We now live in a world where parenting is slowly becoming a more and more equally-shared part of life. While mothers continue to bear the brunt of the parental responsibility, fathers, as a whole, have been stepping up to the plate more reliably. Many parts of parenting are no longer solely Mommy’s problem. Dads wake up for middle-of-the-night feedings. Dads proudly wear their babies so their wives can take a break from being touched. Dads change diapers. Dads understand that being the sole parent in charge while Mom goes out for a night with friends is appreciated, but also expected.
But not everything can be split 50/50. And there are some issues that are still Mom’s problem more often than not, or even 100% of the time. There are some things that Dads will never fully understand because they haven’t experienced it themselves, physically or mentally. Whether it’s the struggles of pregnancy or aspects of actual childrearing, the, um, struggle is very real. Read on for some issues that most fathers will never really understand.
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Dads may commiserate with their partners as they suffer through pregnancy, but they’ll never truly know what it’s like to deal with the discomforts that come with growing a baby. For some women, morning sickness is like getting food poisoning for weeks on end, or sometimes even the entire pregnancy. Third trimester heartburn often makes sleep all but impossible. And that’s not even getting into the many small indignities endured throughout: blood draws, urine samples, cold ultrasound gel, probing questions. Pregnancy itself is just a minefield of discomfort sometimes.
It’s become the classic pregnancy cliche: eight months pregnant, and a woman just has to have her pickles and/or ice cream. In the middle of the night. Thank goodness for 24-hour grocery stores, right? The thing is, for many of women, pregnancy cravings are totally real. It’s all fun and games until you, too, find yourself drinking the liquid from your tub of sauerkraut, or are up in the middle of the night baking a cherry pie because literally nothing else will do. The most common reason for pregnancy-related cravings is because of those wonderful hormones, although theories abound about how cravings could also be indicative of nutrient deficiencies. Does it really matter why? The point is, when the pregnant lady wants some crackers, get her some crackers already!
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It seems that no matter how much we do to try to avoid this problem, most of us experience it anyway. We do our kegels. We squat. We listen to our doctor’s or midwife’s instructions on how to push, trying to not go too fast, trying to ease that baby out. We try to minimize the damage! And yet, those of us who have birthed vaginally — and many of those who have birthed via cesarean, as well — still suffer the dreaded pelvic floor problems. To put it simply, when we laugh, we pee a little in our panties. When we sneeze, we pee a little. A quiet cough can make us pee a little. The struggle is real, and Dads will never really get it.
As if weak pelvic floor muscles weren’t enough, pregnancy often leaves its mark on our bodies in another undesirable way: the dreaded abdominal gap. Diastasis recti is a condition where the ab muscles actually separate a little bit, and it’s a common complication of pregnancy, causing that little “mommy pooch” we all hate and which so many of us struggle to get rid of. Sure, there are things we can do to try to avoid diastasis recti, and it’s possible to mend the issue after pregnancy, but wouldn’t it be nice if our bodies just instantly snapped back into shape once the baby was out of there? Dads will never fully understand the many lingering effects of actually sharing our bodies with another human being.
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Postpartum mood disorders — including depression, anxiety, and others — are shockingly common, but more common still are the simple baby blues. The perfect storm of sleep deprivation, postpartum hormones, and a needy baby leads to some degree of general unhappiness in so many moms. It’s estimated that around three-quarters of new mothers experience these blues, and many women don’t even realize it because they’re so caught up in the whirl of new baby-ness. While experts acknowledge that men struggle with new parenthood as well, and some men even develop their own version of postpartum depression, many fathers just don’t fully understand the struggle here, when the baby blues are driven by hormones.
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In a perfect world, nighttime feeding would be a task split perfectly evenly between Mom and Dad; after all, both parents made the baby, so surely both parents should be losing equal sleep, right? Unfortunately, that’s far from the case, no matter how Baby is being fed. But when a mother is breastfeeding, the split becomes even more unfair, because even if Dad is giving pumped milk in a bottle, Mom still has to wake up to pump in order to maintain a solid supply. And those of us who opt to feed straight from the tap in the middle of the night can’t help but occasionally feel some animosity toward our peacefully sleeping partner. Must be nice. It’s a harsh truth, but mothers are generally doomed to lose a lot of sleep in those early weeks and months (and years?).
One of the things that takes most new mothers by surprise is just how hungry they feel after giving birth. Well, it makes sense that after hours of most likely being denied food (if the birth occurred in a hospital), a woman will be ravenous. But that hunger never quite goes away. If anything, it gets worse, especially for women who breastfeed. Yes, the postpartum hunger is absolutely real! Say hello to middle-of-the-night snacks and second helpings of pretty much every meal. Dad might as well get used to refilling your plate; no need to ask if you want more, because you do.
It starts in pregnancy. There are lots of myths out there about what pregnant women should and should not eat, but one of the most common things we’re told to abstain from (besides the obvious ones like alcohol and cigarettes) is our beloved coffee. No caffeine! Or, at least, a whole lot less caffeine than many of us are used to! Dads just don’t understand how hard it is to cut out lattes and sodas so cold turkey, and they don’t have to give up their dependence at all. Worse, we can’t jump back into our latte habit immediately postpartum, as the caffeine gets into our milk. A mama just can’t win here.
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Have you ever been touched out? Chances are, you have been! Especially in those early weeks, kids are very needy. They need to be held. They need snuggles and kisses. They need to be fed. And sometimes, sometimes, we moms get just a tiny bit tired of being constantly touched. And we never want to admit it, because we worry it makes us sound horribly ingrateful. We just want to shower alone, or spend even five minutes without a baby in our lap or someone hanging off our leg. It’s the honest truth, and it’s one that so many Dads just don’t get, because they usually don’t spend the same amount of time constantly holding and caring.
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Sleep. It’s such a struggle. New parents aren’t getting enough of it. Babies and toddlers don’t want it. Most moms fondly think back to the time when they were able to nap whenever they wanted to, when extra sleep didn’t come in the form of accidentally falling asleep while trying to put the three-year-old to bed, but none of us really counted on how hard it would be to lose that ability to just sleep whenever we want to. Case in point? First trimester of any pregnancy after the first, when all a lady wants to do is take a nap but child #1 is just not having it. And anyone who’s ever been pregnant knows just how exhausting it is to grow a baby. Sleep when the baby sleeps, sure, but what about when you’re growing another baby the the one already earthside wants nothing to do with naps?
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It’s a scenario every mother is familiar with. You’re trying to finish up a project, or take a shower, or wash the dishes. Your partner, meanwhile, is on the computer, or maybe even already in the kitchen making a bag of popcorn. So why is it that when our little ones get hungry, they always come straight to Mama? Dad can be completely unbusy, and he’s perfectly capable of slapping together a PB&J or slicing an apple! For whatever reason, it seems like preparing snacks is a job that always seems to fall to us Moms, usually because the kids always come to us first.
Parents spend so much time in physical contact with their kids that they tend to pick up every virus that their youngsters bring home from school and day care. But whereas Dad can just take the day off and spend some time recuperating in bed, Mom usually doesn’t get so lucky. Why? Is it because we can’t let ourselves just rest without feeling guilty? Is it because we still have kids to feed and care for? Is it because that dishwasher won’t fill itself? Whatever the reason, it seems like most mothers have to practically be on dead on their feet before they’ll actually spend a day in bed.
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Most women carry purses, with the intent to carry their own wallet, keys, phone, makeup, and whatever other necessities she may need while on the go. But somehow, once we have kids, that purse turns into a catch-all place where all the things go. Baby wipes? Toy cars? Board books? Pouches and mini boxes of raisins? These are all things we find buried in the depths of our handbags. Dads, meanwhile, usually don’t carry any kind of bag. So while they may occasionally find themselves out of luck for something to wipe an unexpectedly sticky face, they’re also not constantly dealing with requests from the munchkins to tuck one more thing away.
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Every stay-at-home mom ever has been asked, more times than she wants to acknowledge, just what it is she does all day. It sure must be nice to have all that free time! So why are is dinner late and the house still such a mess? On the flip side, working moms are expected to rejoice in having regular adult conversations, and to take pride in contributing to the family finances, but also to somehow find time to feel guilty about not spending more time with the kiddos. Meanwhile, society pats men on the back anytime they change a diaper. The expectations and judgment women have to stare down on a daily basis for every decision we make is absurd.
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We hear it over and over again. It’s so very important that we parents take the time to care for ourselves. As if it’s as simple as taking a long bath once a week or getting up early to drink a cup of hot tea all the way through while reading the newspaper. The thing is, most mothers find that if they do take time for self-care, no matter what that self-care looks like, we are flooded with guilt. How dare we leave our kids in the gym childcare with strangers just so we can exercise! We hate spending money to hire a sitter so we can get our nails done or go for a massage or spend money to pamper ourselves in other ways. Meanwhile, Dads usually have no problem going out for a pint with the guys or going out for a daily jog. So why do we ladies beat ourselves up over taking care of ourselves?
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Another thing Dads just don’t get? The Mommy Wars. They are, unfortunately, quite real, even if it sometimes seems like the media is a driving force. And unless Dad spends as much time in online social media groups, parenting blogs, and new parent play circles as Mom does, chances are he just doesn’t feel the pressure. Breastfeeding or bottle? Spoon feeding or baby-led? Babywearing or stroller? To sleep train or not? We mothers agonize over these decisions, knowing that whatever we choose, someone we know will likely judge us for it. Friendships are made and ended over how we let our kids play at the playground, or how long we leave the baby rear-facing in the car, or any other of a million parenting decisions. It’s a rough world, and one that’s hard to fully explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand.