Thinking About Fatherhood?

By Christine Sweeney, LICSW, Dept. Obstetrics & Gynecology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
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“It will change your life.”

That’s how I typically respond when I’m asked what it’s like to be a parent. Most couples, when they poll their parenting friends, hear about the challenges of chronic sleep deprivation, followed by the stress due to lack of time, and lack of sex (that last one more commonly coming from the dads, who in the last weeks of pregnancy have already postponed their needs).

babydadhands Thinking About Fatherhood?

(credit: iStockphoto)

In past generations, dads have had a less hands-on approach to parenting, and have been more focused on their role as “provider,” but that’s been changing. Perhaps it’s due in part to necessity as more moms are back at work after a 12-week maternity leave, and thus families need a more balanced team approach.  I also think that today’s dads don’t want to be on the sidelines when it comes to raising children. Dads today realize what an amazing experience it is to be emotionally connected with your child and they want to be more hands-on.  Not so long ago, I asked James, a dad of a newborn son, about his experience. This is what he had to say:

“Everyone told us we’d be running on fumes, but truthfully, the hardest part for us is making sure that my wife and I spend time as a couple.  I try to help her get some downtime as well.”

When I asked this dad for some specifics, he described getting up at 5:30 a.m. (when his son first wakes) and giving baby his first feeding before leaving for work.  He also does the last feeding at midnight before going to bed. The goal is to give his wife, who will be home all day alone with their baby, at least four hours of uninterrupted sleep.

James went on to describe that before becoming a dad, he typically stopped at the gym on his way home from work at least three nights a week. It was also not unusual to meet colleagues or his wife for drinks on a Friday to unwind from the week before heading home. Those days are over, as come the end of the day, his wife really needs a break.

“It took me one Saturday of flying solo, when my wife was away all day at a friend’s baby shower, to really get what her day is like every day,” James said.

In fact, most parents, moms and dads, really have no idea of what it’s like to be at home with a newborn all day until they live it.  It’s constant and can feel all-consuming, but spending time observing and getting to know your baby’s cues gives parents (especially dads) the opportunity to develop a sense of competence and confidence in their parenting skill.

Dads can get to the gym and can spend time with friends, it just means taking the time to plan and negotiate with your partner. Your time needs to shift and expand, allowing room for couple time, parenting time and “me” time as well. During the initial weeks at home with a baby, there is not a lot of time to spare, but as the weeks go by and baby starts to settle into a somewhat predictable rhythm, it gets easier.

Becoming a dad means making room for your growing family and realizing that while you may need to give up some things, it’s more than worth it.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted September 2012

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