Parenting is pretty scary stuff. No one wants to f*ck their kids up, after all.
If you’re doing it with someone else (i.e. the dad), you’ve thankfully got a handy tool at your disposal (no, I’m not saying he’s a tool). By supporting them to own their parenting style and be confident at it, you’ll have backup on hand for those times you just can’t deal or have no idea what to do. Woo hoo!
So let’s look at how you can support your partner to be an awesome dad.
1. Let them be THEIR kind of dad
“I’m scared for the day our son figures out that I’m not a real dad.”
When my husband said this to me recently, my heart broke a little. He genuinely thought he wasn’t a ‘proper’ dad, because he has no idea what he’s doing. (Of course I assured him that most mums don’t have a clue either.)
I think a lot of it’s to do with the fact that he doesn’t have any close friends that are fathers yet. He has no one to share this experience with, vent to, or compare to. But while that lack of support needs some addressing, I call BS on this idea that there’s a ‘proper’ type of dad.
Dads should ‘dad’ the way they want to – just as mums should ‘mum’ the way they want to. Make this clear to your partner: they can do it however they want.
2. Encourage them to talk it out
Talking through challenges and thought patterns that come up as a parent is a great way to gain confidence and feel better about it all.
You can support a new dad just by prompting him to open up:
- Ask him how he’s going, or how he’s finding parenthood.
- Suggest that he talk to a therapist.
- Encourage him to meet other dads. Throw your mother’s group dads together, or search for online dads’ groups.
3. Throw them in the deep end
When dads feel insecure about doing parenting ‘right’, they may become detached and less involved. But while we can get annoyed about how they refuse to change nappies or resettle the baby, the more we assume the role of ‘default parent’ and angrily pick up the slack, the less opportunities dads have to grow their confidence.
Long story short: leave them to it.
- Let them build an attachment early on – Research shows that dads who have skin-to-skin contact with their newborn build greater parental confidence.
- Let them figure stuff out (even if they’ll do it wrong) – Don’t swoop in to redo the nappy. Don’t rush to help when the baby won’t settle easily. This sends the message that you know better than they do. Instead, let them make mistakes and be uncomfortable and just tough it out!
- Leave them alone with the baby – This can be tough for new mums. But showing your partner that you trust them to look after their child (yes their child) can help build their confidence so they don’t need your help. (Also, it’s a great chance to go get a manicure.)
4. Give them time
Just like new mums need time to themselves to recharge, rest and have some fun, dads need this guilt-free time too.
Allow your partner:
- Time to himself, for hobbies, rest and seeing friends.
- Time alone with YOU, for intimacy, attention, and actual eye contact. Get a babysitter or ask a friend to watch the baby for an hour while you have a quiet brunch. Or sexy times.
5. Tell them how great they’re doing
Words go a LONG way. I really felt this as a new mum. It’s why my mum telling me, “you look so awkward” when holding my six-day-old absolutely crushed me, and why the lady in Target who cooed over my son and said “you’re doing such a great job” left me feeling elated.
Try to be aware of what you’re saying to your partner. Tell him he’s doing great. Try out his suggestions. Boost his confidence wherever you can.
Every couple is different. Every parenting journey is different. Every dad is different. So there’s no singular approach to parenting, or to supporting a parent, that guarantees best results.
Find out what works for you both. And just enjoy this crazy, scary adventure of parenting together.