Many babies are born every day. This doesn’t feel too much like useful news. In fact, a friend of mine recently welcomed a new child so even babies we know are born every day. Still not a particularly intriguing story I’m developing here.
My friend and that recent birth got me thinking about how we treat parents when they welcome children.
Most of us know to offer support to anyone who has given birth and to help them recover both physically and emotionally. We should do this in whatever ways we can think of. We can watch kids while they get time to take a shower. We can make food and drop it off at their door.
But, don’t assume a dad doesn’t need or want comforting or emotional support as well. When a family you know welcomes a new child into their family, make sure that if there is a father in the family, you don’t trivialize their experiences in the process.
And this is a role men and dads should step up and fill.
When we had our second child we took fairly defined roles in how we handled the two kids. I spent a lot of time with our older daughter while Andrea spent a lot of time breastfeeding our youngest. These basic childcare roles worked for us. But the thing that helped me most as a parent was constant communication with my partner and support from other dads.
There were times where I felt I wasn’t contributing much as a parent. I often wondered if my role of primarily helping one child diminished my contributions as a whole. It didn’t matter what I did, I felt useless. And as a dad, for both my kids, I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel, if how I felt was how many other dads felt, or how I’d even know that. It’s not that I didn’t care, it’s that dads weren’t expected to talk about struggles.
The way we see masculinity can sometimes skew the way we think about supporting men. We know that as dads we have personally struggled but don’t want to make another man too uncomfortable with all that emotion talk. So we settle for giving high fives and offering congratulations.
But the emotions that come with being a parent are bigger emotions than high fives. And you look at other dads and wonder if they are having the same thoughts. You wonder if they want to cry when their kid is sick. If they spend their time at work thinking about the drawings their kids are doing. If they hum along to their kid’s favourite song even when they aren’t there.
But this view on what it means to be a man can continue to affect parenthood throughout our lives. It perpetuates gender stereotypes we don’t want to pass along to our kids. We want them to see men being emotional. We want them to see men taking on domestic and emotional labour. We need to support dads from the outset to do this.
Because it is helpful to know that other people struggle with the adjustment too. And as nice as it is to hear from other moms on their experiences, I felt particular comfort in hearing from people filling similar roles to what I was doing.
So what are some practical things dads can do to support a new dad?
Ask them how they’re coping before you notice any issues.
Send them a message asking how their family is doing. Ask them how THEY are specifically.
Share any online fatherhood groups you’re part of.
Share any in-person groups you are part of.
If you live close offer to take their kids for a few hours so they can get something not kid-related done.
Offer to shovel a driveway or pick up groceries for them.
Talk about your own experiences.
Talk about what was hard for you.
Tell them making mistakes is okay.
Be there for them and let them know it.
These moments are emotional times when we recognize families need help and support. We don’t always know what those supports are though. So, ask. It’s amazing what someone will talk about if show interest. As a dad, these conversations have been valuable for me both as a man and as a dad. Reach out.