Fathers have traditionally felt inadequate regarding their role during pregnancy and childbirth. This was seen as a strictly female affair, with the Dads staying as far away from the ante natal classes, the gynae check ups and the talk about epidurals, caesarean sections and labour pains etc as possible. Their role was seen as being the background support. The main breadwinners and welcome to arrive in the labour ward once the baby was all cleaned up and the Mom had a chance to check her makeup and all the normal signs of birth and delivery had been cleared away.
It has been a challenging transition for fathers. Many have shared with me that they feel confused about the role of the “new age Dad”. They definitely aim to be more hands-on than their fathers and grandfathers were, but are not sure how to acquire the necessary skills. They share that, when they do attempt to change a nappy or bath the baby, they feel terrified that they will harm this tiny little person – or that their partners find fault with the way they do this. One Dad shared with me that he really had tried to do his best, but that it was never good enough for the Mom, so he felt it best to leave this aspect of child raising to her. He went on to say that he would get more involved when the baby was a bit less fragile and he could do fun and active things with him.
This led me to think about what tips to give Dads during the months of pregnancy and build up to the birth.
1) Develop a positive mind set. This baby has 2 parents and both are vitally important to the healthy physical and emotional development of the baby. Make it clear from the outset that you intend to be involved and as hands – on as possible.
2) Show that you are genuinely interested. When your partner shows you pictures of the 3 week foetus which is your developing baby, make sure that you show real concern and excitement. Your reaction will go a long way to pave the way for your partner to see that you really are in this amazing process together. Many Moms have shared that, because their partners seemed so disinterested during the very early stages, they stopped sharing their excitement – rather saving this for the others in the ante natal class.
3) Show genuine empathy: Many a Dad has said that they are not good at the whole “feeling” thing. That they will do whatever they can to help, but that they are better at doing something tangible – like painting the baby’s room or making shelves and hanging pictures. These are vital tasks – which both parents enjoy doing together. However, do try to develop the skill of genuine empathy . Show her you are able to connect with her emotionally – even when it is very challenging to adjust to roller coaster mood swings at times. Encourage her and praise her. She will probably go through times of feeling unhappy with the changes in her body. Assure her that you still find her attractive. Stress the positives.
4) Share your feelings too. This is a two-way process. Dads feel confused and inept too. Do not bottle up negative feelings. Choose a time when you are both relaxed – and share your own misgivings and anxieties. This sharing will bring you closer. Bottling up resentment and other negative feelings will lead to disconnection in the relationship.
5) Discuss the plans for the birth. Dads today are involved in the visits to the doctor and share the excitement of the scans. They are part of the choosing of equipment and the planning of the nursery. They are welcome in the labour ward and play an active part in the actual delivery. Your support at this crucial time will mean an enormous amount to your partner. However, do not take it too personally when she becomes impatient and irate with you. Many Dads are unable to believe that their previously calm and collected partners resort to gutter language during the trauma of childbirth. She will become calm and sane soon enough!!
Dads, you are indispensable, both to your partners and your babies. Thank goodness those days of hands – off Dads are well and truly over!
By Anne Cawood
Anne Cawood is the author of Children need Boundaries, Toddlers need Boundaries, Children need Grandparents and Adjusting the Boundaries.