Many fathers feel they don’t get to play as strong a role as mothers do when it comes to parenting. In fact, they often feel pushed out of the room or shamed that they can’t do it as well as mom. Often mothers are the ones giving the message that when there’s a dad taking care of baby it’s not as good as when it’s a mom.
But why is it less ok for you to be learning on the job? You’re not supposed to be Mr. Mom — you’re supposed to be Dad.
Maybe you weren’t as attentive to other’s kids when your friends got pregnant or when you became an uncle, but your wife or girlfriend has been babysitting since she was a teenager. But if neither of you has had the experience of being a parent then any learning curve you have should be supported, not knocked down.
First Kid=Major Anxiety For All
Even if your wife or partner has had a ton of experience being a nanny to everyone in Park Slope she’s probably scared to death when the child is hers. One way that many moms express this fear is by trying to be Super Mom–which doesn’t leave much room to have a dad taking care of baby. Even if she hasn’t seemed possessive in the past the fear of not being a Good Mother is palpable and it is not uncommon for her to appear to think that she and only she (and maybe her mom) is the only person who can really take care of that child.
There’s a lot of overt pressure on moms, but the pressure on dads is just as high—it’s just not talked about. Even if a woman is not breastfeeding she is constantly observed by others, constantly judged, and often shamed.
Check the latest media parent shaming and most instances are probably about moms. She was too harsh, or wasn’t harsh enough. She gave in too much, or she was neglectful. We see the “crazy” moms. It’s actually quite rare that fathers are given this level of popular scrutiny.
That being said, it’s still not acceptable for the dad’s role in raising your son or daughter to be diminished.
Dad Taking Care of Baby: How to Talk to Your Partner
If you feel that you aren’t getting the space to be a dad then it’s a good time to reflect on how you and your partner communicate and to examine if it’s changed since she became pregnant or after the baby was born. This is going to give you some useful information.
First off: If things haven’t changed—if a dynamic of your relationship was that you were often dismissed or even chided for not being able to do things as well as she could (or another man could) you may need to revisit how you talk to each other and what you’re willing to accept in a partnership.
But: If things have shifted then it’s a clearer indication of some heightened emotions that aren’t getting expressed verbally. Add that to lack of sleep and it’s time for a good sit down.
Let Her Know the Kind of Father You Want to Be: Simply letting your partner know that you want to be a present and involved father is an important first step. Letting her know that you are aware that with the best of intentions it’s easy to fall into gendered roles is good too. Let her know that you’re committing to guarding against that—but you can’t do it alone. You need to let her know that you want to learn and that you are going to make mistakes and it’s not okay to shame you. Fatherhood should be an extension of how you relate in couplehood—and that should be marked by love and compromise. The roles are shifting, but you’re still the same cast members.
Talk About Her Expectations: If she’s seen lots of girlfriends have babies then she may expect that you’ll be like the other male partners in her circle. And if they are hands-off dads she may have prepared herself that you will be the same as well. You need to make your intentions known and then have the actions to back up when you’re saying you want to do.
One Word Never to Use if You Want Any Fathering Cred Whatsoever: And if I may give one piece of advice. Never refer to what you do as “babysitting” and don’t let anyone else do that to you either.
You’re a father. It’s your life. Babysitters, even if they love kids, are doing what they do for the paycheck. Make sure she knows you’re life is entwined with hers in raising this child. Not just a provider, but a full time, all hands on deck Dad.
Nervous about this conversation–or worried about the transition to being a dad? Please don’t hesitate to send me an email or call me. I’ve worked with lots of men who have struggled with becoming the fathers they want to be.
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be. He works with all men but has a particular focus on providing counseling for fathers (and guys hoping to become dads!)