My goal has been to be a supportive and caring partner during this pregnancy but I have a confession: I suck at it.
I don’t want to suck at it. But I do. I’ve learned the harsh reality – I am not as caring or supportive as I thought I was. Having a child forces you to stare in a mirror and look at all the ways you suck.
You’re forced to deal with everything you suck at, the mountains of baggage and emotional turmoil you keep inside and address it.
And if you don’t then you shut down.
1. I don’t understand much of what’s going on.
She is brilliant and reads all of the pregnancy books. I pick them up and get confused and feel my brain start to unplug like I’m in high school biology class. I try to jam the information into my head but I feel it falling out. The harder I try the less the information sticks. It’s all anatomy and long words and I’m intimidated and confused. It makes me feel incompetent and I shut down.
2. I don’t know how to help when she’s in pain.
Throughout the day she goes from intense back pain to stomach pain to uterus pain (which isn’t the same as stomach pain btw) to migraines to swollen feet. I don’t know where to massage or which ointment to buy or if she’s allowed to take Tylenol. I try and Google what to do but there’s so much information and it’s all conflicting and it makes me feel incompetent and I shut down.
3. I don’t know how to feed her.
I used to know all her favorite meals and how to cook them (or at least plan them so she could). Now it’s like throwing darts at a dartboard with my eyes closed. I have no idea what she’ll like. When she says she’s hungry I don’t know what to do. I scramble to rummage up anything we have in the kitchen or scroll through Uber Eats. I try and whip something up in the kitchen but I’m afraid I’m going to put on too much butter or not enough butter and it makes me feel incompetent and I shut down.
4. I don’t know how to be attentive or compassionate
I’m an expert at being neglectful while in the same room. I preoccupy myself with my phone, or my work, or r/nba and miss all the hints she gives off because I’m not paying attention. Could she communicate better? Sure. But she’s also carrying around a child the size of an eggplant while her body goes through massive changes and her hormones are rollercoastering. She also needs to know exactly what she needs and be able to communicate it gently to my moody borderline ass, too? I need to be there figuring it out with her, but I can’t figure it out and it makes me feel incompetent and I shut down.
Parenthood prep is fucking hard.
There’s a lot going on and your life is about to change. It’s terrifying. My biggest fear of sucking as a parent is the exact reason why I suck as a parent. Fear is a difficult emotion and I avoid difficult emotions and if you avoid difficult emotions then you’ll suck as a parent.
My therapist has given me some things to do. I’ll share them here. I’m not great at doing them, but maybe if I put them here I’ll get better at it.
Practice emotional exposure: When someone has a phobia of spiders, the most effective treatment is to expose them to spiders gradually until you finally cover those fools in spiders. For someone like me who has trouble processing difficult emotions (think shame, embarrassment, fear, sadness), the best treatment is to expose myself to emotions. Watching movies that provoke sadness, walking toward things I’m afraid of, standing on a crowded subway platform in my underwear.
Write down how I feel: I have a journal I scribble things into, but I can’t read my handwriting, so good thing I have this.
Daily mindfulness practice: I’m getting better at this. Mina and I use the Calm app. When you get into mindfulness practice, you learn to be aware of your thoughts. You learn that your thoughts don’t control you. You learn that truth doesn’t live in your thoughts and judgments you’ve developed but in the feelings, images, and clues of your soul.
I’m not sure if my experience is unique to me or if this is a common issue among new parents. My gut tells me that it’s more common than not, and that parents need to be better at being open and able to deal with their judgments and mental health.
I think most people want to be good parents. I know I do. But what I’m learning quickly is that being a good parent means dealing with your own shit. Like, really dealing with it. Finding those issues you have that block you from being vulnerable, caring and true.
My hope is that this becomes easier for parents. Especially for men. The world needs good dads, man. But it’s hard. We’re not supposed to deal with our feelings. As men, we’ve been trained to shut down and man up.
But your kid doesn’t need you to man up. Your kid needs you to be attentive, caring, compassionate, playful, and vulnerable. Your kid needs you to be present. Not just physically present, but emotionally, too. To wholeheartedly be there. To cry with them instead of telling them not to cry.
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