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A lesson on knitting for men

July 2, 2011

A Lesson in Knitting for Men by Phillip White

Much has been written about childbirth, pregnancy and now more and more researchers are trying to unravel the mysterious reasons for why first time parents face high “risk for relationship distress and dissolution” (Mitnick, Heyman, & Smith, 2009).  But to me it is simple.  Men don’t understand how significant the effects of childbirth are or the demands that are placed on women in caring for an infant, and they are often clueless as to what steps to take to ease the stressors involved with becoming parents of an baby.  The biggest problem is that men don’t know a thing about knitting.

Studies related to how men feel about the antenatal education (usually childbirth education classes) have shown that men feel their needs are not addressed, and state that they did not feel prepared for bringing the baby home, that the focus of the classes was the mother’s pregnancy and childbirth.  They feel unprepared for setting up babyville, and more than half of the guys have no social networks established: no,  facebook doesn’t count.  One article (Halle, et al., 2008) had this to say:

Why then was the perceived lack of interpersonal support so evident?  We would argue that this reluctance to access support was possible due to a lack of exposure to other fathers who were effectively developing and using a social support network.

So after reading several studies, and learning where the great expectations were dashed, I think I have a few words for dads to help them set a course for the early weeks and months of fatherhood after childbirth (a.k.a.: postpartum).  First let’s look at the major stressors and dividers of the couple’s unity.

Foremost is the effect the change in the couple’s daily routines will have on the mother.  Women who work or don’t work will be at home 24/7 taking care of the baby after the birth, but men, may have to go make to work; on the other hand, they (in the U.S.A.) may be able to use Family Medical Leave to also take time off from work, but a large portion of men, being the main breadwinner will often only take a short amount of time off as they can’t afford time off without pay, so they are quite often headed back into their old routines.

When men get home after working, they may find their partners just want to hand them their child, after a long day of meeting the baby’s needs.    You can hear the dialogue, “Good, your’re home,” says the mother.  “Here’s your son, I need a break.”  Many stay-at-home moms say that they just can’t wait to have time with real humans (those older than 3).

If the woman is having trouble breastfeeding or caring for the child, especially if the child develops a cold, that stress is exacerbated.  So if men have stressful jobs, and then come home to a stressful situation, that adds further discomfort in the young family.

Young family finances are also affected frequently by the arrival of a baby.  Finances are stressors on any relationship, and this can tear at the fabric of the home.  If the woman worked, and now that income is missing, couples will see a significant depreciation in their financial flexibility.

Sleep deprivation is also a part of the relationship puzzle that people tend to overlook.  When they  don’t have adequate sleep, most people get more grumpy, emotional strung out, and hypersensitive.  This adds to the emotional fragile ice for couples.

The added weight of all these issues strains every relationship.  Intimacy for some couples is obliterated.  Women report as a group to usually feel less attractive.  If the woman is having trouble adjusting to breastfeeding or to altering her schedule and routine, or feels she isn’t doing a good job mothering in any way, then,  often she will be harried, frustrated, or even angry.

What can couples do to alleviate deterioration in their relationships?  Well for the period before the child is born, they can communicate about their expectations.  They can discuss with other couples and learn the parenting trials and tribulations.  They can start reaching out and finding a support network.

For men, often they have become out of touch with their friends and family if they have been working steadily.  Men are not community focused for the most part.  Women too need to understand the need of support and to develop stronger bonds with others in the community.  If the couple is only supporting each other, then they aren’t going to have much flexibility in adapting to the newborn’s presence and transition from “couplehood” to family.  To me this is the most significant component to helping a couple to have some of an emotional cushion.

Think about organizations that provide support:  La Leche League, Churches and Synagogues, YMCAs, Health Care providers.  Any like-minded social group or club can provide a basis for the development of a weave between young families to establish some societal contacts.  At some level even the childbirth education classes can help couples find common ground with others going through birth, but it is the older families that can provide educated support.   By drawing the family into a stronger support network, men can help their partners to find comfort and relief that they themselves may not have the energy to provide.   Establishing these networks will provide both short-term relief from the stresses of adjustment to becoming a family and years to come for strengthening the family.   If the event says “Childcare provided,” or are supportive of nursing mothers  you should attend.

Knowing others families who already have children is also a great way to equipping a family for the future.  Older couples, with kids of their own, know the stresses you are going through, and often their empathy turns out to provide you practical help and advice.  You may also find people who love to adopt families like fairy-tale godmothers equipped with magic wands and sparkling ruby shoes.   (My wife wrote about Ann Marie in an earlier piece, but her husband John’s role modeling and support was without price.)

Initially when you bring your baby home, too much intrusion from the outside can become interference, but make sure you get out of the home within the month to begin soliciting corporate human connections for that is smart.  Nothing attracts favor more than a lovely sleeping baby in its bunting.  It’s like having a jar of honey in front of a colony of bees.  Babies sell.  But you have to go out in the market of humankind and return again and again before those connections solidify into networks of reinforcement.  With repetition, do we establish bonds with others, so be consistent.

How does this community outlook bring about a balm to the couple’s relationship?  Well, it’s like a fabric.  The more threads you have, the better the strength of the cloth.  Practically, you will see that couples will be able to spend more time focusing on their relationship, more time taking care of self care, and  this will help to de-stress them.  Many men complain that they are neglected once baby comes into the picture.  Their emotional and sexual needs are dropped, and all women do is focus on the baby.

For couples who haven’t worked on developing this communal support for the family, they can feel flattened, overwhelmed and plain stupefied by the extreme changes that the “baby family” experiences.  These changes in the family can have month upon month of deteriorating affects on couple’s often bringing them to separation and the anguishes that that entails.  My advice for men is to learn to knit.  By taking your partner away from the chores, and the baby, the diapers, the feeding, the laundry, the dishes piled in the sink, the stressors of ordinary living, you can see the value of the blanket of love from the community that supports you.

As time goes on, these developments lead you to provide date nights, and if you want to keep the flames of romance in your life, you can start with the early childrearing and build that right into your lives.  Of course, don’t forget to reassure your partner in how much you love them, how gorgeous they are even when they are wearing a gray sweatpants and baby spittle-covered  white t-shirt with the “Pink” logo underneath .  Build her self-esteem every opportunity you have.  It will pay dividends.  Mother’s job is the least acclaimed employment in the world and handles the most precious of commodities.

So men learn to knit if you want to provide a more stable and sane environment for your developing family.

Works Cited

Cowan, P. C., & Cowan, P. A. (1995). Interventions to Ease the Transition to Parenthood. Family Relations , 412-423.

Halle, C., Dowd, T., Fowler, C., Rissel, K., Hennessy, K., MacNevin, R., et al. (2008, Dec.). Supporting fathers in the transition to parenthood. Contemporary nurse : a journal for the Australian nursing profession , 57-70.

Mitnick, D. M., Heyman, R. E., & Smith, A. M. (2009). Changes in Relationship Satisifaction Across the Transition to Parenthood: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Family Psychology , Vol. 23 (6).

Nystrom, K., & Ohrling, K. (2004). Parenthood experiences during the child’s first year: literature review. Journal of Advanced Nurding , 319-329.

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