All posts tagged Fatherhood

This one is for the moms and moms-to-be out there.  For this post, just to make the writing easier and clearer, I’ll assume that “he” (the non-mother) is Baby’s father.  You can customize this for your own situation.

Last week’s post urged him to become a competent caregiver.

Today, I want to make sure that you’re willing to let him.

“Of course I’m willing to let him!  Are you crazy?  Why would I not want him to be competent at taking care of Baby?”

I’m glad to hear it.  Let’s dive in.

Many new mothers are protective of their new babies.  That’s good.  There are a lot of dangerous things in the world, and babies are, well, a bit helpless.  If things aren’t ideal for Baby, Mom is going to fix it, no matter what it takes.

Almost all the time, this is a good thing.

Once in a long while, though, it’s not.  Especially when it comes to someone else taking care of Baby.  Sometimes, dads do things differently than moms.  Sometimes those differences are mistakes (for example, abruptly opening a baby boy’s diaper all the way), and sometimes they aren’t.  Sometimes they’re dangerous (for example, leaving Baby unattended on the changing table), and sometimes they aren’t.

Now, if you see Dad doing something dangerous, it’s okay to make sure Baby is safe, then talk about safety.  By all means.

If you see Dad making a non-dangerous mistake, he might appreciate you suggesting why it’s a mistake (“did you know the sudden cold air can make Baby pee?”).  Keep in mind that experiencing the consequences of a mistake is a much faster way to learn than being told.

If you see Dad doing something that’s just different, let it go.  Yes, Baby looks goofy with that green shirt and those different-shade-of-green pants.  Yes, those are from entirely different outfits.  Yes, I know.  And yes, you can tell anyone who asks that Dad dressed Baby today.

Different ways of doing things that don’t matter–and except for safety and health, most of it doesn’t matter–is okay.  If you want him to become a competent caregiver, especially if he’s a baby rookie, give him the chance to make some mistakes and learn.  It’s okay to offer advice and suggestions, but don’t scold or mother him.

Laugh at the outfits he picks out, shake your head at his strange ways of doing things, respect his growing competence, and enjoy having someone that you can trust with Baby.

Fortunately, neither pregnancy nor birthing lasts forever.  Eventually, Baby makes his/her appearance.  Of course, Baby arrives with some new needs:  food, warmth, diaper changes, baths, love, and help getting to sleep.  And guess what?  It’s not just Mom that can help with those things.

If you were an awesome birth partner, helping take care of Baby will seem like a natural next step.  If you’re like most guys, you will have less baby-care experience than Baby’s Mom does.  That’s okay.  Most of Baby’s needs are simple right now, and you’ll figure a lot out as you go.

Maybe you’ve never changed a diaper.  If you’re smart enough to figure out that the two smaller holes are for legs, you can change a diaper.  Get used to doing diaper changes.  Once the meconium stage is past, diaper changes are not as bad as TV and movies would have you think.

If Baby is going to be breastfeeding, you may feel like you’re off the hook as far as feeding goes.  It’s true that you won’t do most of the work.  But you can still help.  When Baby cries for food, check for a diaper issue (and change the diaper if that’s the problem), and snuggle Baby.  If Baby keeps crying (baby-speak for “I’m still hungry!”), carry him/her over to Mom.  Once Baby is done feeding, you can help with burping.  Toss a burp cloth over your shoulder, and pat those air bubbles out.  And if Baby is going to be bottle-fed, figure out right away how to get a bottle ready.

Finally, get good at doing Baby’s bath.  Become the bath-giver.  They’ll probably show you how to do Baby’s bath at the hospital.  They may even have you help.  Bathtime is a great time to bond with Baby, and a great time to let Baby’s Mom rest for a couple of minutes.  (Pro-Dad-Tip:  If you’re doing bathtime in a little baby tub in the kitchen, make sure the ceiling fan is turned off to avoid cooling Baby off too much.  Oops.  Actually, after just a couple of kitchen baths, I’ve preferred putting the baby tub in the big-people bathtub.)

That might sound like a lot of work, especially if you don’t have much experience caring for a baby.  Like any skill, you’ll get better the more you practice.  As you get better, it won’t seem like as much work.  If you don’t have much experience, see if your hospital or birth center offers a “Baby Basics” or “Baby Skills” class.  They’ll show you all the basic skills you need, and let you practice a bit on baby dolls.  (For extra practice and insight, a “Boot Camp for New Dads” or similar class is a great idea.)

Why put yourself through all this extra work?

Simple:  it’s good for her, it’s good for Baby, and that makes it good for you.

You’ve probably seen TV shows or movies where fathers are depicted as entirely incompetent at childcare.  On some level, you may be expecting to get by without becoming a competent caregiver.  There are a lot of reasons to become a competent caregiver, but here are a few:

  • Being a competent caregiver gives both emotional and physical support to the mother.
  • Being a competent caregiver helps the mother get some rest, and a rested mother is a happy mother.
  • Being a competent caregiver will increase the mother’s respect for you.
  • Plus, having a competent and involved father figure is good for Baby .
  • Bonus:  realizing your own competence increases your confidence and helps you feel better about yourself.

It’s more work to be a competent caregiver.  It’s worth it.  Do it.

This one’s for you guys that are about to be a birth partner for the birth of your first child.  Those of you that already have kids, or those of you that aren’t male (and hence, won’t qualify for “fatherhood” anyway) are welcome to read and try to apply this to your situation.  Also, I will use the term “wife” to refer to the woman who you are helping through labor.  If that’s not the right term for your situation, adjust as needed.  It’s much less cumbersome than “wife/girlfriend/partner/companion/friend/ex-wife/ex-girlfriend/etc”.

The impending birth of your first child is pretty exciting.  It can also fill you with questions.  “Will I be a good dad?”  “Will I have any idea what to do?”  “How am I supposed to take care of my kid and teach him/her everything he/she needs to know?”

Those kinds of questions are common, and they’re questions you’ll have to answer for yourself.  You can be as prepared as you want, but you’ll still have questions, doubts, uncertainty.  That’s normal.  You’re stepping into a new role, one that you haven’t gotten to practice.  It’ll be an adventure for everyone involved.

One of the best things you can do to prepare for fatherhood is to use being a birth partner as a training camp.  During your training camp, you should learn some practical skills you’ll need to know (e.g. diapering and bathing a baby), practice some skills you already have (e.g. loving your wife and being patient through uncertainty), and develop or improve some emotional skills (e.g. putting another human being’s comfort and safety ahead of your own).

I don’t know what kind of background you have:  whether you had a good model of fatherhood growing up or what kind of models of fatherhood people around you in your adult life have been.  But somewhere, you probably have an idea of the kind of father you want to be.  If not, let me give you a vision (and this one’s off the cuff–feel free to develop your own, better vision):  you want to be and you can be a father that is physically and emotionally present for your kid(s), a strong protector and tender enough that your kid(s) will run to you to kiss their bumps and scrapes, a man that’s willing to sacrifice his own comfort and preferences for the good of his wife and kid(s), and an intentional parent that sets a direction for your family that’s best for everyone–all of this because you know that being that kind of father will be more rewarding than looking out for yourself.

So take your vision of fatherhood and apply it now, before your kid is born, and before you officially take on your new role.  Practice being a strong protector by making sure you’re equipped to protect and help your wife through labor.  Practice being tender by equipping yourself to gently comfort her during labor (not just with physical comfort techniques, but with encouraging or distracting words).  Practice being physically and emotionally present by turning off the TV, putting away your smartphone (unless you’re timing contractions), and pay attention to your wife so that you can respond to or even anticipate her needs.

If you take your vision for fatherhood and use that to organize your fatherhood training camp, you’ll be much better equipped to be a father.  And just like a coach might say of a promising rookie “Yep, he had a great training camp.  Throws great, moves great.  He’ll be starting our first game.  He’s got a lot of room to improve, but he showed us that he’s got the tools to succeed”, your wife will be excited about your potential.  “Yep, he’s been a great partner.  Surprisingly gentle, but never gave up, and always put me first.  We’ve both got a lot to learn about taking care of our baby, but he’s going to be–he already is–a great dad.”