Daddy, back off!

Early into my pregnancy I joined a New Zealand Facebook group for women with babies due to be born in June, July or August that year.

This was my first pregnancy so I thought it’d be great to have the support of other kiwi women. There were a few posts and genuine advice, but most of the ladies only posted to complain about their morning sickness and their expanding waistlines.

As the pregnancies advanced and once the babies started to be born, the complaints only got bigger and louder. It became my bedtime ritual to go through the Facebook group and read everyone else’s misfortunes. It was very entertaining!

There was one thing that made everyone annoyed, angry and sad. Every day, without fail, almost every complaint was about this one thing: The baby’s daddy.

Everyone had an opinion about their partner and more often than not, it wasn’t a good one. Based on everyone’s posts, I started to form a picture of the New Zealand dad in my mind.

He was hard-working, or at least he thought he was hard-working, but he wasn’t paid enough money. He always spent that money on Playstations, tools, or cars. He was emotionally unavailable, he was a drunk, he was a cheater and he was unable to cook or clean for himself. Above all, he wasn’t ever interested in helping with the baby.

There were women all over New Zealand unhappy, unsatisfied and unwilling to think that anything might ever change. This was just how it was. This was just what men were like.

Was being absent just part of being a father?

My husband’s job allowed him to spend five weeks annual leave when Ashton was born. That’s when I started to realise I had married a very different man.

Every night when Ashton woke, Oliver was up and at the bassinet in a flash. Whenever little Ashton did a massive poo, Oliver was quick to change the nappy. Whenever the baby couldn’t sleep, Oliver would rock him in his arms until he drifted off.

He sang songs, he gave him a bath every night, he cooked, he kept the house in order and he did all the grocery runs.

All I did was feed the child (I bet he would have tried that too if it had been possible).

Perhaps it was those pesky, post-partum hormones at work or perhaps I was just being plain old selfish, but after a while, I started to want the baby all to myself.

Whenever Ashton woke from a nap, we’d race to reach him first. We’d fight to get him to sleep, saying “let me try” passive-aggressively. I set an alarm one night so I could wake an hour before everyone else, get dressed and start my day before my husband, just so I would be ready when Ashton finally woke.

The battle was on.

Ashton was about four weeks old and screaming his head off, unable to dislodge a burb. I was gently trying to wind him. Suddenly my husband was behind me, trying to lift the baby out of my arms.

“We’re okay” I said calmly.

“How about I have a go?” he replied,

“We’re okay”

“Well what if I try him on my shoulder?”

“HE JUST NEEDS HIS MUM. I’M THE MUM!” I blurted out.

I pulled the mum card and my husband backed away.

Oh the irony! Every night I’d sit in bed, reading about all these men whose wives just wanted them to help with the kids, and yet my over-helpful husband was barked at by his bitchy wife for just trying to lend a hand.

I wanted his help, but I didn’t want his help. I didn’t want his help, but I also didn’t want to do it on my own. I wanted his help, but I didn’t want to share my baby. The whole thing was quite confusing.

We belong to a community of mums who are self-motivated and can actually do this whole parenting thing on their own. But because of this, our partners are often put in the background, or over-applauded when they do something simple like change a nappy, or give mum an hour’s break. Shouldn’t it really be an even partnership?

I had a husband willing to do more, just like a lot of other well-meaning dads out there, but suddenly I felt it was my duty to push him away.

When I pulled out the “mum” card, I wasn’t just saying “I’m the mum”- I was also saying “You’re just the dad” – I was inadvertently telling my husband that his role wasn’t as important as mine.

Well the weeks passed and the day came when Olly went back to work. There wasn’t a race to change a dirty nappy any more.

A couple of months later, Oliver was back at home to study for an important work exam.

Every morning, he’d wake up with the baby (normally around 6:30am) and let me sleep for another couple of hours. They would sit in the lounge, singing, cuddling and playing. After that, Olly would sit him on his lap and go through his study material. When Ashton got tired, he’d bring him to me; I would feed him and then settle him back to bed. It was fantastic for me and even better for my son.

I started to notice that Ashton would constantly look for his dad, no matter where we went. He knew I’d always be there, but now whenever we went to a new place, he’d glance around and smile widely when his eye’s locked on Olly. My husband didn’t even have to look at him and Ashton would be smiling away, laughing and having a great time, knowing that he was with his favourite person. I couldn’t help but love it.

I opened my Facebook app, went to the NZ Parents group I had so eagerly joined many months prior, and deleted it from my phone. I would no longer read the dramas, just like I’d no longer buy the idea that the dad’s job is to step back.

We are partners - equally yoked - and I know I wouldn’t be half the parent I am without him next to me. My son was safe in his arms, my son was happy, my son was blessed. That was all that mattered.

And actually, I was very, very blessed too.

Rachel Chen