Dad Duty: The New Baby Experience
I always find it interesting to learn about how people define “father” or “dad.” Sometimes this is in a strictly biological sense as the donor of half of the DNA, such as “fathering children.” Other times it is with a sense of responsibility, the roles and actions that are part of the job description of being a “father or dad.” Regardless of semantics, I believe fatherhood is more of a mindset than just a title. This became more apparent to me with my second child than with my first.
With our son (the now 3 year old mentioned in a previous blog) I was hypervigilant of everything from things doctors and nurses said at birth and check-ups, my wife’s pumping schedule, what weird disease he contracted at daycare that week, to what developmental milestone he met or needed to meet. This was in addition to having a full-time job and all the other life responsibilities. All of these things are good to be aware of, but for new parents it can be a lot to keep track of. Due to my wife having a less than smooth experience at the hospital on delivery day, I had to step up my game even more by being her eyes and ears with hospital staff and by taking care of our son as she was out of commission for a while once he made his debut. However, I was at every birthing class, breastfeeding class, prenatal visit, had done research on everything related to babies with my wife so I felt prepared to functionally be a father. However, I was not prepared for the social side of becoming a father.
With the birth of our (now 6 month old) daughter, I already kind of knew what to expect with the birth, breastfeeding, diapers, doctor’s visits, and other newborn tasks. This time around though, because I was more aware of the functional components of taking care of a baby, I became more aware of the social issues/stigmas of being a father that I may have easily dismissed the first time around. These include things such as the nurses insisting on changing or bathing my daughter, day care or doctors calling my wife by default any time there is a concern with the children, almost all medical staff addressing “mom” about medical concerns when I’m in the room too (and usually am the one answering as she fills out the ream of forms they don’t give you time to finish), others referring to my solo-parenting as “babysitting or watching the kids,” the sheer lack of changing tables in men’s public restrooms, and don’t get me started on the controversial issue of paternity leave! So after experiencing these things and talking with my (very understanding and supportive) wife, I feel there are a few pieces of encouragement to offer my fellow fathers.
1. Talk to your partner about your feelings and concerns on becoming or being a father. Society as a whole does not teach boys and men to embrace their sensitive and emotional sides very well. This is especially true during pregnancy when men can even experience sympathetic symptoms along with their partners! While this has been changing slowly over the last several years, it can be scary to voice thoughts about fatherhood in public or even in your friend group. Hopefully, your partner is open to discuss these feelings, which can bring you closer as a couple. If not, couples counseling can be a great resource to address these topics. The most important thing is simply to be present and engage in the conversation.
2. Keep learning about everything you’re curious about and plan to change plans. Knowing the same baby-related things as your partner is not only good for you, but helpful to your partner and baby. Take as many of the birthing and breastfeeding classes you can if available before the birth. I was typically the only or one of two men in those classes, but they taught me a lot about what to expect and how to cope when our son’s birth did not go as planned and ended in an emergency C-section. (Ironically, the one class we didn’t attend was the C-section class.)
3. Don’t be afraid to challenge the social norms of what a “mom’s job” is versus what yours is. A big thing to keep in mind is that chores and baby-related tasks (excluding breastfeeding directly) do not care what your sex/gender is. Sometimes dad needs to shop for groceries with the baby while mom is at work or mowing the lawn. It’s also not babysitting when they are your own children. This can be a tricky concept to work through, especially if it ends up making more sense for your partner to work and you stay home with baby, or both of you have a busy work schedule and need to divide tasks evenly because there simply isn’t time or energy to adhere to social stereotypes seen in 1950s magazines.
4. Find the rhythm and routine that works for your family. Managing life with a new addition is a huge change. There’s another human that relies completely on you to meet its needs. Coming up with a schedule and routine that fits work, chores, and baby feeding and sleeping needs is tricky, especially when you had a totally different experience pre-kid. Your work life, social life, and home life can change drastically and finding a pattern with your partner that works with this new dynamic is important.
5. It’s ok to ask for help and to practice self-care. Having a new baby is a wonderful and exhausting thing. With your partner recovering for the next few weeks, the majority of responsibility is now on you. This is ok as the hope is that you two will find that balance noted above as time goes on. However, you will get tired and hungry. Family and friends are great for casseroles and baby-holding. Rotating your support network during this stressful time helps control irritability, burn-out, depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Asking for help does not make you less of a parent. It makes you a better one. On an airplane, they tell you to put your mask on first before helping your child. If you are passed out from the change in pressure or oxygen because you didn’t put yours on first, you aren’t able to help your child. The same is true with parenting.
I understand there are more things that could be said about many more topics relating to a new baby, but hopefully these are helpful to you for now. My hope is to continue to discuss the topic of fatherhood as there are more topics that could use some attention. Until then, keep up the good work of being a dad!