Torsten Klaus was elated when his first child was born, but he also felt shut out, nit-picked and alone.
I was so excited about becoming a father. I felt well prepared and couldn’t wait for our first baby to arrive. I worked through dozens of parenting books (or maybe just a few, but it felt like half our local library) and nearly every night my wife and I sat on the sofa and we chatted about parenthood and THE baby! Then the big moment came: we had a lovely home birth and during my three week paternity leave I felt like walking over pink clouds (well, I must admit after the initial panic subsided!).
However, when I returned to work, the chaos started: what I found at home was my exhausted wife, a crying baby and the house being upside down. The latter describing my inner world pretty accurately, too.
I always tried to finish work in time, and once through the door I would either be with our baby or start the washing up, in order to have at least two clean plates in the house. Still, I struggled with critical comments or fierce gazes from my wife. Whatever I did wasn’t good enough or right. My initial high turned into feeling low and the bitter taste of rejection lingered inside. Does she still love me? Am I a good enough father?
The truth is no one had prepared me for these emotions and having my life turned upside down, while in the outside world I was expected to just return to normal, leaving me no time or space to reflect or simply breathe and find my feet, left me struggling.
So, I faced two problems here:
First, my new identity and role of being a father, especially with no support or guidance from my own father. I didn’t feel inspired by his child raising skills (put frankly, he wasn’t much part of my life as a child).
Second, watching my wife showering our baby with love and lots of physical contact triggered feelings of jealousy, because for once I haven’t experienced this kind of closeness with my own mother and also I now needed to share my wife physically and emotionally with the baby.
All the attention I had been receiving and craved for from my wife went suddenly to the baby. She had only eyes for him; all her unconditional love and nurturing seemed to be withdrawn from me. So where and how could I meet my needs for love and physical contact? We started to argue and blame each other for what we saw as the failure of our relationship.
After 18 months of ‘going through hell’ we nearly lost our relationship and I felt angry, depressed, helpless and I even dreamt about taking our son and running away (haven’t told my wife the latter). So what was it that helped me, helped us to turn things around?
I don’t wanna sound cheesy, but it all started by TALKING and LISTENING.
We went back to our sofa-and-us evenings and started exploring our past: we looked at our own childhood and discussed what actually happened there. Then we came back to the present and our current conflicts. I started asking myself: What makes me angry and what do I do when I get angry? Am I able to see the emotions underneath that anger; could it be sadness, fear of abandonment, the need to feel safe and loved? I started to learn how to recognise and communicate my emotions and needs clearly, to show my vulnerability and open up.
My wife and I cried, laughed, talked, hugged each other, sobbed, went quiet, talked more – and our healing process began. Our journey of reconnection and deep bonding brought us closer together than ever. From then on we always make sure to take enough time for our Listening-Evenings. We sit down, no distraction, no phones, nothing. Just she and I. We talk. We listen. We connect. We don’t judge, we don’t criticise, we don’t make assumptions.
I realised every transition – and having a new baby is a big, big, big (add as many bigs as you like) transition – happens over a stretch of time, it requires a lot of patience, positive communication, adapting to new roles and especially loving kindness and forgiveness towards myself and towards my wife.
I also learned not to feel offended by my wife when she suggests to do things differently with the baby (she might be totally right, and then I’ll find out for myself anyway or I could invent my way, that she has not tried yet…). The more I tried it, the more confident I got!
I take every opportunity to bond with my children now and I re-connect with my wife by being authentic and honest. Because I love my children AND I love my wife.
Wanna read further? Please check out my book The Empathic Father on amazon.com