When it comes to feeling comfortable as a parent, it can sometimes be harder for new dads to learn the ropes. Here are five things you should know to help your partner fit into fatherhood.
1. Fathering is not as automatic as mothering.
“Girls are prepared for parenthood over a long time by the way they are socialized,” says Neil Campbell, a psychotherapist and author who runs prenatal dad classes in London, Ont. “Men develop the consciousness of fatherhood over a much shorter period.”
Even if you somehow missed the doll play and babysitting that are part of many girls’ upbringing, the nine-month biological boot camp known as pregnancy ensures you are primed for action. That means your partner’s process is less complete when the baby arrives. He knows he’s a parent, but it may take him longer to figure out how to act like one. For one thing, at first he will need to make more of a conscious decision to act in situations where you would jump in with scarcely a thought. When a new father sees that the baby’s diaper needs changing he thinks, “The baby’s diaper needs changing.” In the same situation you would probably think, “I need to change the baby’s diaper.” Fathers can develop a similar mentality, but it usually takes longer and, at the beginning, requires more intentional effort.
2. Fathers usually take longer to develop a close relationship with the baby.
The parent-infant connection is built primarily through physical contact, something fathers generally get less of in the early days of parenthood. The more your partner does what you do — holds the baby, changes diapers and gives baths — the more he will understand and feel connected to her. (Baby carriers for new dads are great for this reason.)
3. He thinks you know everything.
Mothers are seldom as infallible as fathers suppose; however, most acquire baby-care skills quickly and fathers are often awed by their partner’s apparent consummate skill. This can be a good thing if your partner responds by treating you with respect, working to support your efforts and looking to you as an example. However, his perception of your omnipotence could also cause him to underestimate your need for help, or make it hard for him to see how to help without messing things up.
The solution? The more time your partner spends with the baby, the more skilled and confident he will become. Your support and encouragement are essential in this phase of his transition to fatherhood.
4. He may feel the change in your relationship more acutely than you do.
People often say fathers are “jealous of the baby.” That’s simplistic, demeaning and generally untrue. Here’s a more helpful view. You have developed a very intense, all-consuming relationship with your little one. Your partner may love the baby, but she doesn’t fill up his world the way she fills up yours. It’s not simply a question of “why isn’t she paying attention to me?” It’s more a question of “where do I fit in?”
This is another argument for early father involvement with babies. Being involved helps him to understand your world a little bit and it also helps the two of you connect, because you’re sharing the experience rather than having him sitting on the sidelines watching.
5. Men like concrete things and new parenthood is not concrete.
Another reason that new fathers can take longer finding their feet is that they tend to be most comfortable with concrete tasks and situations where they can clearly see what needs to be done. Men tend to have more trouble with the grey areas, which the early stages of parenthood are full of.
Campbell says some men deal with this by identifying an area where they can problem solve. “Let’s say the new parents have come in from shopping and the baby needs to nurse right away. The mother says, ‘Oh, we forgot to buy Q-tips for the umbilical cord stump.’ A father may want to go straight out that minute and hunt for those Q-tips.” It’s not that the lack of Q-tips is a crisis, but it gives him a problem to solve and a concrete contribution to make.