For many women (not all of you), falling pregnant and having a baby finally puts you smack-bang in the middle of a journey that you have dreamed about since you were a little girl playing with your doll. You have read about it and prepared for it. Whether the reality is a euphoric and easy as the dream was is, of course, a whole topic on its own.
The same is probably not true for your partner. Back when you were singing lullabies and having tea parties, he was chasing crooks (or cowboys, depends). His first introduction to himself as a father may very well have happened in the last 9 months.
One also needs to acknowledge that the realities of a baby look different to a father. He may be more concerned over the extra financial responsibility, and is probably worried about the relationship changes that baby will bring (a rightful concern).
It is no wonder that our partners can sometimes feel left out. This also because initally there is not much that they can do. A very big part of baby’s time in the early weeks is consumed by feeding, something that mom does. A crying and unhappy baby typically wants his mom, not his dad. He may very well be left with changing a nappy here and there. He may feel helpless, lonely and even a bit intimidated by this tiny little human being that is now running the household.
Here are some tips to help your partner get involved from the very beginning.
- Start by involving your partner in the pregnancy
Encourage your partner to accompany you to your antenatal appointments. Let them speak to the baby and feel kicks and movements. Your partner may not be interested in booties and colour schemes, but ask (and accept) their input when it comes to things like choosing a cot or a pram. Join an antenatal class, where he will gain skills in helping you through the labour and birth process.
- When the baby is born, give an opportunity for them to start bonding immediately
Make plenty of provision for skin-to-skin contact, and involve him in baby’s care from the very start. Ask him to take the baby while you nap or eat something, to change baby’s nappy, to burp baby or simply just to hold the baby. As time goes by, leave baby with him for longer periods of time and trust him to take care of baby.
- Give them specific tasks that they own:
It’s sometimes easier and more rewarding for fathers to get their heads around “owning” an activity rather than “helping” with baby. In this way they have also have special time together and can bond. He can take responsibility for bath time or for burping baby.
- Do not micromanage:
Many new mothers don’t allow anyone to touch baby, including dad. They mean well, but do a lot of harm in the process. Trust your partner and allow them the space to find their way around the baby. Bear in mind that your partner’s parenting style will likely differ from yours. Give them the space they need to figure it out. Don’t be controlling about small matters. They WILL cope.
- When you do offer suggestions, be respectful and specific:
Provide positive ideas of what they could do as opposed to what they should not do. Try not to be demanding or critical because gentle encouragement will make all the difference in the attitudes of both parties.
- Ask for and honour your partner’s opinion on raising the baby:
Listen to their suggestions and try to understand where they are coming from. Respect and trust them in their role as parent.
7. Invest in your relationship
Make time to spend with your partner, without baby. This may take some planning, but it is crucial for a happy home in the longer run. You were partners before you were parents. This will give you time to discuss things that are bothering you both, but more than that it should be fun and relaxing. And this will make it easier to deal with the sacrifices that parenting requires.
Remember that both of you are adjusting to a new experience, so give it time. It doesn’t happen naturally for everyone and sometimes some space and gentle encouragement is needed.