If you’re a first time dad-to-be (or even a mom), you’re on the edge of life-changing mission called parenthood. Nervous or excited, either way your “late-night bottle” will soon be replaced with one filled with formula (or breast milk) instead of beer or wine. Even though you and your partner promised to each other not to become “those” kinds of parents who talk about the color and texture variation of diaper deposits… at the dining table. Like so many other good intentions, this too will go quickly down the toilet (pun intended).
As an expectant father, my mind has been all over the place:
- How can I juggle work and family time?
- Where do I fit in our relationship?
- Will I be a “good dad”?
- Are we doing the right thing?
- Is it mine?
With my head overflowing with questions, I decided to seek some help. When still in US, I attended the New Dad Boot Camp, and just recently I also attended similar class in Estonia. The classes were fairly similar in their structure and the topics covered.
The New Dad Boot Camp gives an opportunity for expectant and new dads to connect with veteran dads for a frank discussion on the experience of becoming a father. The topics vary from how to swaddle and soothe a crying baby, change a loaded diaper and deal with the mother during and after pregnancy.
I arrived to the venue a little early. One by one, other expectant fathers filled the room – there were about ten of us. Most of us (me included) were visibly tense and clueless of what’s to come. It was clear that just being there is out of our comfort zones.
I can’t say that I learned any new skills in that couple of hours. The biggest shift was in my mindset.
Here are my top 3 takeaways from the New Dad Boot Camp:
1. She will never be the same again
We had been together for 12+ years before the big news, so hearing that my wife will never be the same again was quite an awakening. I was aware of the hormonal changes, but had not considered any more permanent transformation.
If someone tells you that their relationship didn’t change with the baby, they’re not being honest with you. When you go from just two of you, to you, your spouse and a baby, things will change. Hey, our relationship is not the same even now, being 8 months pregnant. However it doesn’t mean things have to go worse.
Couple of weeks ago, I already shared what has changed for us since becoming expectant parents. Although it was crude realization that she will change, it’s not that big of a deal, since I will be changing too.
We’re still the same people, only the circumstances are different. In fact the new situation has offered new opportunities to add depth to our relationship.
The stress and anxiety that come with pending parenthood can be destructive, that’s no joke. In order to keep the “fire blazing” while entering this new reality, it’s important to be conscious about your actions.
2. The biggest role for men is to be present
It was encouraging to see and hear that most dads experience similar fears. One of the dominant emotions was helplessness. In his book “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” Dr. Gray describes men as someone who value solutions, and view unsolicited assistance as undermining their effort to solve problems alone. Men love to have their abilities recognized and appreciated, and hate to have them ridiculed or ignored. No wonder we feel incompetent or useless in pregnancy – there’s only so much we can do, we don’t really have a “role” to fill. We can’t “fix” some problems when it comes to expecting! Many men in the class were confused about what they’re supposed to be doing.
I learned to be easy on myself and give myself permission not to have all the solutions. As other veteran dads confirmed – the most important role for men is to be available emotionally and physically. That’s true through the whole journey: before birth, at birth and once the baby is here! Apparently men’s presence is more important than any specific skill or thing they can do for the mom-to be. It demonstrates support and sense of security, strengthens the bond between the partners and helps men feel confident about their “role”.
3. Men are not born parents
Although no one is a born parent, I feel that women have an advantage over men. After all, they are raising the baby inside them. Women are also (thanks to expectations from society) the ones who help take care of the younger siblings or offer babysitting services in their teenage years.
I don’t have any prior baby rearing skills, I’ve never babysat and I’ve never taken care of an infant. With that being said I don’t want to be treated as a secondary parent. The biggest challenge a dad has is establishing enough credibility so that mom will trust him and hand over some control.
Everyone has heard the saying that babies don’t come with instruction manuals. While this is true, parenting has never been easier – none of our parents had access to Google, WebMD and all the other free resources online.
I’m not afraid of not having the know-how. I have confidence in my diaper changing skills. I’ve never done it, but how hard can it be?! I may screw up couple of times, but eventually (with practice) it will come to me. My biggest struggles have been mental. I’m more scared of the 4 am unstoppable crying madness. What do I do then? How can I keep my own cool?
Six months ago I didn’t expect nor desired to be such an involved soon-to-be dad. I thought I’d keep on working while MJ takes care of most baby issues. My perspective changed completely once I attended the first ultrasound screening and saw the baby in her womb and heard her heart beat.
I don’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to parenting – I’m just about to start my rookie season. I do know that I’m willing to adapt and learn as we progress.
Bonus material! I promised you bonus material every time and today is no exception!
I understand that parenting is hard work, but who said you can’t enjoy it? The movie “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” glorified involved dads and made fatherhood look as cool as the other side of the pillow. While their coolness is debatable (I will leave it up to you to decide), it’s refreshing to see fatherhood promoted!