Tuesday, April 1, 2008

DNA Magazine - "Make or Break" by Robbie Fells

Gay Dad with Robbie Fells
The challenges of raising kids can bring you and your partner closer together or, if there are unresolved issues, drive you further apart.

My partner and I recently visited Sydney and while my mum was minding the kids for the night we started wondering… Why did we have children? Without them we could sleep in together, have sex on tap and travel to glamorous cities. Why did we give up our overseas trips, go-out-whenever-we-want lifestyle and financial security?

The answer is that we both wanted more from life. While we enjoyed our recent free time, it was bittersweet. Ask most parents and I’m sure they’ll admit to not being able to live without their kids. I just came back from a two-week stint in the US and it’s scary how much I missed my family. I found myself in tears just looking at their photo. They become part of you and you miss them like crazy when separated.

How did my partner and I traverse the journey from kid-free and fun loving to doting dads? Firstly, we both wanted children equally. If one of us was female we’d probably have had four kids by now. I really doubt that being parents together will work if one person in the relationship is only partly committed. Put simply, you won’t get through the tough times. And there are many.

Imagine this: your new baby has woken up three times during the night, you’ve had one to two hours sleep and the baby wakes up yet again. Your partner has to go to work tomorrow so you have to get up again while every cell in your body screams, “No! Just go to sleep!”

What about differences of opinion? I want my children to go to a public school but my partner prefers private. My partner and I have more mundane arguments about what’s good for our kids, too. One thinks the child needs to sleep, the other thinks he’ll be okay, etc.

All this means that we’ve lost the spontaneity in our lives. Going out for dinner or popping out to a café now requires planning. Accepting invitations to parties becomes a serious logistical business if you have a child who needs to go to bed early every night and who needs food, milk and sterilised bottles at regular times. All this can cause more tension in a relationship than you might expect.

How are these difficulties navigated? Firstly, it’s a great idea to accept that conflict is okay. Ignoring or avoiding conflict is a relationship killer. Not discussing how you feel and bottling up tension is dangerous. My partner and I have learned to live with difference and to compromise.

You’re not always going to get your own way. Preparing yourself for managing and rethinking your own needs is part of this process. Sometimes the other parent knows better and you simply have to defer to them.

No matter what, you have to work as a team – one organises bottles and the other organises drop-off at day care. You should change things around, too. If one person gets to sleep in for a day or two, it should be reciprocated. You have to keep an eye out for your partner and make sure that you’re both getting a fair deal.

Children magnify any relationship gaps you may have and you have to deal with those gaps in productive ways. It’s worth discussing how you intend to parent your children early. Start the conversations between you and your partner well before the baby arrives. Consider discussing parenting with a specialist.

For my partner and I, becoming parents has only enriched our relationship. When I see him unselfishly giving to our kids it only makes me love him more.

If you have a question for Robbie send it to features@DNAmagazine.com.au.

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