Strange New Worlds: The Voyage into Fatherhood

We give our children a great if unseen gift when we wrestle with our own expectations and are able to consciously let go of those that are destructive to their well-being. ~ Jon Kabat Zinn, professor

It’s not always so easy, however. The shift from husband to father, wife to mother, and couple to family can be an intense one, often pitting the baby’s needs against those of the parents. Men can end up feeling confused about the part they play and the feelings they experience. Fathers report that they miss their partner’s time and attention, that her focus is solely on the baby, that they are sleep deprived and cranky, that the baby has changed their life in ways they didn’t predict (and aren’t too happy with). It is critical to realise that these changes are both normal and temporary. A baby has intense needs and meeting these needs may be tiring work, but it is time well spent. You are laying the foundation for a happy, well-adjusted child, not to mention a child who will be easier to parent as they grow.

Remain steadfast in the belief in your partnership. Remember that if you feel your union is under stress, it is time to reassess your expectations and priorities, not blame your child. A mother and father whose commitment to and love for each other is strong can endure this short-term adjustment to a new phase of life. Before you realise it, you will regain your ability for free time and private moments and you will arrive there with a sense of pride in your accomplishments as parents, not at the expense of your child’s development.

My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, “You’re tearing up the grass.” “We’re not raising grass,” Dad would reply. “We’re raising boys.” ~Harmon Killebrew, baseball hall-of-fame star

In the meantime, if you are feeling left out, take heart. You are more important than you think and you can enjoy your influence. Your special way of interacting with and thinking about your child gives them new avenues to develop, new options in life and a belief in themselves as most important. For example, research into breastfeeding shows that one of the strongest predictors of whether a mother will breastfeed or not is the father’s feelings about breastfeeding and his support. Don’t assume that breastfeeding – or any other mother-baby issue – is out of your reach. Fathers have great influence and it is important to your baby that you educate yourself and take a stand. You have a huge impact on your baby’s physical, emotional and psychological health.

Research also shows that fathers who share a bed with their baby and partner – called triadic co-sleeping – report a greater sense of intimacy, involvement and satisfaction with their babies than fathers who sleep separately. The fathers in this study did not intend to sleep with their babies and were surprised at their reactions. Other ideas include baby massage, co-bathing, cuddling and special time. You will find your own unique way to create a special bond with your child; you just have to look.

Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance. ~ Ruth E. Renkel, author

Finally, it is important to remember that you are in this for the long haul. Just like the farmer who can’t rush the crops, parenting is an enduring process that requires great care and often doesn’t produce a harvest until much later on. You may be surprised at the fruits of your labour. The early years of parenting are the most demanding, but also the most important. Like most things that matter, they require a huge investment of time, energy and feeling. But the transformation defies words. If you can step into this new world and embrace the voyage, you will find it is definitely worth the trip.

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