Having children is a part of marriage that in itself is fraught with issues. Whether or not to procreate and when to do so are points that couples deal with early on, unless circumstance causes them to deal with it before they are ready. Fertility is also a huge issue and one that can cause a massive number of issues for couples. However, putting aside decisions and consequences, when it comes to children, raising them can be as difficult as any issue that has gone before.
The world has shrunk in many ways and it is easier now than ever before to meet, understand and assimilate with any number of cultures. However, when it comes to the primal responses that child rearing elicits, it becomes a situation that is not about our conscious, cognitive brains, but a piece that we operate from within our emotional selves. How to love and nurture and yet mind and support a child becomes something that each of us unconsciously does, gathering all the information and advice that we can from both the society that we live in and from our innate, unconscious understanding of how children should be treated.
This first piece, regarding the societal rules that we conform to, becomes pronounced when we have children. Gender suddenly becomes more important than we may have allowed it to be in the past. Being a woman or being a man prescribes onto us very different roles. Mother and Father are differently viewed by society and treated accordingly differently.
The narrow gap that we may have felt in a workplace, relationship or social scene suddenly widens as we come to understand that as a mother, society does not regard us as someone that should need to be drunk, angry or self serving. Likewise, a man is a man until he becomes a father. Then he is first and foremost someone who must lead by example and control. The narrow conforms that society allows each gender within the area of child rearing can cause chasms to form in a relationship where perhaps neither partner is ready or willing to acknowledge the changes that they have been forced into. Room for being a couple within this space becomes de-prioritised. It is easy to fight with the person that is standing before you, alarmed at how parenting has changed their partner from lover to parent, rather than recognising them as someone who is equally struggling and seeking the validation and love of the one that is their greatest ally in this struggle against the social construct of the mother and father figure.
Equally, how we were parented makes up the majority of our views on how to parent. As it is unlikely that our partner was parented in an identical manner to us, there is an obvious conflict that arises within each parent. Choices around whether and how to discipline, the format and importance of school, ideals around friends, sexuality and religion can each cause difficulty between co-parents. The easy solution is to discuss all of these matters before they become live issues. However, it is unlikely that we are able to formulate our views on any of these until they become part of our lived experience and we understand how emotionally triggered (and in what manner) we are by each of them. The parts of our own childhoods that become the issues that we carry as adults come to the fore in a very pronounced manner when we seek to parent. We can consciously choose some of the parts that we do not wish to carry into our parenting (‘I will not make my daughter play piano. I remember hating it so much. She will only do activities that she chooses’). However, under the surface of our parenting is a myriad of choices that we are unaware of. How we engage with authority, how we make life choices, how we treat older members of our families and communities are all significantly more important than whether or not a child does a particular activity and yet it is difficult for any of us to consciously decide on how we want to treat these issues before they become live events for us.
As partners and/ or co-parents, it is vital that a line of communication remains open. Hearing and understanding the other person’s point of view is the salvation of relationship at this point. Everything can be compromised and this is a good thing. Compromise means that nothing about anyone’s childhood becomes either idealised or trivialised. Finding your way to parent as a couple is a long and bumpy road. However, finding your rhythm as a couple who parent together can make this road much easier to navigate.