Only mom is in charge

Solutions when the father feels excluded


When mothers say: "Leave it, I'll do it"

When a baby is born, there are many big and small tasks for the parents to deal with: soothing and cuddling, washing and changing diapers, feeding and playing. Negotiating who does what and when is not always easy. However, it becomes particularly complicated when a dynamic develops that leaves the father on the sidelines.


Hannes* always has a little toy ready for his son when it comes to changing his diaper. Because 18-month-old Ben quickly gets bored on the changing table, turns back and forth, tugs at the diaper - and makes his father's forehead sweat. "Without toys, changing diapers can be stressful for me," says Hannes. "But it's actually the same for me," adds his wife Merle. The fact that the two 32-year-old parents openly admit their difficulties to each other has not been a matter of course for a long time.

No one is up to every situation

For almost the entire first year after Ben's birth, the roles were clearly divided: Merle demonstrated confidence in handling the baby and Hannes acted as if he could certainly do it too - if only he had the opportunity to prove it. "From my perspective, it was like this: as soon as I had the little one in my arms, Merle stood next to me and reminded me that I had to support his head or that one arm would bend. When I was cuddling him, I was told that Ben needed to breathe better. And when I changed him, it took Merle too long and she preferred to do it herself," remembers Hannes. In the end, Merle took over almost all the tasks directly and he stood by or went off to do other things. Merle, on the other hand, says: "Even during the pregnancy, I thought Hannes wasn't getting involved enough. His life went on as normal, while I got books and wanted to know what it meant to have a child."

Insecure without positive experience

The first serious crisis came when Hannes let the baby slip out of his hand while bathing. "Ben was about six weeks old. I didn't hold him properly and he dived completely into the bath bucket. When I panicked and tried to grab him again, I almost knocked over the whole bucket, including the baby," says Hannes. Things like that happen, they both think today. Back then, Merle lost a lot of trust in Hannes and his reliability - and his insecurity grew. She also felt that his nervousness was transferred to the baby. "When Hannes tried to calm the crying Ben at night, the shouting usually got even louder and at some point I just tried. That worked better. But it didn't occur to me that Hannes might be nervous because I was watching him and his attempts to calm down and commenting on them," says Merle.

Talking to each other

It was increasingly painful for Hannes to watch the mother-child duo. "I increasingly felt like a fifth wheel and was afraid that I wouldn't be able to build a relationship with Ben later on either," he says. In the end, the young parents argued more and more frequently: he accused her of clinging to the child and not being able to let go. She thought these accusations were a distraction so that he didn't have to worry about anything. When a mutual friend brought up the subject of couples therapy many months later, it dawned on Hannes and Merle that they were starting to need support.

They sought advice and found a couple's mediator. "We quickly realized that everything depended on talking to each other properly. Somehow we had missed the moment to make our wishes and interests clear so that the other person could understand what was going on," says Hannes. Over the course of the mediation, the couple practiced listening sympathetically and putting themselves in their partner's shoes.

Hannes tried to get more involved again and to trust himself more to take on all the tasks at hand - even if he was unsure at first. Merle took a step back and let father and son experience things together. "Over time, I became more relaxed when Hannes and Ben were together. The mediation helped me to just let things take their course and not think that I had to correct anything," says Merle.

Both parents learned to develop trust in Hannes' abilities as a father and to let him have his own way of dealing with his son. "We're not quite through with the subject yet," says Hannes, "but I now know that I play an important role for Ben, that I can comfort and feed him and that he likes it just as much as I do when we cuddle."

* All names have been changed.

Read the article on this topic "Finally a threesome! What now?" on the Federal Institute for Health Education's family planning portal.

In dem Video „Maternal Gatekeeping (Türstehermutter)“ auf unserem YouTube-Kanal Familienportal.NRW (Playlist „Aktive Vaterschaft“) gibt der Paar- und Familienberater Achim Schad Hintergrundinfos und Tipps.