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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

4 Things A Dad Can Learn From Reading Books by Women About Motherhood

Guest Post by Alex Trippier

PHOTO: Zamrznuti Tonovi on Adobestock

Reading something that hasn’t been written for you is a delicious thrill. As a husband and father who became hooked on books about motherhood, I’ve discovered that it can also be transformative.


I was married at 24 and had 3 children by the time I was 31, so I figured I already knew the dads’ perspective. Then I read The Motherhood Complex by Melissa Hogenboom, a neighbor of mine, and the insights that began to unfold before me have been life-changing.


Fascinated by what makes our relationships so difficult in these early years, and with my eldest now 16, I was armed with a bit of perspective and the kind of free time that my mates with younger children could only dream of. So I read more and more of those motherhood books. 


Now, it stings a bit to admit this, but it turned out my wife was right about a lot of stuff:


  1. Mothers are held to different standards by society – We’re raised to believe that women and men are of equal value and can achieve the same things. We don’t believe the same of mothers and fathers. This comes as quite a shock. I’m not just talking about the obvious biological stuff. As Lucy Jones points out in Matrescence, there are a whole host of expectations on mothers that don’t exist for fathers. As fathers our priorities change but we transition into fatherhood with our personalities, bodies, and often our careers much as they were. Mothers must be entirely different people, regardless of who they were before. They must put themselves to one side. They even have to talk in a new voice (which it turns out they know is annoying). To refuse to do so and be a "bad mother" is still society’s greatest taboo.

  2. The myth of the “maternal instinct,” is bad for everyone – The idea that the capacity for caregiving is innate, automatic, or distinctively female is a myth which has been debunked since the 70s. Fathers who spend time with their young children also go through massive hormonal changes and change in brain shape. Yet we still cling to the idea that "Mummy knows best." The hateful husband in Claire Kilroy’s Soldier Sailor is constantly telling his wife: “You’re just better at this stuff.” Well yes, often mums are better at packing the nappy bag, but this is simply a skill born of repetition. “Maternal instinct” is a self-fulfilling prophecy which often stops us from becoming the fathers we could be.

  3. “The mental load” IS REAL, and no one quite understands how complicated and corrosive it is – The upshot of societal expectation and the myth of the maternal instinct is that mothers universally bear the mental load. In The Motherhood Complex, Melissa Hogenboom describes it as “The unseen elements of the household that make it work.” You may be amazing at cooking the dinner but she’s aware that your son won’t eat ANYTHING without ketchup and she knows that ketchup stocks are dangerously low. They don’t take on this management and planning role because they want to but because they should. If things go wrong, it is the mums who will be blamed.

  4. Mothers are told they’re meant to feel a certain way, but they don’t – Contemporary attitudes still hold that women should feel fulfilled by motherhood in a way that isn’t expected of fathers. The "good mother" is a "happy mother" who delights in every aspect of the role. Imagine being told you weren’t allowed to feel anger! The chapter on Maternal Rage in Lisa Marchiano’s Motherhood is a brutal insight into what happens when mothers become cut off from their genuine emotions. 

  

How does this help? 

 

Appreciating that the world’s expectations of my wife massively changed the moment she became pregnant has radically altered my perception of our roles. The temptation to just shrug and walk off when our partners sigh, “It’s just quicker if I do it,” is very strong for dads. It’s not a nice thing to hear, particularly when it’s true. It only stays true if we don’t stand our ground and become experts at the task in question.

It stings a bit to admit this, but it turned out my wife was right about a lot of stuff.

I can now appreciate how, at times, my wife and I have lived in different houses. Mine had three fun kids in it, who I love spending time with. Hers was full of unsolved management problems with her as the head of the “complaints department.”


I used to be baffled that my wife wasn’t always walking around with a smile on her face delighting in our family life. Now I don’t ask her “What’s up!?” I can usually figure it out. 


Amazingly, there is nothing to stop dads from reading these intimate, moving, and psychologically powerful works. If one of the joys of reading is to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, then this is a journey you won’t regret.



 

Alex's Bibliography Notes


personal and moving account with the pace and feel of a psychological thriller.


The Motherhood Complex by Melissa Hogenboom uses cutting edge science to

investigate her own experiences as a mother and smash the modern myth of

maternal perfection.


Motherhood by Lisa Marchiano takes a Jungian approach by analyzing fairy tales to

reach underlying truths about motherhood and how it affects women.


Soldier Sailor by Claire Kilroy is a brutal and darkly hilarious novel. The struggle of a

young mother’s daily existence is as vivid as the depiction of the husband that none

of us want to be, but all become when we go to Ikea.



 

After studying classics at University College London, Alex Trippier set up his own production company making short films and commercials. His passion for storytelling found a new outlet in the classroom where he transitioned to teaching. Alex has been teaching pre-school children for over 12 years and has interacted with more than 5,000 children during that period. He has recently started hosting talks in London (soon to launch online) aimed at parents of young children on the issues they face. Despite now being old enough to know better, he remains a keen martial arts enthusiast.

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