Daddy-hood can be daunting even for the most enthusiastic of expectant fathers. Irrespective of age or background the prospect of becoming a father will undoubtedly bring up emotions and thoughts (whether consciously or subconsciously) about your own Dad (present in your life, or the one you never really you knew).
Looking at the screen at the obstetrician’s office and listening to the heartbeat of this little being will change you. Unless you’re in denial, then you sure will be changed after the birth.
The preparation for expectant fathers is equally as important as for mothers. Daddies are primarily seen as providers: of the family home, of the food on the table, of the investment funds that act as a security blanket, but more than that the role of provider also extends to being the family protector and leader. Step aside from the stereotypical and traditional view of being a Daddy and we see role-model and caregiver added to the mix.
Times have changed and in 2015 – and for the last 25 years or so – more women are seen as equal partners in their marriages. This does not mean that traditional roles have been done away with but that they have been adapted to suit changing circumstances and needs. A working mum is a reality for many South African women so their men are recognising that their role is more than “the provider”. Both Mummy and Daddy are providers and both Mummy and Daddy are caregivers. They may do it differently but they each carry both responsibilities.
With that being said, how should an expectant Daddy prepare for fatherhood. Here are my tips:
Be practical and take the initiative
Do not allow yourself to sit with a list of a billion things to do. Determine with your partner what is necessary and tackle those first. Finances, Medical Aid, getting a blank hospital admission form, packing the hospital bag, baby stuff (clothes, medicine kit, grooming kit, cot, car seat etc), a process on how to manage family visits and calls, a support structure for your partner in the early months are just a few of the essentials that should be on the priority list.
Start making that list and discuss it with your partner. Research antenatal classes in your area and discuss which ones she likes the most. Go to the local baby store and look around to determine brands that seem to suit your preferences when it comes to prams or car seats etc. Take the initiative so she does not feel burdened by it all.
Do not leave things to the last minute
To that point, there is nothing more stressful for an expectant mum than watching her partner avoid the inevitable. Preparation requires effort, which means you need to get up and do! No excuses, no delays. Prioritise your baby’s entry into the world and your wife will love you forever. Wait to be asked, or told, or begged, and you are already creating divisions between you and your partner. You don’t want for your partner to feel alone in what is meant to be a happy nesting phase. So make things happen for her and for the little one.
Join your partner at the antenatal class. Put your fears aside (and yes, you’re allowed to be fearful and anxious) and just go with her and learn from the classes. Take notes, ask questions and always try to discuss both your partner’s and your feelings about what you have learnt.
Also, if you have close relationships with older male family members or friends that have children of their own it is worthwhile asking them what they did to prepare or what advice they have. PROVISO: Your views as Daddy are what counts. Advice that aligns with your values can be tried but ignore the rest. You will determine what you believe to be the best way to interact with your little one in your own time. There is no perfect formula because every child is different.
I am not one who is pro theory when it comes to preparing for parenthood so I don’t advocate long reading lists. Although, I have found one book to be concise, practical and a decent entry into the world of being a Daddy: Becoming a Dad – the first three years by John C. Carr. I read it prior to my son being born and it was as relevant to me as a mum-to-be as it was to my husband.
Be a partner when she needs it most
When Tommy is born its all birth announcement pics, and family visits. The attention shifts from expectant parents to the new baby. And no one feels that more than Daddy. Tommy is straight out of an alien movie and he doesn’t know either of you from a bar of soap. Mummy will be recovering from birth and possibly breastfeeding. She will be tired – like a cat that has 9 lives and lives to 100 each time – potentially grumpy, and in caregiving mode with the new baby. You may end up feeling like 7 day old toast by the end of the first month with all the attention and focus being on baby and then mum, but rest assured, your partner has never needed you more than this moment.
Your role as Daddy kicks in and you should be as much involved in the caregiving as Mummy is. No, you can’t breastfeed but you can do everything else. You can change little Tommy’s nappy, you can give Tommy a bath, you can clip Tommy’s nails, you can burp Tommy after Mummy’s done. You may have little to no paternity leave so the temptation to leave the care giving to your partner seems appealing but the truth is her life has become a 24 hour, 7 days a week nurturing job. Your 8 hour job does not cover the demands she faces so doing your bit is very important. As much as you can cover will make the 7 week job feel less of a nightmare. Some things to consider:
- Pre-packed frozen meals (for your lunch at work and for supper)
- Healthy snacks she can bite on during the day
- Someone cleaning the house and taking care of baby clothes and nappy bins
- Weekend breaks or Nights off – consider a full day nanny twice a week or a night nurse if you can’t handle the baby
- caring on your own
- Attending all paed visits, and clinic weigh-ins
- Message her once a day to ask her how the day has been
- Discuss with her if she would like her mum over to assist
- Always be kind and helpful – you are still the leader of your family so don’t let her down when she needs you
Find yourself a healthy outlet
The truth is once a new baby is born he is the darling of everyone’s eye. For your relationship with your partner, the reality is that she has to “leave you” to manage a baby (whether it is because he is crying, hungry, tired, irritated, lonely etc). She does not leave your marriage, or stop loving you but she finds herself responsible for the well being of a small, defenseless and vulnerable human being. Learn to accept the following:
- You will not have the same time with each other as you did when she was pregnant.
- You will not have the same enthusiasm from her as you did when she was pregnant.
- You may not even have the same attention from your wife as you enjoyed while she was pregnant.
It is important that you find a way to deal with the change in your marriage. Adapting to the new circumstances is all good and well but if you secretly resent your partner or your baby for the shift in the relationship then you are digging a hole for your family to be buried in. Be brave and talk to your wife about it. In an empathetic way – focus on what you are feeling without seeming to blame anyone – and suggest ways you could deal with it. Maybe it is spending some time with a close friend who is also a father. Maybe it is having an activity such as a sport that you can spend some time at when you are feeling frustrated. If all fails, I recommend that you see a clinical psychologist who can help you deal with your thoughts and feelings in an effective way, which is not harmful to your marriage.
Determine the Daddy you want to be while she is pregnant
Just like we have vision board, or lists of goals for our careers, we should also have a vision for our family and the role we play in it. Consider the positives and negatives of not only your parents, but other parents you know. Then consider what qualities you would like in your child. Kind, generous, polite, confident etc. These are the qualities you will have to adopt in order to instill these in your child. Remember, children are sponges. They are blank slates. It is therefore up to the parents to role model behaviour they wish their child to adopt. The do as I say and not as I do approach is BS, and we know it deep down, don’t we? Our little get out of jail free card we like to use when its just too hard to be the person we want them to be.
Try to find forgiveness for those that have disappointed you as “parents”. Whether it was your grandmother or your long lost Dad. Holding onto pain will only make you an anxious and possibly angry parent. Who wants to be raised by someone who is angry half the time. Basically, get your sh#t in order!
Yet again, preparation is an action so consider the man you want to be, choose to be that man, and deal with any obstacles to you being the best Daddy you can be. If you don’t play an active part in determining the father figure you wish to be you may live to regret it when you look back on your time with your children. Remember you get 18 years, at best 21, to play a central role in their lives. After that they are adult individuals destined to make their own way in the world and choose their own paths independently of you.
It may all seem too much at times but you are writing on the paper of your child’s life. What do you want the script to say?
BY: KAMANTHA MULLER