Parenting: From the Beginning
Challenges of Becoming a Father
The 'adjustment' of becoming a dad can often bring about uncertainties, some of which can challenge your confidence. Such challenges are discussed below:
- Fear that you will not bond with the baby
Like many fathers you may fear that you will not form a loving bond with your baby. As discussed in Bonding and Beyond, you will read that for many parents, this bond - the emotional connectedness that you form with your baby - may not be instantaneous. Do not fear. Spending time getting to know your baby and becoming part of her life - cuddling, smiling while looking into Baby's eyes as she gazes at you, talking, singing, swaying as you listen to music together, playing and taking part in the caregiving routines such as bath-time - brings about a feeling of connectedness ... the bond is formed.
- Concerned that your partner will form a closer bond with Baby than you
Another concern that some dads have is their baby may develop a closer bond to the primary caregiver (usually Mum) and they feel 'left out of the picture'. Certainly, if your partner is the main caregiver, she gets to practise her caregiving skills more so than you ... and the baby, being dependent on having his needs met, learns that when he cries during the day it is usually Mum who is there to provide comfort. This doesn't mean that the mother is forming a closer bond with Baby. Baby will learn from your interactions that you have special loving ways ... the warmth you provide will reassure Baby that you are his loving dad. Together, you and your partner need to recognise that you are equally important, both needing to feel the satisfaction of comforting your baby. Relax and enjoy learning about your precious baby.
- Feeling inadequate
The lack of time some new fathers get to spend with their baby compared to their partner who is practicing the parenting skills continually during the day can bring about feelings of 'uselessness' as a dad. Confidence in your role as a father comes with practise, and making the most of each moment you and Baby spend together forming the bond will bring satisfaction. This can be as simple as playing and having fun or singing a soothing song when the baby is upset, and being part of her sleep-time routine at the end of the day. Like mothers, fathers need encouragement in their new role as a parent and being reassured they are 'doing a good job'. Another reason for dads' feeling of inadequacy is that they could be suffering from depression (discussed in Postnatal Depression).
- Your partner 'thinks she knows best' as mother
It is common for many new mothers to 'think' that they are better at parenting than fathers. To put an end to this thought, let's say that if the new mother is the main caregiver she is therefore likely to be more practiced refining her skills with the baby, and therefore may be more confident in her new role in the early weeks than the father. Also some new mothers can feel threatened or undermined in their caregiving role if they see others equally able to care for the baby. Caring for your baby needs to be a shared task. Your 'way of doing things' may differ to your partner's techniques but the ultimate aim is to provide your baby with sensitive, loving care. As your baby grows, importantly you will learn that being a parent is a continual state of development and readjustment.
- Disruption in the relationship with your partner
It is a well-known fact that the baby can 'come between' the intimacy of parents' relationship. Research has shown that in general, sexual satisfaction for new fathers deteriorates over the first year of the baby's development. Why? In the early months after giving birth, having sex can be last thing on a new mother's mind. The tiredness and the whole emotional imbalance that can come from the constancy of caring for the baby is another factor. The stress that can build up affects both partners. There is also scientific evidence showing that fathers' testosterone levels can decrease after the birth of their baby, which could be related to sleep deprivation but more likely, the reduction is associated with men being overwhelmed by the emotional connection (bond) they have developed with their baby.
Regardless of such influencing factors, as the months progress a pattern of behaviour can develop with you and your partner where you begin to feel emotionally and physically disconnected from each other, as though the strain of becoming parents has reduced you to having no enjoyment in your relationship. Adaption in the relationship is required. Both you and your partner need to support each other and show affection, as it is all too easy to let the stressors take over causing distress in the relationship. While you may have less time to devote to each other you now need to share your time together creating a warm loving environment for you and your baby.
- Lacking a positive role model in your own family when growing up
How adults were parented in their childhood can influence how they go about parenting their own children (discussed in Parenting Styles). Research has shown that both mothers and fathers may continue to carry out parenting practices experienced in their own childhood, some of which cause harmful effects on the children, such as neglect and abuse. Importantly, the cycle of such parenting behaviour can be broken with the support of a partner and other sources of social support (discussed further on in Social Support and Parenting) together with health professionals to address ongoing concerns. Your baby's love for you will be shown in her smiles, and when you hold her and bring her comfort you will be communicating that she is in safe arms.
- The need to show your support
If your partner is your baby's primary caregiver, your emotional support will help to buffer the day-to-day stress. Sharing the 'caregiving load' is one thing but importantly you need to communicate with your partner ... talk together, as it can be the lack of communication between you both that can bring about the downfall of your new family life.
Some suggestions as to how to show your support include:
- Keeping in contact with your partner during your working day
Being at home alone with the baby can create feelings of isolation and loneliness. You are breaking this isolation by talking to your partner. You are also showing that you care and are interested in how the day is progressing for your partner and Baby. Your support and interest will make the world of difference.
- Sharing the load of domestic duties and caregiving tasks
Research has shown that couples who share household duties and support each other in carrying out caregiving tasks are able to more readily adjust to and have greater satisfaction in their new parenting role than other couples. Learning about how to have fun with Baby while carrying out caregiving tasks such as changing nappies can make the world of difference ... to everyone! (discussed in Shaping the Day and Caregiving Routines).
- Listening to your partner
At the end of the day when you are tired from your day at work your partner is also tired. As with any work situation some days are better than others ... so be prepared for days here and there where your partner may greet you in tears. However, if you are concerned that your partner is showing signs of postnatal depression you need to be open and honest. It is also well documented that when one partner is suffering from depression it has a 'flow on' effect to the other partner and the baby. Postnatal depression can affect the whole family (discussed in Postnatal Depression).