Jed Diamond explores the dynamic of some dads who abandon their families because they feel abandoned themselves.
We were ecstatic. Our first child had recently been born and my wife and I were on top of the world. I took two weeks off from work so that I could bond with him and get to know this new arrival into our lives. We’d both wanted kids and talked about having a child, then adopting a child. We were well on the way to having the life we had always dreamed about having. But a dark presence took hold of us during the first year after our son’s birth that eventually destroyed our marriage. It seemed that my wife and son became a unit and I didn’t feel I had a place. In the weeks and months following the birth of our son, my wife and I drifted farther and farther apart. Without even realizing what was happening I became a disappearing Dad.
Male Postpartum Abandonment Syndrome (MPAS) and the Disappearing Dad
In her recently published book, Why Dads Leave: Insights & Resources for When Partners Become Parents, Meryn Callander describes the underlying process that drives this epidemic of disappearing Dads that is destroying so many families. The causes of this epidemic are often hidden, but Callander has uncovered the truth of what is going on. She describes six stages in the development of the Disappearing Dad Dynamic:
Stage 1: Disruption in the Mother-Infant Bond.
“A secure mother-infant bond, fundamental to all mammalian species,” says Callander, “is the foundation on which all future relationships are built.” But most of us grow up in families where these critical bonding experiences were absent:
* Un-medicated, intervention free, birth.
* Near-constant skin-to-skin contact between mother and child.
* Shared sleeping arrangement with infant close to mother and father.
* Recognition that babies are social beings who need connection with mother, father, siblings, and others.
Stage 2: Boys Grow Up Looking for the Mommy Connection They Never Had.
Most of us didn’t get enough love and nurture from our mothers who were influenced by a culture that taught the importance of “independence” and “self-sufficiency.” We also didn’t get enough from our fathers who often followed the patterns they grew up with and became emotionally absent early in our lives.
When we find “Ms. Right” we’re hoping, usually unconsciously, that she’ll nurture and love us like our Moms and Dads never did. If we’re lucky, we find someone to fit that bill and the early years of our married life are safe and satisfying.
Stage 3: The Baby Arrives and Dad Loses the Mommy Love He Has Spent a Life-Time Trying to Capture.
“Suddenly the baby takes center stage,” writes Callander, “needing far more time and energy than a single human being can provide. The result is that the poorly connected father once again feels left out in the cold.” Dad usually feels shame over the resurfacing of his long-buried needs. In his attempt to block out the feelings of loss and his shame over feeling competitive with his innocent newborn, he often withdraws into work, alcohol, internet pornography, or some other escape the seems to salve his wounded heart.
Stage 4: Mom Heals Some of Her Childhood Loss Through Loving Connection with Her Child.
Callander describes the positive changes that the mother often experiences. “Meanwhile his partner may be simultaneously healing her own similar unmet needs, by being bathed in a cocktail of love hormones from her physical connection of carrying the baby in her womb and breastfeeding—which no man can ever experience.”
She feels so wonderful being with the child that her husband’s irritability, anger, sadness, and withdrawal serve to make her distance herself even more from him and connect ever more closely with her child.
Stage 5: The More Successful the Mothering, the More the Dad Pulls Away.
Both mother and father do everything they can to help Mom make and maintain a good connection with the baby. But for Dad the more successful the connection, the greater loss he feels. Not only does he feel the loss of the love and affection his wife had previously given to him, but it stirs up feelings from the loss he felt growing up without enough love from his mother and father. And since these feelings are generally unconscious, he becomes more and more depressed, irritable, resentful, and withdrawn.
Stage 6: The More Dad Pulls Away, the More Mom Turns Her Attention to the Child and More Rejected Dad Feels….Until He Feels His Only Option is to Leave.
Callander calls the end result of these stages, Male Postpartum Abandonment Syndrome (MPAS). “MPAS is now in play, with neither partner understanding the origins, and both likely overwhelmed by the transition to parenthood. A common coping mechanism for him is to leave, either physically or emotionally.”
“While women are more likely to take the first step towards formal dissolution of the relationship,” says Callander, “it is usually the man’s earlier dissatisfaction—typically manifesting in emotional or physical absence more than her own, which predicts her taking that step.”
Only by understanding these, often hidden, stages of men’s withdrawal can we reverse the epidemic of the disappearing Dad. Learn more by visiting: http://whydadsleave.com/
photo of sad man looking out window by Shutterstock.com