Men don’t make good women
Alastair is a fabulous father. However, I have noticed that he is not a very good mother. I am much better than him.
None of my friends openly bad-mouth their husbands but I sense some underlying frustration. I think the source of this irritation is that generally men make useless women. This is something new mothers forget. Men are not like us. They are wired differently. What is instinct to a mom is often not instinct to a dad. Sometimes men just don’t get it and for a woman who is blindsided by exhaustion and fogged by fatigue, this is bloody irritating.
To be fair to Alastair, he works a long day and spends less time with Megan than me. Of course he doesn’t know her like I do. Megan and I are with each other 24/7. She’s an extension of my body. She is entwined about me, like ivy. I understand her like no one else does. We’re tight, my Megan and me.
One of my friends recently had her first child and, before it was born, she and her husband decided he would take extended paternity leave. The baby had colic and, at its worst, the dad sidled up to my friend and asked if he could return to work earlier than planned. She understood his helplessness, but on the day of his return, she was annoyed by the time (6am) and exuberance with which he left the house. As a more experienced mother, I explained the basics. ‘You see, men are from Mars and women are from Venus…’
I have learned that men cannot cope with excessive emotion and random tears for extended periods. A man’s instinct is to run away from a screaming baby but a woman’s instinct is to run towards it. Men are Mr Fix-Its. When faced with a problem, they search for a solution. That is why teething is a nightmare. It is a problem without a simple way out and this makes men feel helpless and anxious. Alastair didn’t realize that just being there to comfort Megan is a solution too.
A midwife told me that men are also babies, but with different packaging. They need lots of assurance and attention. We mustn’t leave out the big baby when we get a little one.
I read somewhere that women are like teabags. You never know how strong they are, until you put them in hot water. A new baby can be hot water. If it has colic, gas, an ear infection or is teething, the water is even hotter. When Megan arrived, I discovered a strength I never knew I had and a vulnerability that I have never before seen in Alastair. It is not a bad thing, just something we didn’t expect.
Men seem to launch themselves into fatherhood in much the same way that a Labrador jumps into a swimming pool – with exactly that much preparation and foresight. I read countless parenting books and Alastair read none. When Megan arrived, he had no reservoir of knowledge to fall back on.
I have learned that men can be a bit clueless, but it is important not to make them feel stupid and useless. In October, I attended a long meeting related to the end of my work contract. Alastair took time off to look after Megan. We discussed at length whether I should express milk and leave a bottle because, at that stage, Megan was not in a fixed and reliable feeding routine. We risked it and agreed Alastair would babysit without back-up milk.
While I was putting on my shoes to leave the house, Alastair trotted towards me holding a bottle. ‘Julie, change of plan. I’ve decided I need milk in case Megan cries. Please can you quickly express into this bottle.’
‘Al, are you kidding me?’ I said. I reminded him that my boobs are not saturated sponges that I can squeeze for a minute and get over 120ml of milk.
I have learned it is good for me to leave Megan and Alastair alone together so they can bond and he can build his confidence without always relying on me. One Saturday, I left them for an hour while I got my hair cut. I arrived home and walked into the lounge. Megan was on her playmat, gurgling and flailing around like a tortoise on its back. Alastair lay on the floor next to her in the foetal position with his eyes closed.
‘Is everything ok?’ I asked.
‘Yes, all good. But I am so so exhausted.’
Even though men may feel inadequate, it is important that they look after the baby on their own so that they understand that when we women say we are tired, we are not being flippant – we are genuinely so so exhausted.
Some evenings I walk into Megan’s room and Al is bent over her cot to confirm she is breathing. I never need to worry whether Megan is alive, because Alastair has checked first. He is the one who is most anxious that Megan’s hearing has been impacted by the nasty ear infection she had this week. He is the one who is most concerned that Megan may push herself up and somersault out of her cot.
I’ve been looking for new babygros for Megan and am struggling to find a plain one that doesn’t say, ‘I love Daddy’, ‘Daddy’s Princess’, ‘Daddy’s Angel’ or ‘Daddy’s Sweetheart’. Why does all this clothing suck up to Daddies?
I have learned that, during this period when they are so rudderless, men need reminding that they are needed, wanted and loved. I should buy Megan a babygro that says, ‘I love my Daddy’, because, in his funny man-way, he really really loves her too.