By Mary Francell
If you choose to parent in a way that doesn’t align with Western cultural values, you probably receive a good deal of unsolicited advice. This can shake your confidence and add to worries about doing things “right”.
With a stranger, a friend, or even a relative, you can use humour or change the subject to deflect criticism, knowing that you can end the conversation if needed. But what if it’s your partner who disagrees with what you are doing, particularly if that partner is also your co-parent?
Partners sometimes have differing opinions on feeding, sleeping, holding, etc. If partners discussed certain parenting practices during pregnancy, the birthing parent is often surprised by how intensely they feel about doing things differently once baby is born. It’s easy to get defensive when you feel strongly about responding to your infant or toddler’s biologically normal needs and your partner doesn’t agree.
Sometimes, the non-birthing parent is worried that their baby isn’t “normal” based on Western ideas of what a baby “should” do – sleep alone in a crib, eat at regular intervals, not be held constantly, and so on.
They may compare parenting practices with friends or co-workers and feel that something is wrong with their baby – or their partner. Other times, a partner may be concerned that responding quickly to an infant’s needs will keep them from developing independence.
It’s important for the birthing parent to acknowledge that these beliefs are common in Western society, but also to inform their partner about biological norms for human infants. You may want to share my previous blog posts.
However, this sometimes doesn’t resolve the conflict, because the deeper issue may be that your partner doesn’t feel their own needs are being met. Before a child is born, partners concentrate their love and affection on each other, and it’s difficult to maintain that level once the focus shifts to the baby. Even if your partner understands that an infant’s needs come first, they can still experience a sense of loss and even loneliness.
The non-birthing parent may not even be aware of these underlying feelings or may blame their partner for devoting too much time and energy to the baby. The birthing parent often feels caught between the fierce biological imperative to nurture their child, the demands of their partner, and their own needs.
If you are caught in this sort of conflict, it’s important to have a heart to heart talk with your partner. What are his worries? Is she missing the closeness you once had? What do they need? Take as long as you need to hear them out, then validate those concerns and share your own. Your feelings and opinions are just as important as your partner’s and need validation too.
During this discussion, you may be able to come up with a compromise that meets both your needs. For example, if your husband wants baby or toddler out of your bed, it could be that he misses cuddling with you at bedtime. Maybe you could slide your baby into a sidecar crib once they are asleep and then cuddle up to your partner or you could nurse your toddler to sleep on a mattress on the floor in a childproof room so the two of you have time together before your child crawls into bed with you.
It’s also vital to emphasise that making you choose between the baby and your partner is going to make you resentful of the relationship.
There are ways to stay connected while still honouring the intense need for attachment in an infant, a toddler and even a young child.
Is time alone as a couple essential?
Many “experts” today rightly maintain that nurturing a loving partner relationship is good for the children. But some of these same couples counsellors insist that partners must spend time away from their children – a weekly date night, a weekend away – almost from infancy. In itself, this can lead to conflict, with the birthing parent hesitant to leave a child who protests separation and their partner insisting it’s essential for their relationship.
This idea that it’s critical to have adult time alone is a new concept in Western society. In most cultures, parents have time together in family groups or with children playing nearby. Even as recently as the first part of the twentieth century in the US, most parents rarely travelled without their children, let alone left an infant with a babysitter while they went on a weekend alone.