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You're Not The Father I Expected You To Be...

I sit with numerous men who experience the challenges of becoming a father. Many of them are exasperated and at a point that they don’t know what to do. They share personal experiences that express how they are lost, not sure who they are, afraid of who they are becoming, and worried about the fate of their marriage. All the while they are also in awe of the life they helped to create and the unprecedented joy they are experiencing. It’s a tidal wave of overwhelming emotions. It is also a peak under the tent within a relationship.

 

It is not uncommon that, when couples meet with me during a session each of them expresses their concerns around how their partner’s behavior has changed since a child has entered the relationship. A common scenario is that the relationship has become a lose-lose situation for both. The dialogue between the two has transitioned and it has become unhealthy, destructive, and painful. On many occasions, I hear from one or both that “I’m exhausted”, “I’m disappointed” or “this is not what I imagined.”

 

Both partners are equally hurting in their own way. On several occasions, fathers have shared with me the pain and disappointment they hold within themselves regarding their behavior around their child or towards their partner. Many have described the experience of being told by their partner “you’re not the father I expected you to be…” For many fathers that is a crushing blow to receive.

 

Randomly, many fathers I work with will take responsibility for being overwhelmed and not helping enough or admit to not understanding what their partner’s needs are. Some express simply being afraid of the job of being a father and admit to an avoidant pattern of interacting within the family. Most of the fathers want to do good. They want to learn how to be better. Unfortunately, there are some that are still clinging to life before kids.

 

One theme that I consistently hear from fathers revolves around how hurt they are from hearing the words “you’re not the father I expected you to be…” To be even more specific, many of the fathers find themselves ruminating around the word “expected.” Which takes us back to my earlier reference of getting a peak under the tent within a relationship.

 

It is very common, after the fact, to hear from both fathers and mothers that they didn’t necessarily have as deep or as broad a conversation about becoming a parent as they thought they had. I routinely hear, “we didn’t know.” For many, the pre-child conversations remained at surface level covering dialogue involving - can we afford a child, size of the house, car seats, what to name the child, religious affiliation, who would work, childcare costs, nursing or bottle, etc. While these questions are important there are other conversations that should be explored as individuals and as a couple.

 

One of those conversations should revolve around expectations. The notion of knowing what to say and how to say it can be difficult, many individuals don’t know their own expectations until they experience a situation that prompts them to express it. This may be why the conversation may not commonly take place beforehand. Ask yourself, how often have you sat down to discuss expectations with your partner before a situation occurs? If you have a child, did you discuss with your partner both of your individual experiences and expectations in regard to how you expect each other to react? How to speak to your child? Ask for help from one another or deal with sleep exhaustion? Not too many couples do. Simply because they do not know what they are about to experience.

 

For many of the fathers I work with, we take the time to process the anger, resentment, or pain associated with hearing “you’re not the father I expected you to be…” We identify who they see themselves being as a man, as a husband, and as a father. Then, we start the journey to connect with emotions, learn new language around expressing feelings, build skills to manage behaviors, instill the courage to be vulnerable with their partners, and learn how to express what they need, as well as, be attuned to what their partner needs.

I sit with numerous men who experience the challenges of becoming a father. Many of them are exasperated and at a point that they don’t know what to do. They share personal experiences that express how they are lost, not sure who they are, afraid of who they are becoming, and worried about the fate of their marriage. All the while they are also in awe of the life they helped to create and the unprecedented joy they are experiencing. It’s a tidal wave of overwhelming emotions. It is also a peak under the tent within a relationship.

It is not uncommon that, when couples meet with me during a session each of them expresses their concerns around how their partner’s behavior has changed since a child has entered the relationship. A common scenario is that the relationship has become a lose-lose situation for both. The dialogue between the two has transitioned and it has become unhealthy, destructive, and painful. On many occasions, I hear from one or both that “I’m exhausted”, “I’m disappointed” or “this is not what I imagined.”

Both partners are equally hurting in their own way. On several occasions, fathers have shared with me the pain and disappointment they hold within themselves regarding their behavior around their child or towards their partner. Many have described the experience of being told by their partner “you’re not the father I expected you to be…” For many fathers that is a crushing blow to receive.

Randomly, many fathers I work with will take responsibility for being overwhelmed and not helping enough or admit to not understanding what their partner’s needs are. Some express simply being afraid of the job of being a father and admit to an avoidant pattern of interacting within the family. Most of the fathers want to do good. They want to learn how to be better. Unfortunately, there are some that are still clinging to life before kids.

One theme that I consistently hear from fathers revolves around how hurt they are from hearing the words “you’re not the father I expected you to be…” To be even more specific, many of the fathers find themselves ruminating around the word “expected.” Which takes us back to my earlier reference of getting a peak under the tent within a relationship.

It is very common, after the fact, to hear from both fathers and mothers that they didn’t necessarily have as deep or as broad a conversation about becoming a parent as they thought they had. I routinely hear, “we didn’t know.” For many, the pre-child conversations remained at surface level covering dialogue involving - can we afford a child, size of the house, car seats, what to name the child, religious affiliation, who would work, childcare costs, nursing or bottle, etc. While these questions are important there are other conversations that should be explored as individuals and as a couple.

One of those conversations should revolve around expectations. The notion of knowing what to say and how to say it can be difficult, many individuals don’t know their own expectations until they experience a situation that prompts them to express it. This may be why the conversation may not commonly take place beforehand. Ask yourself, how often have you sat down to discuss expectations with your partner before a situation occurs? If you have a child, did you discuss with your partner both of your individual experiences and expectations in regard to how you expect each other to react? How to speak to your child? Ask for help from one another or deal with sleep exhaustion? Not too many couples do. Simply because they do not know what they are about to experience.

For many of the fathers I work with, we take the time to process the anger, resentment, or pain associated with hearing “you’re not the father I expected you to be…” We identify who they see themselves being as a man, as a husband, and as a father. Then, we start the journey to connect with emotions, learn new language around expressing feelings, build skills to manage behaviors, instill the courage to be vulnerable with their partners, and learn how to express what they need, as well as, be attuned to what their partner needs.

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