In every marriage or serious relationship, there are bound to be areas about which differing views are held. Every person is unique and it would be unrealistic to expect two people, even those who have chosen to spend the rest of their lives together and bring children into the world, to agree on everything. Parenting issues, as they are so emotionally-charged, do seem to cause more than their fair share of marital discord. When one parent wishes to adopt a style that might be somewhat unusual or unexpected, things can get particularly tricky: this can be the case when the mother wants to co-sleep, breastfeed for an extended period of time, respond quickly to her baby's cues and so on, but the father's ideas are much more along "mainstream" Western thinking.
The "big issues" for an APer, such as a strong aversion to leaving a child to cry, are ones that she is likely to feel so passionate about that compromise in the usual sense will not be an acceptable solution. To an AP mother, the very thought of CIO, or scheduling feeds, forcibly weaning and so on are so abhorrent that she would not, and should not, allow anyone (even her life partner) to do these to their child. On the other hand, expecting to "convert" her partner to her way of thinking on every issue would be unfair.
Communication is the key
Probably the most important thing to do is to have open communication with one another about parenting issues. Often matters can be resolved quite quickly and easily once both parents have had a chance to voice feelings and concerns and have felt truly heard. Sometimes a father's reluctance to adopt some aspect of the usual AP style is due to fears or concerns that are easily addressed (see below for some common worries fathers have about AP). For example, he might worry that adopting a family bed might mean the end to intimacy with his partner, or he might be anxious about the potential of rolling on their baby. Once these reservations are in the open, then often they can be worked around in a way that is acceptable to all parties.
Often reading up on an issue of contention can be helpful. One suggestion that works for many families is to put whatever you would like your partner to read in the bathroom (removing all other reading matter). William Sears even has books and chapters aimed especially at fathers, and there is a wealth of information on the internet (try the Breastfeeding and AP Cubbies!) as well. Usually if the relationship with your parenting partner is good, he will at least be open to CONSIDERING what you have to say and studying up on it.
Common concerns men have and reassurances you can offer
There are several areas of concern with aspects of AP that seem to bother many men, so thought I would deal with the main ones here:
1. AP in general:
- It will make him too dependent/He will grow up spoilt
The literature and experiences of those who have adopted the AP style for years contradict these worries. It might help your DH to read what Dr. Sears has to say about the subject! Finding an AP support group is also helpful, as dads can talk with others who have relevant experience to relate.
- I am worried I will roll onto our baby
Many men have this fear. Usually it is unfounded, although it is true that fathers do tend to be less aware of their babies in their sleep than mothers are. If the fear exists the father will not sleep well because of the worry anyway. What is suggested is that baby sleep between mother and the wall or a safety rail rather than between the two parents.
- I am worried about the safety
Whether your baby sleeps in a crib or in bed with you, it makes sense that there are safe ways to do it and unsafe ways. The key to co-sleeping is learning about how to do it in the safest possible manner. When guidelines are adhered to religiously, there is some evidence that sleeping with your baby is actually SAFER than having him or her sleep apart. Here is another instance where doing some research/reading will help. We have a VERY comprehensive article right here in our AP Cubby: Guidelines to safe sleeping with infants.
- It will ruin our sex life!
Reality check firstly! Having a baby will undoubtedly change the spontaneity factor, no matter where he or she sleeps. Mothers are often very tired and "touched out" so patience and understanding are the key. It also helps to remember that for a woman to feel "in the mood" she has to feel loved and appreciated, so how her partner treats her and their children will play a big part in how satisfying the intimate relationship is. Respecting her motherly instinct to sleep next to baby will actually go a long way in making her feel happy, plus the fact that she is likely to get better rest this way anyway! I know personally that nothing makes me love my husband more than when he supports the way I want to mother our children! As for the old question about "where": be creative, be romantic, and see any room of the house as a potential love-making nest!
- I will feel left out
When men have seen their friends and brothers have children and join in the feeding by giving bottles, they might feel short-changed if their wife is exclusively breastfeeding, especially if she doesn't want to introduce bottles of expressed milk. These feelings should be acknowledged. It is a good thing for fathers to want to be involved: in fact, all too often mothers can feel that their partner considers himself a mere helper rather than a partner in parenting. Having said that, it should be understood that fathers have so many other ways to connect with their babies. Breastfeeding is really the only thing they can't do. Men are simply not designed for being pregnant, giving birth or feeding infants, and as they usually accept the first two without question, hopefully more men will come to realise that infant feeding is something that is the mother's domain and that they don't have to take part in this to have a fulfilling time as a father. Fathers of breastfed infants can very much be a part of their lives! Supporting their partner is the first way: realising that by breastfeeding she is giving their baby the very best (not to mention saving a lot of money!) and doing everything he can to encourage and support this effort will go a long way to helping not only the marital relationship but will also be very important for their child. Apart from feeding time, fathers can and should be as involved as they can in their baby's life: bathing, playing, wearing in a sling or holding, singing to baby are just a few ways the two can bond. Of course if a father really does feel he wants to feed his child a bottle, breastfeeding doesn't have to preclude this: a mother can express some milk for their baby. This might be a way of compromise that she is willing to make so that everyone in the family can be happy.
- I will feel embarrassed
Well, some men might very well feel embarrassed at first, but if this is the only "con" to breastfeeding then surely he can talk these feelings through and move on. It might help to think WHY he feels this way and his partner might be able to take breastfeeding in public slowly at first until he feels more comfortable, if he is having a hard time with it.
4. Sling use:
- I don't want to look like a sissy
The good news here is that more and more men are wearing their babies! When purchasing a sling it might be helpful to choose a fabric that both parents would be prepared to wear (not pastel florals for example!), or perhaps to get a sling each if you cannot agree. It might help to point out some famous men who have been seen carrying their babies and being "nurturing": thankfully these days the "sissy" notion of being a hands-on, loving father is passing.
Consider a trial period
If talking things through and compromising on those issues which are negotiable doesn't seem to work, it might help to try agreeing on a trial period. Co-sleeping is one issue that lends itself particularly well to this plan. Fathers would need to understand that a DECENT period of time would be necessary before declaring anything a failure of course! Various options that are acceptable to the mother could be put forward, in order of her preference, and a time frame could be agreed upon. The good thing about avoiding CIO is that there are SO many options available that there is bound to be some consensus, eventually anyway.
Parenting is so important that major issues need to be considered carefully. When two loving parents communicate openly about their feelings, it is almost always possible to reach decisions with which every member of the household is happy. In the case of a couple where the mother wants to AP and her partner does not, they might very well find that as time goes by, he becomes even more of an AP advocate than she is!