Whether you’ve been planning to have a child, or it just happened by accident, you’re finally at the end of the 42-week waiting game and your baby is here. You’re exhausted from 48 straight hours of helping your wife through labour. There’s a lot to take in, and it doesn’t quite make sense at first. You look down at your hours-old baby, sleeping, recovering from the ordeal of birth. “Is she really mine?” you ask yourself. “Is she really my baby? Did I really create her?” It seems as if you’ve been transported to an alternate reality where nothing quite makes sense. You try on your new identity: Father. “I am a Father. I am Dad.” In your mind’s eye, your whole future stretches out before you in a single instant. You will be there for her first smiles, her first steps, her first words. You will be there for her first day of school. You will be there when she makes her first friend, when she sits her first exam, when she sits her GCSEs, her A-Levels. You will be there when she passes her driving test, goes to University. You will be there when she moves into her own flat, a grown woman. You will be there when she finds a partner, settles down, perhaps has children of her own. You will be there to support her and her husband as they raise they own children. You will never see her grow old. For you, she will be forever young. She will be there when the time comes for you to say goodbye. For her, you will always be Dad. A special word. You will live on in her memory and in her children’s memory.
Or that, at least is the theory. The warm and fuzzy white-picket-fence pipe dream that carries all your hopes for her future. Then reality kicks in: between you and your partner, you share sole responsibility for the welfare of a completely helpless baby who needs feeding once every two hours and her nappy changing just as often. She can’t make any noise other than to cry, she can’t see properly yet, she can’t do much of anything yet, she can’t even hold her own head up yet. And she needs you both 24/7. Suddenly, the image of you sitting in your rocker watching the grandkids skip through a meadow in summer seems far, far away. Right now, it’s 3am and you have a nappy to change. In addition to that, your wife, who gave you her sole attention before, is now completely devoted to her daughter.
That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
If you think you can carry on with life as it was before, think again. This little baby will always be in your life. If you walk away or become emotionally closed, you can guarantee she will hate you for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, that’s what some men do, because fatherhood turns out to be more than they bargained for, they ‘can’t hack it’. Usually, their kids end up hating them. Those are the kids who as adults, sit in the chair in my therapy room, making sense of years of built-up hate for their absent fathers. I knew that hate once – my own father was absent from my childhood.
Of course, you don’t want to be the object of your child’s hate. The child whom you love more than your own life. The child for whom you would sacrifice yourself, if it came to it. You feel that parent-child bond in your mind, body and soul.
That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Of course, you probably won’t end up as an absent father. It’s an extreme most men don’t reach. Nevertheless, under pressure many men tend to withdraw, emotionally if not physically. They become unreachable, uncommunicative, unavailable. Often, they take the strategies they use at work and try to apply them in the home.
Remember: work is not home. You can walk away from work, leave it in the office, along with your work persona. Your family is where your heart should be. Your work persona has no place in your family. They are not the same.
Your wife wants you to be open and honest with her, and to accept the fact that her attention will not always be on you. Here’s what you need to do:
Let her know that you are willing to do what you can – and do it. Show her you love her. If you don’t feel loved, tell her. Talk. She probably wants you to. Let her know you are finding it hard being a parent. Listen to her when she wants to tell you how hard she is finding things. Work together to support each other. Most importantly:
Engage with your child.
Be the one who takes her to nursery or picks her up. Alternate with your wife. To my mind It’s a sad fact that most of the adults you will see taking children to nursery fall into one category only: Mother. You can share the responsibility and you might actually enjoy it! That being said, we all need time to ourselves and men particularly need time to be alone. Remember that your wife is going to be much more amenable to you having alone-time if you let her have alone-time too. You want to go out and play golf? Go watch the match at the pub? Go out for a bike ride? First, you need to make sure she has time off. Take your baby for a walk. Use the time to bond with her, make it a special time for the two of you. Give her the attention she needs. Remember that your partner is Mother. Mother is a special word that comes with special responsibilities which you can’t fulfil. For a start, you haven’t got breasts. Mother is the person who literally keeps your baby alive in those first few months when all she can take is milk. Mother carried your baby inside her for nearly ten months. She has a bond you will never understand. You don’t need to. What’s important is that you are present, caring and supportive of both mother and child. Remember to give yourself a break too, and take time for yourself. You both need time alone.
But why? Why am I telling you all this? How do you know my reasoning is sound? Because you will know, intuitively, when you are doing the right thing. Take note of your intuition and trust it. When your baby is old enough to smile, and she smiles at you, you know you are getting it right. When she comes over to you and wants you to pick her up, you know you are getting it right. When she wants to give you hugs and kisses and show you her toys, you know you are getting it right. When she gets along just fine with the other kids in nursery, you know you are getting it right. Babies act out their parent’s emotions, and yours is no exception. It’s the only way she knows how to communicate. So if, in general, she’s a happy child, you know you’re getting it right.
Above all, enjoy being a father. You can be an amazing parent. Your child deserves it, your partner deserves it and you deserve it.
23rd March 2016