THE STAGES OF FATHERING

When your partner is pregnant

You can have a lot of feelings during pregnancy. Mostly, if you let yourself, you will feel tender and protective, even in some awe of your partner’s ability to perform this miracle. But some fathers-to-be seem to freak out. The fact that, according to one study, 25 per cent of all wife-bashing takes place while women are pregnant indicates that something goes badly wrong in the psyche of some men at this time. Be alert to feelings of jealousy or threat.

Your partner’s interest in sex will swing widely during pregnancy — from not at all to highly motivated. If you think that sex is like beer in the fridge for you to take when you feel like it, grow up! Real men make love with their partners by mutual seduction, kindness, care and respect. If her hormones are changing or her body is uncomfortable, respect her feelings. At the same time, respect your own feelings and don’t give up too easily if you want to win her over. There are ways to gain mutual satisfaction other than intercourse (outercourse, for instance!).

Sometimes men take their partner’s sexual responsiveness as an indication of whether they are loved or not.

Tests of strength (especially good for dads)

The invitation to begin this game is often given by children, without them realising it. They will start insisting: ‘I’m the biggest in this family’, ‘I know what’s best’, ‘I know more than you do’, ‘I’m in charge around here.’ Whereby the parent proceeds to pin the child to the floor, using strength without hurting them (adjust your grip if the child complains that it hurts). This is always done playfully, with the aim of the child happily, if reluctantly, surrendering.

We find that children giggle all the way through this, giving a sure” sign that they were ‘asking’ for a show of strength and vigour from you. Keep going until they acknowledge that: ‘You know more than I do’ or: ‘You are in charge.’ You’ll also notice, when they stand up, that they look refreshed and not defeated. A variation for littlies is father/son tyrannosaurus rex battles.

Benefits: There are times in a child’s growing, when they are feeling their strength and independence, but can get an exaggerated idea of it. They really thrive on testing themselves against you. Unconsciously, they want/need to feel secure — to know at a physical level you are not a pushover. Sometimes a carefully controlled physical ‘play battle’ does more good than a thousand words. Even adolescents love a good arm wrestle or a rough and tumble. Fathers are best equipped for this work, but mothers can do it, too.

Mothers we know have naturally found their own variations of this game. One reported the benefits of actually sitting on top of her teenage daughter, to show that she ‘would so’ be able to stop her going out that night. This ended in hilarity. Younger children also learn from ‘playfights’ how to use strength in play, without hurting themselves or their playmates. If they get too rough, stop, point this out, then start again, so they can get it right.

Not interested. They think that their partner is like their mother — the source of their well-being. Your penis isn’t the only key to feeling loved. And you won’t die if you can’t make love for a month or two. I swear!

As birth approaches

It’s natural for many of us to feel scared for our partner as the time for the birth gets close. Part of this is that we want to protect her, yet can’t do a great deal. We may feel, at best, a helpful supporter, but just being there is exactly what is required of us. Be sure that you don’t get excluded by pushy hospital staff. In fact, look for a birth place which clearly welcomes partners and includes them in the birthing process — at home, in a birth centre or hospital, or during a caesarean operation.

I got very panicky in my partner’s fifth month of pregnancy and discovered this had its origins way back in my childhood. When my mother was pregnant with my younger sister, she disappeared to hospital (I didn’t even know she was pregnant) and was in danger of dying. (This was 1956 and I was three years old.) Now my partner was pregnant, part of my unconscious mind was mixing her up with my mother back then. I was irrationally fearful that she would (1) disappear, and (2) die and never come back. It was enormously helpful to realise this and separate fact from fiction.

These days, birth is very safe, particularly for the mother. In our case, I was able to handle being present at the caesarean operation and was far too excited to faint. I took our son straight into my arms and felt great.

When the baby arrives

This is the time when it all gets practical. Snatching sleep. Changing nappies. Accumulating dishes in the bedroom because you are too tired to carry them back to the kitchen. This is when mothers-in-law miraculously become beautiful angels of mercy, whom you embrace gratefully at the front door as they bring casseroles and offer to let you go out for the evening.

It’s possible you will feel jealous that your baby has replaced you, that your partner is in love with an 8 lb Casanova. This is particularly the case if you are a 12 st baby! Seriously, though, it helps to talk with your partner and get her reassurance that you have her love and appre-