Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Maternal is as Maternal does

In my humble opinion, I am one of the most maternal men you will ever meet.   As maternal as I am, I’m not in the same ballpark as my wife.  She could spend days with our infants without a single complaint.  I could handle extended hours at best.  She has always had this internal ability at mothering.  It was an instinct that was built into her.  She knew what our children needed before I could even recognize the question.  But everyone has their limits and before long we had to have a talk about her getting a break from infant babble.  We finally worked out an arrangement that one night a week, I would stay in with the baby and she could go out.  This worked for us.   Many years later that negotiation came back to me as an intervention.
I was working with a nice young man, Elliot, who was in the rehabilitation program for substance abuse.  He was married with 6 boys, all under the age of 10 years old.  One afternoon we had a family session with the entire family.  I only had to cope with those boys for one hour, but they almost sent me over the edge.  His wife was great and loved her husband and the boys with all her heart, but she had a legitimate complaint.  She needed help with those boys.  He explained that he would do his best to stay home and help her.  But eventually, he would reach his breaking point and leave.  On the streets he would meet up with ‘his boys’ and he would end up using drugs sending him back to the bottom again.  Elliot was frustrated, his wife was frustrated and the boys were out of control.  His wife certainly was not going to like the idea of his attending 12 Step Self-Help groups 5 nights a week.  
It was nearing the end of the hour and I felt that my only accomplishment had been to keep the boys from taking a crayon to my wall.  The office had not been totally destroyed, only partially.  I was disappointed in how the session had turned out, when I remembered how my wife and I had negotiated a similar problem.  I told them of our experience.  I suggested that one night a week, Elliot stay home and watch the kids and the wife go out for the evening.   She brightened up immediately.  I insisted that this would only work if Elliot was encouraged to go to 12 Step groups on the other nights.  It took the rest of the hour for them to work out the details of the negotiation.  But they both went away satisfied that they would get their needs met.  Elliot left the rehab. program the following week and he didn’t return in the years that I worked there.    
               Despite our limitations as fathers, we can make our contributions.  Elliot could handle the overwhelming responsiblity of the boys for one night a week.  One night a week out, was all the wife needed to keep her sanity.  She could then encourage Elliot to attend 12 Step groups to continue his healing.