Becoming a Dad
Photo by Nadyasabeva/Thinkstock
Becoming a parent for the first time is amazing. Most parents will tell you it was a pivotal moment, changing them in unexpected ways. While there is lots of information available for expecting or new mothers, information for first-time fathers can be harder to find. This coupled with the fact that men typically are less likely than women to talk to their friends and seek outside support can leave first-time fathers with a lack of information and peer support.
While fathers don’t have the outward signs of change that pregnancy brings to women, the changes that accompany becoming a father should not be underestimated. Men share many of the same concerns and fears as women, yet it is less socially acceptable for them to voice their thoughts. Emotional changes and questions are real and profound for new fathers.
We’ve come up with some answers to questions first-time fathers might have.
Q: Will I be a good father? I want to do some things differently than my own father but am not sure I’ll measure up.
A: The “will I be a good parent?” concern is a common one. It’s also common to review your own childhood when becoming a parent for the first time. This review can be a positive thing as long as those thoughts are communicated to your partner. She is likely having her own review and making her own list. Without discussion, couples can find themselves on parallel tracks, moving in the same direction but with different priorities and expectations. Clashing expectations contribute to arguments and tension.
Good communication can help ensure both parents are on the same page. Learning to parent with a “single voice” is an important task requiring compromise for couples with children. Parenting is a learning process that requires time and . Parents grow into their roles over time. For those who want some outside guidance, most communities offer parenting classes, and books on parenting are available in local bookstores and libraries.
Q: Will I be able to provide
financially for my family?
A: Financial changes and pressures are a huge concern for many fathers. The reality of going from two incomes for two people to one to two incomes for three people can be stressful. If the mother stays home or returns to work part time, the father is likely to feel even more stressed over finances. Budgets tighten and financial priorities shift.
Sticking to an agreed-upon budget is key. Review finances together and make adjustments when needed. It’s important women are sensitive to how men feel about this issue. Comments about lack of money can feel like criticism to a new father.
Q: How will a baby affect my
relationship with my wife?
A: New fathers may worry about the effect a baby will have on their relationship with their partner. Some fathers begin to feel left out as pregnancy advances. Mothers have changing bodies, baby showers and ultrasounds while an expecting father’s life continues mostly unchanged during pregnancy. Newborn weeks are often filled with powerful mother-infant bonding, adding to a father’s sense of being pushed aside. It is normal for a mother to be completely wrapped up in a new baby. It’s also normal for a new father to feel left out or even jealous.
The newborn stage is fleeting, and things will settle down. Fathers can take a more hands-on approach with their baby’s care to facilitate father-infant bonding. Giving baths, changing diapers and rocking all help bonding. Fathers are in a great position to help their partner maintain a balanced life. Spending time together as a couple, without the baby, is important and it’s often the father who suggests and plans for these times. Time alone helps maintain the couple bond.
It’s true becoming a father changes you in unexpected ways. Maybe you never gave a thought to chemicals in plastics, what school district you live in or the nutritional benefits of peas vs. bananas. That’s likely to change. New fathers need emotional support from friends and family. Don’t be afraid to seek it out. Be open to learning and growing, maintain good communication with your partner, and the role of father will feel like it fits just fine.
Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their son in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being.