotional needs, feeding them on demand, helping them get to sleep, cooking five nutritious organic meals a day, learning what to do with kale, reflecting and working on keeping our patience, navigating a barrage of advice, reading books on conscious parenting and how to mindfully raise confident calm children with self esteem and self love.
While we are concentrating on raising our children gently, we are usually being very hard on ourselves. Doubting ourselves; feeling guilty and just not good enough at a, b and c; coping with criticism from at least one family member; trying to keep house perfectly; feeling pressure to return to work and to find at least one item of clothing that we actually feel good in. Yet we calmly manage several meltdowns a day, keeping the peace between siblings, wiping bottoms and floors and searching for several items that the world will end if we don’t find, after interrupted sleep with a smile, laughter, and grace…most of the time. Mothering is more emotionally draining and overwhelming than ever. We need someone to hold a space for us. A space of gentleness, grace, understanding and unconditional love that we are outpouring to our children and holding for them.
This “holding the space” is so much more significant than the practical help. It is when the husband truly understands and truly appreciates, that he truly holds the space.
New fathers today are also facing a new frontier. Gentle parenting is very different to what they had modelled to them. Most likely, the only image of fathering they have is one that comes home to a tidy home and dinner, sits in the lounge chair at night and gives an authoritative voice when needed. Fathers who may not feel connected to baby, which may be a result of their early childhood, are partnered with mothers who are more earthy and heart-centred, giving baby more connection and stronger attachment. Extended breastfeeding, feeding on demand and different sleeping arrangements can add to feelings of disconnect. Deeper feelings can arise as fathers watch their baby receive connection and nurturing that they once craved, but never received. Old abandonment wounds from previous break ups can also surface. However men generally don’t check in with their feelings or talk about them like women do, and a father’s struggling mental health can look like working long hours, smoking, drinking, swearing more, going to the gym more, to name a few. When there is frustration, tiredness and stress, it’s easy to fall back on what we know with authorative parenting. The space can become resentful, berating, questioning and angry. The child will certainly sense this energy which adds to being unsettled and a downward spiral can happen.
If this spiral is happening, even if you are way down in it, there truly is a way out! It starts with understanding. Specifically, understanding why family life is different at this point in our parenting evolution and where your partner has come from. Understanding that your partner is doing their very best and that things actually will get easier (in about 5 years). The space can become supportive, loving, peaceful, grace giving and unconditional.
Here are some things which may help a father with holding the space:
- Truly assess how are you feeling. Are work or financial pressures causing stress? Are you feeling unloved, neglected and abandoned? If you can become aware of what’s going on in you, then you can talk about it and that opens up avenues and relieves a whole lot of unspoken pressure and resentment from the pot (home), which your child would be feeling.