Heather Gray has good advice for new dads: You are important. You are necessary. You matter.
Last week, the Huffington Post tackled advice for newborn dads and they fumbled. Their tips included sideline jobs of parenting like learning the car seat and keeping the pantry stocked. Really? We are going to help new dads looking to be more involved by giving them handymen tasks?
Any dad looking for advice is looking to be involved. This list alienates by assigning new dads tasks that keep them from actively engaging in parenthood. If dads are coming to a parenting blog for advice, they are ready to raise the bar. It’s time parenting professionals get on board and support them.
Supporting dads means encouraging them to be involved and supporting their efforts in word and in action. Often times, it can be done by adding just one “and” to the advice given. Learn the car seat AND attend as many well-baby visits as possible. Assemble the breast pump AND take care of as many feedings as your schedule allows.
We will not succeed at parenting equality or in supporting involved dads if we do not change the way we view fatherhood. Being a dad is not about being a handyman. It’s not a sideline job or a supporting role. It’s about being present. Every day. Every opportunity. It’s about using our words in parenting blogs to promote dads rather than promoting the old ideas of moms being the primary parent.
If we talk about dads as being capable, more will see themselves as such. If we continue to dismiss their importance in the lives of their families, we are weakening family systems rather than reinforcing them. We fail fathers when we promote old stereotypes rather than questioning them.
Admittedly, I went on a bit of a rant after reading this article. I was pretty outraged at how condescending and dismissive I found it to be for new dads. Championing Prince William as an “involved dad” because he wanted to put his son in the car seat on his first trip from the hospital was just ridiculous to me. It’s a no-brainer. A new dad takes his baby home. It’s what dads do, prince or not.
Then, I took my rant to a place where I thought it would get a ton of support. I brought it up to some moms, and alas, I was shocked—some of them liked the article. They wished their husbands had such a list when their babies were born.
If moms believe that these are the only things they need the father’s help with, dads don’t stand a chance.
In order to promote parenting equality and involved dads, conversations need to be had with moms, too. You don’t have to read many mommy blogs before you find one complaining about and dismissing the role of fathers. Those entries get a lot of praise and comments.
The old stereotype is safe for many. Dads don’t have to risk trying to be involved and bungling it up. Moms don’t have to feel their role as mothers threatened, experience change, or sacrifice control. They don’t risk feeling abandoned when their spouse doesn’t show up. Parenting experts can play it safe with recycled tips and tricks.
If we want to help new dads, we have to change the message. Not only are you an important part of this child’s life, you are necessary. You are capable. Your relationship with your child is one of the most important things you will ever do. Being this child’s dad matters.
Articles like the one in the Huffington Post exist for a reason. They are written for the dad content on the sidelines and the mother who accepts him being there. This article isn’t for those dads. This article is for the dad who clicks on a link suggesting parenting advice for newborn dads and hopes to find more than a reminder to do the online banking in a timely manner.
Here’s a real message to dads of newborns. This is tough work. You’ll be tired. Little decisions you make will start to cause more worry than you are familiar with. You’ll be happy. You might be scared. No matter what you’re feeling, you are capable.
Need real help with being a new dad? Hold that baby as often as you can. Seek out 1:1 time with your son or daughter. Perceive opportunities for connection and grab every single one. Ask questions. Routines will become familiar when you participate in them regularly. Give your opinions. Be present. Being a good parent isn’t about having all of the answers. It’s about being willing to find out when you are lost or unsure.
Your child needs you. Your relationship with your little one will influence who he or she becomes. Yes, babies come with a lot of stuff and you will need to assist with that stuff. Sure, you may gopher sometimes but that is not your primary role. Get involved. Give lots of hugs, and change lots of diapers.
You are a parent now. Get comfortable with parenting.
If you are a mom, ambivalent dad, or other parenting professional reading this, get on board. The bar for dads is being raised.
Are you in?
Photo: W. Honea