We all parent differently. Our actions and reactions are a made up of a complex collection of experiences, expectations, genetics and emotions. And our partners will have a completely different set of factors influencing how they parent.
It starts at day one
It’s really difficult to imagine how you’ll parent before your baby is born, how you’ll respond once they’re actually in your arms.
We all react differently to becoming a parent. From day one, some parents experience an amazing, almost intoxicating feeling of love immediately after the birth and are completely besotted. Others may be filled with joy, but not totally blown away.
And others... it may have been a difficult pregnancy or labour and you may not have a lot of energy left for intense emotions. In fact, this could be the case even if you had a great birthing experience.
If this is you, fear not. Almost half of all parents say they didn’t have that gush of emotion. Their feelings of love and joy grew over time.
Trust your instincts
One thing you can rely on is the growth of your parental instincts, often called gut feelings.
It can be as simple as you deciding to check on your sleeping baby just as they’re waking up, as if you somehow knew. Sometimes your instinct can be more pronounced, for example if your baby is distressed and in someone else’s arms, you may experience an overwhelming urge to cuddle your baby.
This impulse to protect and comfort is instinctive behaviour in action. Your protective behaviours, along with your close connection with your baby, are biologically pre-programmed to help you care for a tiny and wholly dependent being as they develop.
We all parent differently-including your partner
This is all new territory for first time parents and you can learn new and sometimes surprising things about yourself.
It can also be confronting to see how your partner parents.
For example, new parents will take time to become used to a crying baby. The crying baby will trigger a response in each parent – a very personal response. Some parents may want to rush to soothe the baby, some may feel anxious, and some may wait to see if their baby can settle. Others may expect the crying and not find it worrisome, or find it irritating, and others may have no response at all. We all have different internal triggers and reactions.
Whatever your response, it can come as a bit of a surprise when you see your partner parenting in quite a different way to you.
How you respond to your baby is influenced by a number of factors. Some are obvious, like the delirium of sleep deprivation, but other responses may come from an unexpected place – your past.
The way you parent can be unconsciously influenced by your own experiences as a child. You may repeat your parents’ behaviours, or be driven to do the complete opposite. Whatever your choice, it can be helpful to acknowledge that you come to parenting with a mind and body that has already experienced parenting - as a child.
Try to take a moment
At these times, if you can, try to find a moment to stop and reflect, to notice and explore your responses. Think about why you might behave in a certain way, and be open to the idea that your partner parents quite differently to you. Not wrong, but different.
This can be a critical point in a relationship where things can be discussed for what they are. ‘You and I do it differently, but neither of us is wrong.’
It is important to avoid statements like ‘you can’t do it properly’, ‘what do you think you’re doing’ and worse of all, ‘you’re hopeless, move over and I’ll do it’.
We need to work together as parents, acknowledge individual differences and look for middle ground where everyone feels respected as a partner and a parent.
Here’s one rule to stick by that might help: whoever puts the nappy on, is responsible for the clean-up if it leaks!
Most importantly, work together and embrace your differences because we all do it differently.
Author: Helen Stevens. RN. RM. MCHN. Manager of Clinical Services, Education and Research. Parent Infant Consultants. 0411880720.