I never thought it would be like this
Exploring why we feel ‘let down’ by motherhood and our unrealistic expectations. “All I changed is that I listen. Stop. Reflect. Respect. I no longer judge, analyse, awfulize, try to change him.”
Psychologists Betty Chetcuti and Eva Canning take an experiential approach in helping couples re-establish enjoyment.
Beginning with a philosophy of Learning from the Patient (Casement, P. 19..) Eva and Betty were interested in engaging with the meaning, concerns, highs and lows described by their clients. Betty described a theme from some fathers of, “We just want our wives back”. There seemed to be an emerging story of some men feeling unwilling to talk about peak experiences at the end of the working day when their partners were feeling swamped by domestic demands.
Betty had run a series of workshops on being a mother initially to gain insight and offer strategies for mothers, followed by a father’s group and then another series for couples. Eva’s perspective came from 12 years of clinical experience as well as her own experience of marriage partnerships (more than one!) and mothering two sons, now 22 and 32. In working with couples Eva had noticed a pattern of goodwill yet a common experience of frustration and disconnection between once loving partners, where trying to reach and support each other had become increasingly like walking on eggshells.
Eva and Betty’s aim in this report is to document and validate couples’ experiences and to offer an enriched perspective on some of the factors that may be influencing marriages, particularly after the arrival of children. [ also: To present at a conference.]
Identifying themes, threads, hearing one another’s stories.
From Betty and Eva’s meeting 7.8.03:
Feedback from Betty’s workshops indicated the things that were most helpful were not what she had expected. She had thought improvement would be gradual, but in many cases it was immediate.
The three things that people found most helpful
The essence of REBT – the acceptance wheel
The positive mind map (acceptance wheel) is simple, easy, nice, personal – its theirs, with examples to illustrate:
After a difficult period with her young son, Betty constructed a positive mind map setting out his positive attributes: generous, smart, sharing, mature, a good worker (examples) with beautiful eyes and smile, behaviour (examples) and characteristics (examples). “Seeing him from a positive perspective positive made me feel positive” and also had a transforming effect on this formerly “cranky” little boy.
Used in workshops, participants found this method helped them stay focused, positive and able to transform their relationships with both partners and children. For children, the “map” or acceptance wheel, displayed on kitchen cupboard or fridge, helps to develop a positive self view.
From Betty and Eva’s meeting 14.8.03
From the Dad’s workshop, the question was asked:
What do you like about your wife now that you are a Dad?
There was a theme of men’s admiration for their wife.
A strong protector role.
A feeling of being second place to the children.
Quotes from The Age of father’s with post natal depression highlighted that they are all just so busy.
Betty has a therapeutic question for people being mums and dads:
How can I enjoy you now?
REALITY LOVE vs idealised images, e.g. THE ‘GLAMOUR’ OF THE 50’S?
Some thoughts on the stages of being a parent and partner. A thought about attitudes, and that it doesn’t magically get better.
Betty’s personal example of a sense of “general background irritation”. “I was waiting for him to change. I was creating these problems.” “It was persistence that kept us together.” [Compare Doherty’s article in PIA of a day by day getting by.]
A view of marriage and parenting from the 50’s:
Betty wondered about some of the magazine images of marriage in the 50’s. Was this truth or illusion – the images of lipstick and a glass of wine at the end of the day? This stimulated a train of thought for Betty. What if as a woman she could create something nice thing for her husband to come home to? As a woman to be more presentable for his maleness. A gift to him and to us. The kids seeing us having a nice time and interaction. Being generous and authentic. Enjoyment. Such an attitude, she thought might communicate a genuine gesture of goodwill. Make home life a lot nicer for everyone, including the children. Find ways to enjoy each other versus nagging at and put downs. (Parents will do anything for their kids, she bemused – even if such a change of heart was initially instigated for the sake of the children!)
Her aim was to bring in behaviours that were more “intentional” and more in line with how one wants to live. The result of this personal experiment was a gaining of perspective and a more enjoyable home life:
“It goes from a drama to enjoying him,” Betty explained, referring to relationships with both her husband and her son. She noticed a letting go of control to some extent. Even making an appointment to speak and be heard once a week can be helpful for couples.
The Dad’s Workshop revealed that Dad’s want:
More time to talk about ourselves (i.e. the couple?)
They want (are hungry for) our positive regard
I’ve trained myself (to remember):
- He loves me
- He may not be expressing it
People get stressed when:
- Struggling with something
- Identify/be aware of my response
- Being responsible
- How do I deal with this in a way that will lead to satisfaction and self respect?
- Was there a (relatively) good situation that I was negatively interpreting? e.g. if onlyyou didn’t get upset … I can only change my reaction. For example to be realistic instead of idealistic, and to remember than everything changes.
The result was “like a different set of characters in a play, transforming from tragedy to triumph.”
“He was the bane of my existence. Now I’m so in love with him. It was me that was in my way of my life.”
When she took a disciplined approach of noticing what (who) this man was and who he wasn’t, things clarified. “When I write it down I can see it,” Betty said. “Why can’t he just know!” “I’m sure he’d love me to know he just wants a cuddle!”
Betty’s aim in being a mother was to collect good memories to look back on. With some personal awareness and intentionality, she found she could move on through the “crappy, angst” moments, to being with them (the children) for two entire seconds, to fully engage.
The following summary of selected aspects of a 2003 workshop highlights some aspirations, concerns and day-to-day experiences of today’s fathers
Warm Up: What would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?
12 months travel around Australia
To work overseas on one of my projects
Perform music, drama
6 weeks overseas with my wife
Wine appreciation course
Finding new ways to relate to my wife – supporting her
Different ways to respond to my wife
To be able to show empathy, understanding one another’s perspective
How to share the experience
Make time to talk about ourselves
Decrease anger with the children so we can go from frustration to calm
To enjoy the children, ‘be’ with the children
50:50 responsibility re raising children
Be involved in activities with children – weekend activities as a family
Wanted to maintain spontaneity, least interference, more balance
Focus on establishing career
More help from family
Do everything together as a family
Would be rosy
Feel I should be doing something with the girls all the time versus being in front of the video
Relative lack of order
Get frustrated because make it harder than it needs to be
Relationship has some issues
Automatically felt second place, hard to get used to it.
More organization would help
Hard juggling work and kids; swapping of roles, 4 weeks off was great
How to not make kids the focus of your conversations with others
Miss the pre-children experiences, socializing, dinner parties, out with the lads/boys
Coming home at the wrong part of the day
Put boundaries around self versus being spontaneous
Physicality /demands of having twins
Invasion of privacy with having paid help in our home
Get stressed when wife gets stressed
1st 8 months was home with the girls and wife. Then moved down to Melbourne – this was stressful. Then worked FT 40-50 hrs/wk. Stressful on the relationship. Was coming home to help, not play.
I put my wife above kids. She puts kids before me. I get frustrated because feel that our relationship should come first and that this would benefit the children.
My time with my wife is stronger versus being with the kids
Not in relationship with my wife long before becoming a Dad
Older Dads are more established in their careers
Thinking if I tell her about my day, she will be hurt, try to play down my work, be brief and talk about negative aspects of work.
Have had to balance work and family at an earlier life and struggling to establish my career versus guys who establish their career prior to children.
More support from my brothers/sisters – to be able to go out and have a coffee
Having one child versus twins
Finding lack of time to talk with wife, busy with kids then too tired or don’t feel like it
Having girls versus boys
Experience of my wife
Relocating from interstate when kids were 8 months – left friends and family behind.
Sleepless nights and getting up for work
Growing in different directions
Anticipate the response from my wife
Me at work and exposure to ideas/contact with adults, etc versus wife being at home being mum
Thought I was boring my wife telling her about my job because I get bored with what she tells me about her day at home with the kids.
Instead of 50:50 parenting, I became the helper instead of the parent
Relationship with my wife – for us to be more affectionate, get more cuddles
Wife to slow down a bit, wife gets narky more often than I would like – bite tongue first, then let loose and shout.
Awareness of unhelpful behaviours
Children interrupt conversations
If wife could raise issues with me without getting fired up – interpreted as husband doesn’t care about wife.
Frustrated at home and work about similar issues, being the expectations of others.
What we do not like since becoming a Dad
Being with children is clouded by other stressors
Not having as much money as we were used to
Children waking before me – no time for me in the morning
Lack of feelings of spontaneity, freedom, choice
Being in the background.
Leave at 7-7:30am and back at 6- 6:30pm
Kids have had their day, you give a kiss and play catch-up on the weekend.
Dependence of children all the time
Feeling worn out and tired.
Lack of intimacy with wife
What we do like since becoming a Dad
Influencing their development
Having something other than work
Amount of commitment and energy to children with little support(admire wife for?)
Opportunity to instill values into someone who is going to be an adult
Able to create another human being
Watching them grow
Can just ‘turn off’, be a kid again
Not as selfish, eg, no sleeping in, personally challenging and growing
Identify changes in wife and how she copes
Where did all these skills come from – as if she has always been doing it.
Matured as a person, even more so
A really good mum and resourceful, eg does homework re health practitioners, kindergarten etc.
Has taken on the responsibility re childcare, time to send them to school.
Tests used: Urgency index, Locus of control