Honoring each partner's parental role

Carrying a baby changes your life and your intimate relationship with your partner. Nothing brings out problems like becoming parents. The stress and strain of parenthood, combined with the legacy of motherhood or fatherhood that each of you has received, makes all your problems more visible.

It is imperative to nurture not only your own well-being, but also the well-being of your partnership.

In addition to the other life changes, postpartum hormones can increase feelings of connection and conflict. In my women's physical therapy practice, a common complaint I hear from women is that they feel angry with their partner, sometimes without even knowing the reason. Keep some perspective as the feelings come through. Monitor your reactions and remember that your feelings may be greater than the truth of what is happening at that moment.

Moreover, you and your partner have experienced a huge change, which takes time to adapt. Treating each other patiently and with utmost love is a high priority. To strengthen your bond even while you're in the middle of this transition, focus on the qualities of your partner and the qualities that attract you. Enjoy your baby together and enjoy the bond that will nourish this new life.

Some of the early conflicts that arise between mothers and fathers involve gender differences in caregiving.

Of course, individual parents will differ in many ways, even among mothers or fathers, but the gender issues are common enough to be worth mentioning. A perfect example of this comes from my own experience. When my first son was six months old, I took him to an infant massage class to learn baby massage techniques. Most participants were mothers. On the last day, partners – most of whom were fathers – were invited.

My husband's farming family is less comfortable hugging or touching each other, and perhaps the fact that I am male has accentuated my husband's discomfort with touch. Still, I wanted him to be different with his own children. During the massage technique instruction, my husband's hand had only partial contact with our son's body. It seemed like he was doing the massage half-heartedly. By the end of class I was furious. I felt that my husband was already well on his way to passing on the lack of touch and all the problems that came with it. While we can pass on patterns of injury as we raise our children, in this case I had given meaning to one situation.

I approached the instructor after class and shared some of my concerns and asked if she would talk to my husband about the importance of touch. Instead of talking to my partner, she told me an old story about how mothers hold their children close and teach them about themselves, while fathers hold their children close to heaven and teach them about their relationship to the world.

This wasn't what I wanted to hear.

Although I pondered her words, I didn't really understand their meaning until a few more years of parenting had passed and I gained an appreciation for the characteristics of different parenting styles.

As a mother, I was naturally attuned to my children's needs – so much so that I often sensed a need the moment they started asking for something. To meet a need for their father, these same children had to become much louder or even ask for something multiple times to get his attention. In a sense, he was less sensitive to their needs, which meant they had to learn the essential skill of standing up for themselves. Our skills as parents complemented each other.

In same-sex or non-binary partnerships, gender differences may not play as much of a role, but parenting styles can still differ or complement each other. A couple can increase their communication and skills by respecting the benefits of their different styles. Ideally, couples learn from each other, and their collective strengths compensate for inevitable deficits.

It's worth talking about concerns and identifying the limiting patterns, just as I continued to advocate for the importance of touch and connection in our home. But both parents don't have to provide the same kind of parenting to their children.


Author biography

Tami Lynn Kent is a women's health physical therapist, a TEDx speaker, and the founder of Holistic Pelvic CareTM, where she uses her ability to read energetic patterns of the body. Kent has a private practice and an international training program in Portland, Oregon. She has written three previous books. Her latest, Wild Mothering: Finding Strength, Spirit, and Joy in Birth and Creative Motherhood (Atria Books, May 7, 2024), is a newly updated edition of her classic, Mothering from your Center. More information at www.wildfeminine.com.

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