Bringing a new baby into the family is an exciting time. We celebrate the newness of life and have hope for the future. People are curious about the delivery and the birth story. Parents are excited and siblings are cautious (at best).
As everyone swoops in to celebrate the new mother with flowers and wishes for a speedy recovery it is important to pause for a moment and remember the Dad Factor (or the other Mom Factor in lesbian couples). While initially, there are enough congratulations to go around, the focus inevitably ends on the person who gave birth. It is important to remember the role the non-gestating parent plays.
When I work with my parents-to-be, I always remind them that “they” are pregnant. Even though only one of them has the “joy” of carrying the baby pre-term, they both have important roles to play from the time the baby is conceived. The investment of both parents starts at that very early time in the process.
Whether it is taking on additional house duties, rubbing lower backs or just deepening personal patience during hormonal flights of fury, the Dad to be is experiencing his portion of the pregnancy. His excitement, worry, lack of confidence, dreams, etc., are all just as real and important.
Unfortunately, our society – while having improved – still doesn’t value the Dad role as equally as the Mom role. Dads don’t get equitable paternity leave from most companies and most Dads don’t take the little paternity leave they are offered! Many marketing and social constructs are still geared only to Moms and not "parents" or "Moms and Dads". Until our society moves away from the solid male breadwinner/female caregiver stereotypes, Dads face an uphill battle in having their experience as new parents valued.
While we need to still push for equal family leave, there are several things we can do as individuals to ensure that Dad (or other Mom) gets their needs met.
1. Remember there are two parents. Be sure to ask about the experience of both parents. Dad will have his own version of the birth story. After all, watching the person you love go through the experience of childbirth and seeing your child take their first breath fundamentally changes you. Be sure to acknowledge and celebrate Dad’s experience as much as Mom’s.
2. Be mindful that midnight feedings, diaper changes, and changes in routine affect the whole family. Ask Dad his opinion on what would be helpful.
3. Don’t charge into the family home as soon as the family arrives from the hospital without asking if that is the new parents’ desire. Often new families prefer to have a private homecoming…to have that moment of coming home as a family be unique to them.
4. Don’t criticize Dad’s shortcomings about how to handle a baby. All new parents need figure it out. After all, he doesn’t know who this new person is. He has been waiting a whole pregnancy to finally meet this little one. Give him time to build a relationship.
5. Realize that Dad’s return to work will be challenging for him. Just as many new mothers are torn about returning to work, Dad can be too. He may be ambivalent in that he wants to stay home and be a part of the process but also feeling relieved to be at work to get a break from the pressure of figuring out the new routines and responsibilities (and the resulting guilt that may also be present.)
6. Offer to babysit or provide other care…date night for the new parents is very important!
If you would like to learn more about this topic, contact Elliott Kronenfeld at 617-834-4235 or email him at Elliott@insightbrookline.com.