Why is it so hard for moms to take a break? How can fathers help?
First of all, struggling with taking a break from maternal responsibilities is normal. This is hard for the mothers of typical children-who presumably have a little less to be preoccupied about than mothers of children who have autism and other special needs.
So feeling overwhelmed by the enormous responsibilities of motherhood is normal, but when it goes on indefinitely, it’s not healthy for a mother or her family. And fathers tend to begin feeling left out and neglected. While I frequently write about fathers, I spend a good deal of my time as a psychologist listening to mothers. Almost invariably mothers seem to be relieved when they give voice to their struggles-particularly the guilt about not doing enough or missing something they should have done or thought about.
Opening up and connecting about upsetting situations can help. On the other hand, suggesting that a mother do more to take care of herself often makes her feel worse. Listening to mothers in at Alternative Choices, we hear that this can sound like just one more thing to do. Their lists are already too long. And another thing they just aren’t getting right-even more guilt!
One mom even told me, “My life seems like one long day!”
In contrast, the average overwhelmed father seems to have less difficulty taking a break. On the other hand, he may also have trouble talking about what he cannot fix or take action about. He may shut down out of helplessness and emotional overload that he has no words for. The very same man may love his partner and children passionately; yet he may feel left out, ignored, and powerless.
This reaction offers no outlet for his partner’s feelings.
Still, most fathers admire when the mother of their children reacts like a mother lion with her cub, doing everything possible to raise their child.
So for this Mothers and Day and every day really, here’s a plan for men:
Tell your partner how much you appreciate her and everything she does for your children. Be specific about all the wonderful things she does and how hard she tries.
Don’t do something. Don’t make suggestions. Volunteer to just listen to how she feels.
Ask what you can do to make her job easier.
Gently and persistently keep asking and showing up to do stuff.
This is how to be a good man in your situation. Help her to take a breath, literally and figuratively. Let her know that she is indispensable. No one can do a better job. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The real religion of the world comes from women much more than from men-from mothers most of all, who carry the key of our souls in their bosoms.”
Finally, remember the most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.
Robert Naseef, Ph.D. of Alternative Choices, will be presenting at the Autism Society National Conference and Exhibition in San Diego this July! He will be presenting a session called “Living with Autism in the Family: Taking Care of Everyone’s Needs.” Visit www.autism-society.org/conference to learn more!