I consider myself a pretty mature, independent man. But it wasn’t until I became a father that I realized how much I relied on my wife.
When Della was born, all of Serenity’s attention rightfully went to the baby, and I discovered how much emotional and practical support I had grown dependent on.
It’s hard to admit, but on an unconscious level I still want someone to take care of me. Now suddenly my wife has an actual child to raise, and any parental-like support I used to receive went to Della. I had to step up to not only parent my new child, but also to parent my inner child.
There isn’t much talk about paternal postnatal depression and anxiety, but I went through some version of this. I probably subconsciously knew it would happen, but I wasn’t prepared. I’ve heard other new fathers face similar issues and despite societal stigma, we must address it.
We were sleep-deprived, our lives had been turned upside down, and I faced the sudden withdrawal of my wife’s undivided attention. I couldn’t complain because I was so happy to be a father, and Serenity clearly had it WAY harder than me. But there were challenges I faced that pushed (and expanded) my limits.
It was easy to become self-sacrificing as I saw how challenging the physical recovery was for Serenity, how needy Della was, and how much work there was to do. All my self-care practices dwindled until I faced a serious burn out. I became restless, angry, irritable, and pessimistic. I had lost not only my wife’s support, but also my personal inner-support, which sent me into a downward spiral.
But from severe struggle comes immense growth, and that’s what I found about three months in. As I hit rock bottom, I learned new ways to care for myself. I revamped my workouts, resumed meditation, prioritized time with friends, and signed us up for a parent support group.
I couldn’t leave the house to go see a movie whenever I wanted anymore. Trips out had to be carefully planned with an overt agreement from my wife or a caregiver to watch Della. This felt like a huge restriction on my freedom, but really it forced me to be more intentional about self-care activities. I had to believe I deserved them enough to do the planning and negotiating. This was me learning to parent my inner-child, while also meeting the needs of my actual child.
Even more so, I had NO IDEA how much Serenity did around the house. I thought we had a 50/50 split on chores, but even with members of our community handling Serenity’s regular chores, the house totally fell apart! I had to expand my attention to appreciate just how much she sees and does, and drop my resistance to handling extra tasks or helping when she asks.
Now every moment with Serenity is precious. When I don’t need her attention, I can enjoy and accept it with more pleasure and grace. When I handle my own inner child’s needs, I can relate to my wife as a powerful man and fill her up so that she can give even more attention to our daughter.
I am proud to be modeling behaviors of a loving, independent adult for Della and showing her what a healthy relationship between two equal partners can look like. She gets to witness us both prioritizing our self care, having independent lives outside the house, and openly negotiating a fair division of responsibility.
I had no idea how much growth I would experience becoming a father. I am learning how to be kinder to myself, more supportive of my partner, and more powerful in my life. It is truly the most life-expanding thing I have ever done, and I am grateful for that every day.