There is a gap in the understanding of men caring for children. I am not a man hater, or a man basher, what I am is very passionate about living in a society where family values translate to happiness for everyone. A major part of fixing this rests on the man, not the blame, just the solutions. Dysfunctionality and trauma is rampant because family values are not getting better but worse, and light is not being shone on some of the effect gender differences has in a household, in a marriage. Gender imbalances can be economical, social, financial, but we take our beliefs home, to our family units, and that influences the pattern in the home.
As you read this, I know and I hope you know, not all household/childhood are the same. Many children were raised under healthy/pseudo-healthy homes, and will grow to pass on to their children the same thing, that could be your future. And as we touch on gender, you have to realise man or woman, you have your own life to live, you don’t have to carry the weight of gender divide as a war into your psyche, especially as a woman. It can be stressful. Try to create your own reality in the midst of the madness. You are not the woman next to you, you are not your mother, and your husband it not your father, or like your boss, or like his actual friends. As a straight woman never say “we women”, and as a man, never say “We men”, you don’t have to live your whole life defending your brothers-in-gender. We must not all lump our patterns and behaviours in a simple gender bag. How you were raised, and how you choose to raise yourself are two entirely different things.
It is hard for men to see their roles in child raising because in many cases there was nobody to show them. Boys were raised differently from girls. And that fundamentally informs how we grow and perceive life. Some parents wanted girl-child firstborn to help at home and with their siblings. Some people wanted boy child to meet up with the standards/pride of a male first born heir. Back then, nobody was giving babies to their sons to burp and rock, to feed and put to bed. Once again, there were unique households for sure, you may be different, but a lot of us were upheld to different standards of behaviour as boys and girls. Girls were raised to be in touch with their emotional side, to be caring, kind, soft; feminine, to prepare us for marriage, to prepare us to care for our husbands and then raise our children. Boys were raised to be hard-hitting, told the world was unkind to their emotional side, and that money and social status is what will ensure advancement, a good woman, and general happiness in life. Maternal instincts come from career experience, the many years of training a girl has had with babies, or with caring for and managing her household at a young age. When men have children and eventually do this completely unnatural thing, it can either be an exciting journey for the man, or a burden he has to bear. How he sees it means he needs applause, or encouragement, or acknowledgement or not. It is not for the woman but the man.
When two people enter into a marriage, when both parties haven’t unlearnt anything, we resort to our gender mandates or our upbringing. We might not want to be like our father but our father’s behaviour is all that is in our heads for how a father should behave. It is not genetic, it is psychological. Changing diapers is “eeewww”, but how else do we connect to our children? Bonding happens in many ways. When you look at your baby, touch their skin, feed them, care for them, you’re bonding with them. Rocking a baby to sleep or stroking its back establishes a relationship and makes them feel more comfortable. Babies can cry and scream when handed to their fathers not because his body is bony and hard, not because they are trying to smell instincts, but because they are wondering “who under heavens is this absolute stranger, possibly kidnapper that my main caretaker just handed me to! Help. I feel unsafe?”. Raising a child is a lifetime commitment. You can’t check in or check out of bonding.
When men don’t bond with their babies, they are also telling the women in their lives that they are just like the woman’s fathers. And women are one of the most adaptable creatures in the eco system! They enter into flow mode. They become their mothers. They raise their children to survive a household where there is no emotional connection with the big man in the house. There is a distance in the marriage in itself because the woman is having a lifelong experience the father has chosen to not relate with. The relationship, the love in itself suffers. This can be seen when couples assume a baby should make them closer, but when they are not sharing the experience together, as a team, it drives them apart. The man further puts himself into work, career, paper chasing, to fill a widening hole in his life.
Two parent households can still be broken homes. Children know when something thing is missing in their lives. Daddy issues is not a woman thing. We all have daddy and mummy issues.
I clearly can’t define all scenarios of our childhood, maybe yours was a different type of weird, but as a child you always sensed when something was off.
Scenarios: We all had those daddies that constantly forgot our birthdays and real ages, who had zero information about us like we were strangers living in their houses. We all had mommies who told us to thank our daddies for paying our school fees, and we did it because we felt like we were a burden the father was managing. We all had mummies who told us this was okay because they had adapted to our daddy’s nonchalance to everyone. We had daddies who take their sons to manly games and sports, tell them to not listen to the mothers because that’s how they always nag, who slap and hit the boys to make them man up, and who buy pink bows and tiaras for the daughters because they are precious princesses that should never suffer in life but boys should. A bad child is a training error on the part of the mom. A well rounded child is the pride of their father.
“Don’t disturb daddy with your crying, oya come and hug me and tell me what is wrong”. The child learns that daddy is for school fees and assignment, mummy is for food, some assignments, and every emotional concerns. Male children learn to turn to women, not each other, for emotional succour and connection. First their mothers, later their girlfriends and wives.
One day we will discuss mothers holding on to their son so tight because they’re used to being his only emotional support and losing that to another woman will leave them bereft, as if they’re about to lose their best friends. Which should have been their husbands but it is husband that is emotionally available that a woman can be best friends with.
One day we will discuss why a lot of couples don’t want kids and didn’t know or discuss they don’t want kids. How they end up having kids, then the man “runs away” because he’s genuinely overwhelmed, and the woman feels stuck raising a child she’s feeling too guilty to admit she didn’t want, a child that has tied her down and stunted her business or career, then she feels resentment towards her husband for his privilege of avoiding child raising. Some mothers proceed to take it out on the children!
If you’re wondering why there are 5 mother’s day in a year? You’re wondering why many fathers are not “loved enough”? Why there are so many songs appreciating mothers but never fathers? You’re a young man and you can see the future; one day you’re old and nobody gives a damn about you? You see a divorcee who’s children never call him because they “chose the mother”. You’re unhappy about this and not many people get why you’re unhappy about it.
Couples pulling their weight and bringing stuff to the table is not just about finances. It is about the emotional work and connection needed to sustain a union, and raise the child you have decided (maybe mistakenly) to bring into the union. As marriage is a total unit, you can’t love your wife and not love your child and connect emotionally with it. It can’t pay off. The child can sense it. You can’t love your child and deliberately, consistently hurt the other most important person in the child’s life (the mother). One person’s feelings affect the others in the unit. And if there is no wholeness, it falls on the child to navigate a difficult relationship/existence without anyone to talk to or take advice from. Children start to choose patterns of behaviour they think can help them cope. We see them as difficult, unruly, untrained, bullies, who go on to perpetuate trauma for other children.
Subconsciously a child can blame the party they have zero emotional connection with. You can slave at work from 6am to 10pm every night to give the child “a better life” and they’ll “choose” the mothers whose “simple and easy job” was telling them sorry and being there to put them to bed every night. Men think they are getting all the wealth and working hard because of the child, but really they are doing it for their own social status. This is wrong values to teach children, confusing paper chasing with emotional connections. The male child will of course choose paper chasing for status and ego competition, when he doesn’t succeed he’ll have lost on all sides. A child doesn’t hate its parent for being poor! A child hates its parent for being unkind to them. A child hates parents who “fight all the time” or are busy all the time and have no room for them in their lives. “Why give birth to me only to ignore me, mistreat me, or act like you’re doing me a favor. I did not ask to be born!” How about don’t have kids and you can squarely face pursuing other goals? “Having it all” is an illusion that stretches us, and not everyone will survive trying.
And it is not enough to have 5 mother’s day in a year. Gratitude to your wife/baby mama for doing the work isn’t enough. Simply don’t let her do it alone. Don’t leave your child without an emotionally avialable father figure!
No one can “get you” if you don’t put yourself out there. As a man, you can’t keep waiting for the perfect woman in your life to “see you and accept you” so that your emotional expectations can be met. And when you see a woman who is considering carrying the weight of your emotions, why stay aloof? Let her in. For the good times and bad times of your life. Find outlets, find your friends, cry and share your life deeply with someone. If this pandemic has taught us nothing, it should teach us that community and human connection is life.
We are one large community of dysfunctional people who disassociate on a major scale! We somehow see our childhood as good because pointing out that it was traumatic and abnormal forces us to deal with emotions we have kept buried. But facing it means healing from it and being able to solidly create a different future. You don’t have to become your father or mothers if they were not ideal for you. You don’t have to grow old and start begging your children to pass some love your way, your children wont have to treat you the way you’re treating your fathers.
Many people who had bad marriages are lonely in old age, they can’t connect with each other, so they keep putting the emotional burden on children that are trying to create their own lives. A different life. The parents keep barging in their children’s business because they have no boundaries and the child never created one. It will be accepted if there was a relationship with your child to begin with. They will be open and accept to continue the relationship. But where all they remember about you was brief moments of connections, what is there to continue?
Forget what you have known marriage to be.
Do you as a man want to be applauded every step of the way when you’re learning? Ask for acknowledgement. And if the praises make you feel awkward, say so too. “Use your words”.
As a man, as a human being, we are all participating in some sort of social validation. When we hear what confirms our existing beliefs, there is a bell in our head that goes “Ding!”. When it argues with us, we tend to kick, call the other person misinformed and wrong, and we simply move on. This may happen to you as you read this. The only way true information is passed, the only way to challenge our existing beliefs, is to actively go out there looking for that to happen. Whatever future we wish to create for ourselves is entirely up to us!
When you don’t make the conscious decision to unlearn and relearn patterns of behaviours, you keep falling to stereotypes even when you really want to do differently. If there was nobody to show you, we live in a world of information overload. Go to the internet. There are many websites and instagram pages that share black men loving and being emotionally available, looking joyful and healthy. Not your style, get a therapist.
And if there are unresolved issues that I have not touched on, please share in the comments, or send a message using the contact form. Life doesn’t have to be hard, a little bit of self work, and healing, and you’ll be the happiest person alive, rich or poor.