Family life has undergone many changes in recent decades, and the responsibilities once assigned specifically to one or the other of a pair of parents have shifted and become somewhat blurred. There are more single parents today and more never-married parents shouldering responsibility for their families. When both parents work outside the home, they learn to share responsibilities for housework and child care as they share the responsibility of bread-winning. Nearly 2 million men in the United States today are raising their children alone. A divorced father awarded sole custody of his children is no longer cause for raised eyebrows. And joint-custody provisions in divorce -- described as "equal opportunity in parenting" -- have been adopted by a majority of states. Some men assume the major part of the nurturing of their children while their wives work.
In many homes the familiar structure of the mother as full-time homemaker and the father as financial provider continues. But even in these households, we find fathers taking more interest, helping more often with household chores, and involving themselves more fully in the lives of their children than their own fathers did. They are no longer strict and unapproachable beings the children see for only a few minutes a day who demand peace and quiet when they are home. Their relationships with their children are personal and openly loving; they talk about feelings, they show they care.
There are also other, more public indications today that men no longer measure their worth only by their achievements outside their homes, as their fathers perhaps did before them. Child-care literature and advertising now direct information to "parents," instead of only to mothers; childbirth education courses require the participation of fathers. Parental leave of absence, extended to males in Sweden in 1979, is becoming more common among companies in this country, and recent federal legislation guarantees men as well as women 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave from their jobs in any 12-month period, offering protection for both the employees' jobs and their benefits during their absences.
Including the Father
A new father may find himself feeling left out if the mother is the main caregiver for their baby. He's also apt to undergo the emotional upheaval his change of role brings on, even if he thought he was well prepared for the adjustments he would have to make in his life. He may worry about finances, especially if the couple will now depend upon only one salary instead of two. He may be apprehensive about his increased responsibilities and the changes he already sees in his relationship with his partner. And he may be jealous of the bond so clearly forming between mother and child, especially if the baby is breast-fed. He is called upon to do more household chores and to take over care of the baby occasionally when his partner is exhausted, but it seems to him he is only doing more work and not getting the fun and joy he had expected the new baby to bring.
It's wise for him to acknowledge these feelings, to realize they are no more abnormal than his partner's preoccupation with the baby, and to bring them out in the open for discussion. The mother's attitude is the key to the solution of his problems. She should recognize his uncertainty about his fathering ability and be careful not to deride his initial efforts. She should treat him as her partner, not as her assistant, in their new joint venture of parenthood.
Besides expressing her appreciation for his help with more of the household drudgery, the new mother can find ways to include the father in the satisfying aspects of baby care as well. A father can bathe a baby and rock a contented one as well as one who is crying and in need of soothing; he can feed a bottle-fed baby. If the mother breast-feeds, he can bring the baby to the bed or a comfortable chair to be nursed. Some parents like to give their babies one or more relief bottles a day of either formula or the mother's expressed breast milk. While the main reason for this simply may be to allow the father the pleasure of feeding the baby, a side benefit is the baby becomes accustomed to the occasional bottle that will be necessary if the mother will be absent at some feeding times because of her return to work or for other reasons.
Men often are not able to choose between their children and their work, and many have not had the role model of a nurturing father to emulate. However, a father today is apt to involve himself as much as he possibly can from the very beginning of his partner's pregnancy, sharing the important decisions about the doctor or midwife she will see and the birthing environment. He may accompany the baby's mother on some of her prenatal care visits. He participates in childbirth classes, in which he learns to coach his partner during the birth of their child, then supports and aids her throughout her labor and delivery. Various studies indicate that delivery times are shorter, anesthetics are used less frequently, mothers and babies are calmer, and infants' feeding problems are less likely when fathers are present in delivery rooms. After their babies are born, fathers often accompany mothers on visits to the child's doctor, and some take their babies for checkups alone.
In the early weeks of the new baby's life especially, a father can take over household responsibilities; he can be supportive and perceptive about what needs to be done and pitch in to do it. By exercising some control over the number of visitors and the time they are allowed to stay, taking over household errands, and performing routine tasks and chores, including, at least, getting some meals and cleaning up after them, doing the laundry, and running the vacuum cleaner, he can help provide the serenity and order that will give the family's home life a semblance of normality in a time of stress. However inexperienced he is in child care, he can learn within a very short time to be skilled at and to enjoy changing, bathing, and comforting the baby, and, if not feeding her, performing the important after-feeding task of burping.
Though your child will react to her father differently as she grows -- your 18 month old, for example, will enjoy roughhousing with Daddy, but when in trouble will likely turn to Mommy -- the effect of a close relationship with a male figure is good for boys and girls.
Besides lending a hand around the house and accepting some of the responsibility for the care of his child, the new father often takes the traditionally male responsibilities very seriously. He may feel the financial burden of a third member of the family very strongly, especially if the mother's income has been important and she does not plan to return to work in the near future. And he may envy his wife her opportunity to stay home with the baby as much as she envies that he is able to get out every day.
Men who participate as fully as they can in the births of their babies and who continue to share the responsibilities of home and children find the rewards are great. Their lives take on a new dimension; their marriages are strengthened and become more meaningful. Fathers can provide the care a baby needs, too, and those who choose to accept that responsibility are today the norm, not the exception. Reports of surveys bulge with statistics. Here are just a few: Eighty-five percent of fathers are present during their wives' labor, 50 percent during delivery. Ninety-six percent help with baby and child care; 80 percent change diapers.
Here are some of their ideas:
- Keep lists: shopping lists, lists of chores you must absolutely do, and lists of thank-you notes to be written for baby presents. When you write everything down, you free yourself of having to remember details at a time when you are most apt to be forgetful and preoccupied.
- At night, do as much as you can to get ready for the next day. Set the table for breakfast, lay out clothes for yourself and the baby, pick up the newspaper. Any nuisance chores and decisions you can handle ahead of time make the day start that much better.
- Cut down on time-consuming trips around town by banking by mail and shopping by phone, internet, or through catalogs whenever you can. Try to do several errands whenever you are out, and plan them so you waste the least possible amount of time driving around.
- Practice doing two things at the same time: for example, make out a grocery list or do your stretching exercises while you talk on the phone; fold the laundry as you watch television; or clean the bathroom while the tub fills.
- Above all, do not rush. "Haste makes waste" is a cliche, but it is as true today as it was when it was first uttered by someone who knew the faster he or she tried to do something, the more likely it was an accident would occur.
Whether or not dad is the primary caregiver, his participation in caring for your newborn is essential. It's true that there will be differences in the method mothers and fathers employ in a given situation and in the ways they show affection. But, with a little ingenuity, dad can hone his child-rearing skills to become a lean, mean, fathering machine. He just might have a thing or two he can teach mom! And, as adjusting to a newborn is a difficult proposition to begin with, mom will no doubt appreciate the help.
All parents must suspect that the arrival of their child will change their lives, but many new parents underestimate how radically their lives will change or the physical and emotional toll that change can take. Of course these are adjustments that parents have been making for centuries, and you can make them, too. With the right amount of planning and patience you can whether the storm that accompanies the arrival of a newborn.
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This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.