When it came to becoming a father, I wasn’t the least bit worried. In fact, when my wife and I found out we were having a son, I was thrilled. I fantasised about kicking a ball with him, taking him to his first footy match and counting how many times he’d mention me during his university graduation speech.
But when the big day came and the midwife handed me Will, a wrinkled bundle of screaming newborn, I was consumed by fear and uncertainty. How would I know when he was hungry? Would this mean the end of my social life (not to mention sex life)? And given our modest income, where would we get the money to pay for the baby gear we’d need?
Blokes are supposed to have all the answers. But the reality is, many of us are woefully unprepared for the challenges ahead. We know, mums, that your attention is rightly focused elsewhere, but we could use some help overcoming these common new-dad concerns!
Between getting the hang of breastfeeding and easing bub into a routine, new mums have plenty on their minds. Know that while you’re taking care of those life-sustaining matters, we’re obsessing about having another mouth to feed. The government estimates that raising one child to the age of 18 in Australia costs $384,543 – and other research puts the dollar figure for raising the average family of 2.7 kids at a cool one million bucks.
When I saw that hugely daunting figure, I anguished over how we could possibly make it on one salary if my wife, MJ, didn’t return to her job. I’m a bloke, so naturally I didn’t share my anxiety with a soul, but wrestling with this worry nearly eclipsed the joy of becoming a dad.
Help dad cope: Tame your man’s money worries by setting aside time to retool your family budget well in advance of your due date. “More money will be going out the door and less may be coming in,” says Jason Alderman, who directs financial-education programs for Visa. Look for easy ways to trim expenses, such as cooking dinner at home and buying groceries in bulk. And see if you can reduce your childcare costs by enlisting the help of Grandma, joining a babysitting co-op or arranging a ‘mum swap’ program, or getting creative with your work schedules.
MJ suggested that each of us take a weekday off and make up the time on the weekends. Fortunately our bosses agreed to the arrangement. It slashes our daycare bill by 40 per cent and also comes with an incredible benefit: I get to hang out with Will on Wednesdays, my new favourite day of the week.
Striking a semblance of balance between the office and family life is a juggling act for every working parent. Dads, though, may find it especially difficult. As, typically, bub’s primary carer, mums can take up to 18 weeks of Paid Parental Leave, but many men can swing only a few days out of the office. Even those who have paternity leave may be afraid to take the time because they worry about damaging their career.
Help dad cope: Encourage your partner to broach paternity leave with his boss as early as possible and to take all the time he’s entitled to, says Dr Kyle Pruett, author of Fatherneed. Remind your guy that most employers are less concerned with when you do the work, as long as it gets done.
You and your partner can brainstorm solutions to his job situation. Ben Parbery, a high school teacher, says his schedule of teaching classes during the day, coaching team sport in the afternoon and creating lesson plans at night used to leave him scant time to spend with his eight-month-old, Norah. So he started doing his administrative work early in the morning, freeing up nights to spend with his little girl. “Sometimes I have to get in at 5am to catch up, but it’s worth it to have a chance to give Norah her bath and read books to her,” he says.
For first-time mums and dads, everything baby can be pretty daunting. But I reckon new mums have a clear advantage over dads: you live with the little creature inside you for nine months and, thanks to breastfeeding, often spend more time getting to know him in the early days. Feeding, bathing, bottom-tending and soothing are usually uncharted territory for us.
Help dad cope: Give your man a pep talk. Let him know that you’re learning on the job, too, and that he’ll do fine as long as he makes the effort. “Tell him to jump right in and not worry about screwing up,” suggests Armin Brott, author of The New Father, Abbeville Press. Offer a tutorial on, say, bath time, if he needs one (or take one together from a friend or family member in the know). Then have him take over while you catch a nap or meet a friend. Even if he grumbles, this trial by fire will boost your bloke’s confidence. I speak from personal experience.
When MJ and her best friend, Alicia, left me in charge of Alicia’s eight-week-old baby so they could grab some girl time, I was scared stiff. But during that hour I changed him, fed him and rocked him to sleep. And here I am today, daring to repeat the experience again and again with a baby of my own.
If your fella is used to going out with his mates twice a week, spending quality ‘me’ time in front of the telly or hitting the gym whenever he pleases, you need to break it to him (gently) that those days are over, for now at least.
Help dad Cope: Soften the blow by letting your partner know he can have a night out every now and then, as long as you get your fair share of outings, too. Craig and Jessica Smith, parents of two children under three, take turns going out once a week while the other watches their daughters, Riley and Irelyn. “Neither of us gets to see our friends as often as we used to,” Craig says, “but being able to look forward to a regular break makes us happier.”
The first few months of parenthood take a toll on everyone, but they’re a lot worse for mums. We get that you’re overwhelmed and not exactly feeling super-sexy. Still, the lack of affection (which includes sex, since men can scarcely separate the two) is tough on us. Mums still enjoy a degree of intimacy through their interaction with bub, but dads can feel like the third wheel.
Help dad cope: If you know your partner is hinting for lovin’ and you’re not in the mood, remind him that cuddling and kissing can be an end in itself, instead of a part of foreplay. Try using his obvious desire to get him to take on some additional household responsibilities, too (“Meet you upstairs after you load the dishwasher, honey”), which will reduce your burden. Feeling relaxed can leave you more receptive to romancing.
I learnt that the fastest route back to the bedroom was by doing housework – without being asked. Smothering MJ with kisses and telling her how beautiful she was got nowhere. But when she came home to a sparkling kitchen one evening, she knew I had stopped thinking about my own needs and had become a full-fledged member of Team Parents. I’m happy to say it wasn’t long before we got cooking in the bedroom again.