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For some reasons, men and women experience and react to parenthood differently. Both men and women love their kids, but somehow the intensity of the emotions, thoughts, and behaviours seem to be insanely higher for women. I explained how these differences are partially to be accounted for by a powerful hormone and neurotransmitter, oxytocin (not to be confused with oxycodone-the pain pill).
Enhanced neural activity in the amygdala helps connect mum to the baby, making her hypersensitive to the baby’s needs. It is known as the ‘Mama Bear’ effect. Mums will experience constant worry, a keen awareness of the surrounding environment, a need to overprotect of the baby, anger over small things, and even aggression at times when things don’t go according to her plan. This is an amazing human survival mechanism.
Nevertheless, the intensity of this new powerful experience can significantly affect a relationship. It is at its peak in first-time mothers. Nowadays, we are faced with so much information, opinions and decisions. We have the ultimate goal of doing what’s best for our child and hope to be rewarded with the feeling and feedback that we are good mothers.
Despite having successful careers and wearing many hats in the community, most of us still need to hear and believe that we are doing our best. No matter how strong and confident we are, we need to hear it. Thus, my advice on how to deal with ‘Mama Bear’ pretty much comes down to one thing: validation for trying to be a good mum.
These tips can apply to friends, relatives, in-laws, but primarily to spouses because they become the primary target of our fears, anxiety, disappointment and anger. At the same time, the spouse is who we need the most support and validation.
So, what are they to do?
This may require a little effort on the man’s part who usually thinks he needs to solve a problem and asks ‘What do you want me to do about it?’ – ‘Nothing, I just want you to listen.’ Unless she says otherwise, she most likely needs to vent to someone close. So just, listen – truly listen. This may also be a challenge if he thinks you are going to go on for hours, so try to keep it short, maybe 10–15 minutes.
You have to repeat what she says and clarify if needed: ‘Honey, is there anything I can do about it or is it helpful just to vent?’ And then do what she asks.
He should tell her she is doing a great job and he and the kids are grateful to have her in their lives. If he disagrees with something she does, this is not the time to bring it up.
And remember anger is a secondary emotion that only hides another core feeling: disappointment, fear, guilt. Try to understand the source and the meaning of your intense emotion, that this is somewhat of a normal stage (created by nature to protect your young), and everything will calm down a lot faster.
Ruxandra LeMay is a licensed psychologist with an interest in couples’ therapy, parenting, addiction, anxiety, and mood disorder issues.
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