I’m not sure that new parents are ever quite aware of what awaits them when baby arrives. Children completely change your life, and for the first while it’s really hard. There are feedings at whatever time of day or night your baby decides he/she is hungry, frequent crying and need for constant attention. Diaper changes can be messy, even horrific. Although it’s important to set flexible routines around your new life, you don’t get any say in what the baby does and when. You do your best to act sane when friends and family visit, even though you’re barely keeping it together through the exhaustion and frustration … but you do it anyway. Why? Because you love your children with everything you have. All that said, this is a message for Dads.
If you’re like the majority of Dads where I live, you were no doubt raised with certain ideas of what being a Dad means. Some Dads I know hold down a full time job, often shift work, and spend the majority of days off at their camps and lodges; while Mom is expected to stay home and look after baby. Now I’m not putting you down, it’s been this way for generations. Your parents did it the same way, and their parents before them and so on; and it’s okay to have and value some time to yourself. What I’m saying is that it’s time for things to change.
If your partner gave birth to your child, it’s important to know a few things. Carrying a baby to term takes an extreme amount of energy. A woman’s body goes through a lot of physical and hormonal changes during those 9 months, some of them painful, most of them uncomfortable. Then comes the birth, which is literally a trauma, and following the birth she doesn’t know any more about what to do than you do. Kids don’t come with a manual, and despite what we’ve all been told, Moms don’t just “know.” No parents do. So now she has to go home and figure it out – recovering from trauma, scared, and possibly suffering from baby blues, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, or in the worst of cases postpartum psychosis. She needs your support.
Maybe your partner didn’t give birth to your child. You may have adopted, for example, or used a surrogate. If that’s the case, your help is still needed. As any new parent soon finds out, taking care of a baby is hard work. They don’t eat and sleep on your schedule, sometimes they won’t stop crying and you don’t know why, and they often stay up all night squirming, fussing, and screaming. I understand you may be busy, you may have a 12-hour shift the next day, but you are both in this. Being a real Dad means being a real parent. Take shifts, bring your partner a drink of water during the 3am feeding, whatever you can to make them know that they don’t have to do this alone.
What I’m saying, Dads, is that your camp will still be there when you’re able to go back to it. Nobody is saying you can’t have a weekend away, but try to attune yourself to the needs of your family first. While preparing to write this, I spoke with my Mom. She told me that many women suffer in silence, having been told that their intuition will tell them what to do; and feeling guilty when that doesn’t happen. So Dads, even if your partner says “go to the camp, I’ve got this,” don’t stray too far from home for the first few weeks. Trust me, “I’ve got this” is what a new parent might say to convince themselves. No new parent ‘has this.’ It’s a learning curve, and being a good parent … being a good Dad … means being there to learn together.