Fatherhood: there’s nothing in this world quite like it. The remarkable metamorphosis that a man goes though as he embarks on this is only matched by the effect that he will have on his own children. The statistics speak for themselves; youth who grow up in homes with a father-figure presence are:
- More likely to have higher grade point averages
- Twice as likely to graduate high school and enter collage
- Less likely to be incarcerated
- Less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol
That got me thinking: While there are unfortunately some men who make the decision to be deadbeat and/or absentee fathers, there are scores of us out there who do have the burning desire to be the best dad that they can, however are confronted with a number of barriers that prevent them from doing so.
I’ve compiled a list of three of the major barriers to fatherhood (biological, social and self) and helpful ways to overcome them. These ideas were inspired partly from my own experiences and observations.
As dads take that journey through the trimesters of pregnancy with their partner, dads will experience a similar range of emotions right alongside her. We get just as excited, nervous and afraid as moms do. We might even gain a little sympathy weight. But no matter how physically and emotionally available we might be, it pales in comparison to the intimate connection that a mother feels as a new life is growing inside her. That connection is further strengthened if she nourishes that life though breastfeeding. Sure, we can feel the baby kick, and while that is definitely awesome (my heart skipped a couple of beats when I felt my son kick back for the first time), it just isn’t the same. Indeed, I can recall moments where I would pick up my crying infant son and he would be inconsolable. That is, until mommy came to the rescue with her nurturing touch and an abundant supply of food. This can be frustrating and may cause many men to assume that babies just “aren’t their thing”.
How to Overcome
With the exception of breastfeeding, dads can do everything that a mother would do in order to bond with their baby. The key is to start in the early stages of development and take every opportunity to interact with your child. When my wife was pregnant, I would often rub her belly while talking to my son, just to let him know how excited I was to meet him. Once he arrived, I would interact with him by singing lullabies, swaddling him, changing his diapers and holding him skin-to-skin every chance I got. If mom is not nursing, try taking turns taking over the bottle feeding shift. Also, wearing your baby in a carrier around the house or while outdoors is an excellent way to develop a sense of trust between you and your child. I found that wearing my son is a very calming experience for him to the point that, whenever he’s cranky, I jump at the chance to put him in our carrier because I know he loves it so much.
It is no secret that when it comes to raising children, our society seemingly neglects to give dads a fair shake. In many popular TV shows and commercials, it’s not unusual for dads to be portrayed as bumbling, clueless, know-nothings around the house who are the de-facto 2nd in command to mommy in chief. Characters that portray such a damaging stereotype poses a danger of unintentionally discouraging new fathers from being as active in their childrens’ lives, especially during the early stages of development. In the workplace, while maternity leave in some shape or form is commonplace, paternity leave is still relatively scarce. That imbalance also further reinforces outdated ideas regarding the expectation of balancing their career and family lives compared to women. In the courtrooms, the female bias is prevalent with custody laws and child support regulations that tend to skew in favor of the mothers.
All of these factors are a reflection of our current culture that delivers a clear message to fathers; child rearing is not your job, but rather the mother’s primary responsibility. This can be a very overwhelming and disheartening experience for most new fathers.
How to Overcome
The first step in overcoming this particular barrier is by understanding that a father’s responsibility for his children extends beyond the breadwinner role. In fact, since childcare during any stage is a learned skill, it can be learned by any individual, man or woman, who has the desire to do so through time and experience. With that being said, being accountable by understanding all of the rights that are afforded to us is all the more significant. For example, while not all workplaces have paternity leave, everyone is entitled to FMLA, which allows employees of both genders to take unpaid time off to care for their children without fear of losing their jobs.
Do you remember how you felt when you found out that you were going to become a father for the first time? I sure do. I was overwhelmed with a plethora of emotions, ranging from pure elation, to intense levels of fear and anxiety. A lot of my nervousness derived from the lack of confidence I had in my ability to be a parent. After all, as I was barely doing a so-so job taking care of myself at the time; how in the heck was I going to be responsible for a baby?
How to Overcome
First of all, what you have to understand is from the moment when that baby arrives, he/she is going to love you unconditionally. The fact that you are present in their life and are trying to make a positive impact is an awesome thing in itself, so try not to put too much pressure on yourself.
It is commonly said that we fear what we do not understand. If this is true, then it can also be said that the key to overcoming this particular barrier is through education. Don’t be afraid to get support by drawing from the experience of family and/or friends who are already dads to get candid insights on what you can expect. Another good yet often overlooked resource is your local library or bookstore. These places are a valuable resource, as they contain tons of literature; (books, DVD’s, magazine articles, etc.) that
help dads understand pregnancy, their role in that process and beyond.
When it comes to fatherhood, there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach. These issues are obviously multi layered and can have many solutions, based on individual experiences. However, by opening the floor to discussion, we can expose these barriers and continue to develop ways to overcome them, so we can direct our focus on what’s really important: our family.