Last night, my husband and I drove through heavy winds and torrential rain from Glasgow back home to our cosy cottage in rural Cumbria. We’d just left our younger daughter, Eliza, behind to begin her new life as a university student. Messages came through on my phone from friends asking me if I was ok. I guess they figured I’d be a blubbering mess: after all, I now live in a home with no children, and after 21 years of parenting, it’s a new land. Sure, the terrain is going to be different, but the traveller is well equipped for the journey.
My overriding feeling, though, as we drove, was one of immense gratitude. That amazing man beside me, driving us safely through wind and rain, has been by my side every step of the parenting way. Not once did he ever say he was too tired to change a nappy, or rock a teething baby (even when he was up at 4am to work as a breakfast announcer on radio). On days when I flailed around hopelessly (and there were many), he was there, steady as a rock, providing practical support and humour by the bucket load.
It might seem odd, given that I founded, edited and published a magazine solely dedicated to the holistic path of mothering for more than a decade, that I would today—the first day of living in a poorly named empty nest—be writing about the sacred journey of fatherhood. The truth is, though, that my path through mothering was made possible, and enhanced, by his constant high-level of awareness to my needs and those of our children.
Whatever decisions were made regarding our children, and there were many that flew in the face of popular culture, he was intimately part of and proactive in those choices. Not once, not in more than two decades of our parenting partnership, did I ever feel I was in the job alone.
Parenting with another person is the ultimate business partnership. I used to joke with my daughters: don’t have sex with anyone you’re not prepared to have children with! But it’s not a joke, not really. The older (and hopefully, wiser) I get, the more conscious I become of the enormous responsibility and privilege it is to be a parent, and bring a new being Earthside. Surely the person we choose to share this parenting journey with should be up to the job? But, like mothering, there is no manual for being a fabulous father.
To father consciously and from the heart means knowing one’s self, and constantly choosing ways of being and living that allow you to become the highest version of who you are. Sometimes this happens in the presence of children, and sometimes it doesn’t.
I saw a post on Facebook this morning, which although was clearly meant in good humour, upset me quite a lot. Why? Because it was pretty much about how awful being married is, but you know, we stick at it anyway because that’s love. It went on and on about the fighting and screaming and inconsideration and suchlike that happens in parenting. I read it twice, and thought: that doesn’t happen in my home or marriage.
Did I just get lucky? Yeah, maybe. But actually, each of us is responsible for how we show up in relationship. It’s far too easy to blame our partner because they did or didn’t do something. If we truly love our partner, then we live in a way that respects them as well as ourselves. We only want the BEST for them. If that is the foundation of our marriage/partnership, then this absolutely flows into the relationship we have with our children.
Many times over the years I’ve heard comments like: “If the dad bottle-feeds the baby he can bond with it.” NOT TRUE. This isn’t how bonding works. A bottle is an inanimate object. It does not connect father and child.
If a father truly wants to be connected to his child (and the child’s mother), he needs to spend time with them.
It’s not just women who have hormones in relation to parenting, men do too.
Vasopressin (also in women, but to a much lesser degree) is a ‘monogamy’ hormone which promotes strong, paternal behaviour. This occurs when a man is living with his pregnant partner.
Testosterone drives a man, encourages aggression, and tempts him elsewhere. Vasopressin has the opposite effect. It encourages a father to be dedicated to his partner, protective, stable, and want to touch and be touched. It helps him bond with his baby. The hormone is triggered through being near to the mother in pregnancy, and with mother and child during and after birth. The ability of his body to interpret his partner’s hormones is due to him detecting the change in her pheromones (steroid hormones on her skin).
When my husband and I met, I invited him for dinner. He moved in the next day. Six weeks later, I was pregnant. Our relationship has been a creative partnership of raising two wonderful daughters. Now, as we explore life as a couple (thinking ‘honeymoon time’) without children to raise, I allow my heart to be filled with an immense ocean of gratitude for a man who not only loved me fully, as a wife, a woman, and a mother, but who always had time for our children. It has been a sacred journey, this path of loving our babies into adulthood. I know with absolute certainty that I couldn’t have been the mother I was without his excellent fathering skills.