Today I want to talk about dads. There’s so much focus on motherhood and mums, but having a baby is a fundamental life change for men as well, and as such fatherhood also takes time to adapt to. The problem I’ve found is that the lack of focus on preparing men for fatherhood often means that there are issues later down the line as they struggle to adjust. So what is the best way to make sure men can flourish into the best fathers and partners they can be? And why is adjusting to fatherhood always seen as a secondary concern?
It takes two people to make a baby and while the impact of having a baby is often quite different in day-to-day terms for the mother vs. the father, that’s not to say that the experience of adjusting to being a parent is any easier.
It’s worth stating that motherhood is an experience that simply cannot be compared to fatherhood. There’s pregnancy, childbirth, feeding, postpartum recovery and all the emotional, physical and mental highs and lows that go with them, but that’s no excuse for fathers to be ignored as much as they are in the media and many antenatal courses too.
You’ve probably noticed it too – more is expected of fathers. From being present during labour and birth to being expected to say and do the right things for their partner at the right time, plus be involved in baby care from day one, there’s an awful lot of expectation on dads to get it all right. Cutting the cord, massaging their partner during labour, helping with hypnobirthing, sorting the nursery and so on, there’s certainly mounting pressure on men to embrace fatherhood with open arms, without necessarily giving them the advice they need to be able to do so effectively.
While all of these experiences allow dads to feel involved, invested and important, there’s sadly very little focus out there on preparing dads-to-be. It’s surprising because in fact there are lots of things men can do to feel more in confident in these situations, but all too often men’s insecurities and fears are side-lined.
There is logic to putting mum’s needs and concerns first. After all, it’s mums who go through the experience of pregnancy, labour and birth and most of the time it’s the mother whose life will change the most dramatically. There’s the biological element as well, as a happy healthy mother is important for a healthy pregnancy, but by deprioritising dads, many parenting books, courses and even parenting websites, are doing a disservice to not just dads, but mums as well.
Having a partner who is confident and educated about what to expect from parenthood is vital for getting your parenting journey off to the best possible start. It’s crucial to feel like a team from day 1. Of course, there will be misunderstandings and things that don’t go perfectly, but if the father is as prepared as the mother for the experiences up ahead, it means that bump, baby care and life beyond, can unfold much more smoothly.
A dad to be who feels better prepared and supported is likely to feel able to adjust to fatherhood with less trepidation. Often men feel like they’re on the sidelines of all the important stuff, and some men struggle to feel a connection with their baby until the baby starts to interact with them. New dads have admitted to feeling isolated, disorientated and also pressured as they have to help support their partner, and their baby, through lots of emotional ups and downs all while dealing with the financial pressure and restricted freedom that comes with family life. It’s no wonder that feelings of resentment, confusion or isolation can set in, which can create cracks across the whole family dynamic.
While it sounds stereotypical, there’s truth in the fact that men often see themselves as protectors more than caregivers. There’s no surprise then that it takes time for men to feel comfortable in their role as a dad, just as mums take time to get used to their new identity. It’s worth looking for books and antenatal courses that have dedicated sections, especially for partners and dads to be. This is fundamental to going into your parenting experience as equals. Yes, you will each have different roles and responsibilities, but courses and guides that take a joint approach, taking account of the different challenges you will each be facing as mother and father, means you can tackle things more easily, and feel more connected as not just a parenting team, but as a couple as well.
Very often men can feel frustrated, lonely or misplaced after the birth of a baby, and can feel like they experience the brunt of emotions from the hormonal rollercoaster that their partner experiences during those early postpartum weeks. However, sometimes these feelings can cross over into postnatal depression. Research suggests that as many as 1 in 3 new fathers feel concerned about their mental health. Lack of sleep, financial pressure, emotional tension and lack of freedom are all major contributors, so if you suspect your partner is struggling with PND or finding it more difficult than expected, it’s worth talking to him, and encouraging him to seek professional help. It’s gradually becoming better known that postnatal depression is not experienced exclusively by women, as the pressure builds on men to be perfect dads.
Traumatic birth experiences affect new dads too. They often feel powerless and unable to help when their partner or baby is at risk or in distress. So if your partner was witness to a traumatic birth it’s important to make sure he has an opportunity to discuss this with a medical professional, to ask any questions he may have about what happened, and if necessary to talk about it with a counsellor too. I’ve said it before but communication plays such an important role in managing our feelings and helping us to make sense of difficult situations.
Men make fantastic dads, and can get so much out of baby care and new fatherhood, but to enjoy the best bits to the maximum, the groundwork has to be laid first. I’ve put together these tips for getting fatherhood off to the right start.
1. Together discuss your expectations of your parenting roles and open up about any fears or concerns.
2. Often dads can give mums a break (and some extra sleep) by doing the dreamfeed before they go to bed.
3. Find ways to stay close as a couple, whether it’s a takeaway date night or a morning snuggle.
4. Accept that you have different roles to play but they’re both equally important.
5. Take an online antenatal course which provides dedicated support for partners on everything from birth to feeding, so he can feel as understood and prepared as possible.
6. Say no to the perfect pressure. Most of the time new mums and new dads are doing their best and most often making it up as they go along. There isn’t a right or wrong way as long as you’re coping, happy and healthy.
7. Give yourselves time – and keep talking!
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