Being a new parent is tough. On both sides. But most of the support, information and just general consideration goes towards helping mums. New dads, well, they’re kind of just left to figure it out themselves.
If you’re a new mum then it’s completely understandable that you’ve been pretty caught up in finding your own way. On learning how to adapt with a new baby at home. With settling into maternity leave and getting to grips with working out how to feed/wash/care for your new baby.
You’ll have had midwives, health visitors and hopefully friends or family supporting you. You’ll have numbers to ring if you need help. And you will likely spend a fair amount of time googling stuff to help you feel more confident in how you are parenting.
Your partner, on the other hand, probably hasn’t had as much time as you to learn how to be a dad. Or anywhere near as much support as you’ve had (and don’t be mistaken, new dads need support in adjusting to life as a parent as much as new mums do).
As mums we are so caught up in figuring out our side of it we might not stop and think about how our partners are getting on. We might not spot if they are struggling too. Or if they aren’t finding fatherhood the amazing, stress free experience they thought it would be.
Having watched my partner become a father several times now, I’ve noticed that there are difficult emotions for him just as much as there are for me. And it’s really important that we are aware of these because parenting works best when we support each other. By helping your partner feel better about fatherhood you will help him to be a better father.
So, here are 5 things that your partner would want you to know.
They might feel excluded
In most circumstances, after a few weeks of paternity leave, men have to go back to work. Usually full time and often during the day when most babies are awake (you’d hope). This means that you will get way more time with the baby than he does. You’ll find your own rhythm and way of doing things with the baby. As baby gets older you’ll start to develop your own little quirks between you. You’ll know what he finds funny or what he needs when he starts crying a certain way.
Which means that when your partner is home he might feel like he’s on the outside a bit. He might not know how to join in with the silly games you know your baby loves. He might not understand your baby’s cues as well as you do which might mean you end up having to take over to sooth or settle baby. And he might feel jealous that you are the one baby wants. Or that you have a stronger bond with baby because of how much time the two of you have together.
They might feel pressure to provide
Even paid maternity leave doesn’t last forever and is usually at a reduced rate. So it’s likely that if you are at home with a baby that your income will be reduced. At least for a while. This can put pressure on your partner to make sure bills can still get paid. Hopefully your partner is happy in his job but even so, knowing he is the main contributor to the household pot means that he could feel pressure to have to provide.
This pressure will be compounded if your partner isn’t happy in his job. Or perhaps in a situation where he’s under stress, facing redundancy or not feeling successful in his role. Knowing that he can’t afford to be out of work or look for a new job because he’s getting perks like flexible working or working from home may mean that he feels trapped. And that can be really stressful!
They might feel insecure
No one is born knowing how to be a parent. But you have the advantage of having lots of time with the baby to figure it out. If your partner is working then he’ll only have limited time to be around the baby. That might mean that he feels unsure of what he is doing. On top of this you probably have your own ways of doing things that you know work. If your partner tries something else and you step in to tell him to do it differently then he could end up feeling like he can’t get things right.
Also, it’s really hard to parent when someone else is watching. Being observed with a baby would unnerve most of us but for your partner, having you there staring over his shoulder might make him feel really self conscious. Particularly if you make him aware that you think he’s doing it wrong! It takes time to be confident as a parent so in the early days your partner might feel insecure about how he looks after the baby or worry that he’s not as good at it as you are.
They might feel lonely
When we have a baby we’re encouraged to get out and meet other mums. We might have family or friends who already have kids or who are around to support us. We’ll go to baby groups and get out of the house. Or we’ll join online support groups and find friends or help that way. For our partners it’s a little different and they may not have many ‘parent’ friends. Becoming a parent is a massive thing. A huge, incredible and exciting thing. And it takes over your life (for a while anyway). But if you don’t have anyone to talk to about the amazing journey that you’re on it can feel really lonely.
If your partner works somewhere where his colleagues don’t have kids or if you are the first in your group of friends to have a baby then his opportunities to share his new life as a father will be very limited. And whilst it’s sometimes nice to go out and get to be your old self again without having to talk about fatherhood, it’s really nice to have your new life celebrated too. It’s also really important to have other people you can ask advice from or get support from. And that applies to fathers just as much as mothers so if they don’t have people they can talk to then they could feel quite isolated.
They might want to be an equal parent
There seems to be an accepted view of men that they are hands off parents but that’s not really true anymore. Most men want to be able to do the same things you do. They want to be equal as a parent. To have an equal say in how to care for and raise children. Or to have as many opportunities as you do to look after them. Your partner might not want to be the type of father who sits on the sofa until you ask him to look after the baby for a few minutes. He might want to be just as responsible, just as involved and just as important to the baby as you are.
The problem is that because we are the primary care giver we often make most of the decisions. We’ll probably set the routine or decide what happens when. Part of that is just practical. After all, we don’t want to have to phone our partners every 5 minutes to check if they agree that baby can have a mushy carrot. But we need to make sure that we involve our partners in every part of parenting so they get the opportunity to be as equal as they want to be.
Ultimately though, if you want to know how your partner is feeling about being a father then the best thing to do is to ask him. Give him a chance to talk about any of the difficult emotions he might be feeling so that you can work out how to resolve them together.
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