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Brace Yourself for Galloping Guilt

by Dale Kiefer |
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Guys are lucky, in my estimation. Unencumbered by guilt we treat the world as our oyster, savoring the juices and discarding the superfluous without a qualm. For women, it seems, things are a little different.

Far from tossing away an unwanted shell without a second thought, women are likely to pause to consider whether such a thoughtless act is safe, environmentally friendly, or otherwise a reflection on their status as loving, nurturing beings. New mothers, in particular, seem to thrive on guilt. There's something about having a baby that kicks a woman's relatively undeveloped, native sense of guilt into hyper-drive. As husband to a new mother, it's best you venture into this new territory armed at least with forewarning: Never underestimate a new mother's powerful sense of guilt.

While pregnant it's common for women to experience frightening nightmares related to the developing fetus and all that might go wrong in or out of the womb. Women seem to internalize these irrational fears after delivery, jousting with phantom worries that may baffle the unprepared husband and new father.

Any number of otherwise ordinary concerns for your baby's well being may be magnified to assume grotesque proportions. As an example, consider this true scenario: a friend's wife insisted that his mother—who had raised two sons of her own, thank you very much—take infant CPR class before she was deemed competent to baby-sit her grandchild for a short while. And that's not a particularly extreme example. Some new mothers simply refuse to consider letting anyone watch their fragile children, at least until the government steps in and demands to know why they're not attending school.

As a new father it will be your job to endure this temporary madness with a combination of resignation, humor and patience. Eventually you'll both realize that babies don't break with particular ease, and danger does not necessarily wait to pounce at a moment's notice. Babies are resilient, and millions of years of evolution have equipped them to handle any number of insults and challenges to their health and well being. What they need most from you is affection and attention. But too much attention can smother.

Guilt rears its ugly ahead again when the issue of childcare is confronted. Working women, especially, worry that there are inadequate mothers if they dare to place their children in the care of others while working for a living. All you can do is reassure your wife that daycare can be healthy and stimulating for a child. You might also cite recent studies that conclude that children of two-career families are just as likely to be happy, healthy citizens as children raised exclusively in the home.

So don't worry, be happy. And instead of feeling guilty that you're not the perfect parents, focus on the journey you and your new baby will take through life together. Who's got time for guilt?

Dale Kiefer is a free-lance writer living in northern New Jersey with his wife and two young sons. Born in New Jersey some 40 years ago, Dale was raised in Kentucky, where he spent most of his life, graduating from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Biological Sciences. You can see more of Dale's articles at his Suite 101 page devoted to expectant fathers.

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