One of the books I picked up lately is by Laura Gutman, an Argentine psychotherapist. It´s called, La Maternidad y el Encuentro con la Propia Sombra (Motherhood and the Discovery of One’s Own Shadow.)
She starts with the idea that at birth and for a while after, mother and child are one. Then, she goes on to say that the role of the father is to “support and separate”. In conversation, I’ve called it the “man bra” concept. (If I could find a nursing bra that could pull that off, I’d be all set.)
In conversations about those post-partum weeks, I’ve repeatedly heard, “He said, ´I feel like I’m not doing anything. ` I almost punched him!” and variations on the theme. In an effort to save our male counterparts from physical violence, I thought I’d share Dr. Gutman’s ideas.
According to her, a woman who is properly supported is capable of fulfilling all “maternal” duties. She even says that women don’t actually need a man to help with the baby. (R, this theory applies to newborns and should not be construed to mean that you are off the hook for changing diapers, giving baths, etc. because it takes two. She’s your kid, too.)
Here’s a summary of the role of a newborn’s father:
- Facilitate mother-baby bonding . Take care of (or delegate) everything that is not: feeding, cuddling, changing and holding the baby.
- Defend mother-baby bonding from the outside world. Guard the nest. Keep everyone who is not absolutely necessary away. Fend off criticism and advice.
- Actively encourage introspection. Allow the mother to explore and deal with the emotional upheaval that is childbirth.
- Provide. Provide for the mother-baby dyad’s physical needs.
- Accept and love the mom. Don’t question how or why she does things. Allow her some space to be a little illogical and love her through it.
These are all pretty self explanatory, but I will just add that number two seems to vary from woman to woman. Some friends have been anxious to show off their new bundles of joy. I, however, wanted to hibernate for about a month. It wasn’t anything against the visitors; I just had this animal instinct to keep everyone away. That time would have been a lot less stressful if I’d been able to anticipate those feelings and had asked R to “guard the nest”.
Okay, now back to what Dr. Gutman has to say. Anyone who is expected to provide that amount of support needs some sources of strength:
- His pre-existing emotional stability (that wasn’t bushwhacked by hormones and child birth!)
- His workplace, where he retains his identity and routine.
- His professional position and prestige. (She separates two and three, but I kind of see them as the same.)
- Down time. Reading the paper, watching TV, long showers and all the other things that make us moms want to kick them in the you-know-where.
R is a wonderful father. Really. Truly. Wonderful. However, he seems to think he has retained the right to do certain things that just drive me bonkers!
When Ely was about six months old, I left her with R in the bathroom while I went to finish laundry. Within a couple minutes, he came into the laundry room, plopped her down and said, “Please take her. I can’t poop in peace.” My response? An expletive. I hadn't read about Dr. Gutman's ideas on the down time R needs to be such a great dad.
So, fellow madres, I propose making a deal with our beloveds: leisurely poops for services of support and separation. You know what separation is? Girl’s Night Out!!!
In all seriousness, I think it’s worth considering Dr. Gutman’s ideas about what we really need those first weeks and what our "man-bras" need, too, because, afterall, it does take two. I'd be interested to know whether you agree with Dr. Gutman's ideas....