I’m very fortunate in that I’ve always worked from home and this has afforded me a lot of quality time with my daughters. Even today, there are many men who have never changed a diaper or held their children as babies. That physical contact is vital for establishing a true and strong relationship.
Modern society has started to recognize the importance of transforming gender roles, but there is still a long way to go. Even if you are absolutely committed to being a great parent, it’s important to recognize that it takes a bit of time to grow into the job.
It’s vital to understand that the way fathers bond with their children is fundamentally different than the way mothers bond. Men and women are wired differently, and it’s best to accept the process that men need to go through. The end goal is a healthy relationship, and achieving that requires an indulgence in the right kind quality time.
Time to process
When it comes to children, the mother always has important information before the dad does. This is just a fact, the mother recognizes changes to her body and she gets to experience that first stunned realization that she is going to be a mother in private. She is allowed to process that information on her own and come to terms with it before sharing it with anyone.
In contrast, when a man discovers he is about to be a father, he does so to an audience. The human mind is not exceptionally well equipped to hear life-altering information. Even if becoming a father is your most deeply held wish, it’s likely the news will stun you into silence for a moment. This does not mean you don’t want the baby, or that you’ll be a bad father. It just means your mind has to catch up with the news.
No matter how well prepared you are, there’s no way of predicting how you will react to the news. You might be overcome with emotion and have to sit down. It’s important not to interpret this reaction as negative. In fact, it might take days or weeks for a man to fully process his new reality. Mothers go through this process as well, but it sometimes escapes them that they’ve had processing time when they tell the dad.
You’re allowed to be knocked for a loop for a while when you hear you’re going to be a father. Maybe you’ll cry. Maybe you won’t be able to say anything. Maybe you’ll become terrified. That your response will be difficult to interpret is completely natural and to be expected.
Rock your baby to sleep
The fact is, you should be terrified about having a baby. It’s a huge responsibility, it’s an enormous challenge. Basically, having a baby turns all your emotional dials all the way up and creates a indecipherable static of white noise.
No matter how prepared you think you are, you aren’t prepared. But that’s okay, all you have to do is engage in good practices and you’ll figure it out as you go.
Another way that a mother is ahead of the father is that she has had the benefit of months of physical contact with the baby before s/he is even born. She’s carried the baby inside her, felt the baby kick, felt the baby’s heartbeat. The mom can tell by touch when the baby is happy, sad, hungry, or agitated.
Dads have to catch up on this awareness, and the best way to do it is by rocking your child to sleep.
Have your child fall asleep on you every day
The one piece of advice I would give to all young fathers is to make sure your child falls asleep in your arms every single day. You need to feel their chubby little checks against your chest. You need to listen to them breathe. You have to watch them as their eyes slowly close and they drift off into vulnerable rest.
Being a father isn’t a 9 to 5 job. You can’t do it for a few months and then move on to something else. The job is for life and it lasts 24 hours a day. If you do it right, it will be the best thing that ever happened to you.
It’s natural to be terrified about holding a baby. They are so small and so delicate and we men have such big, rough hands. But you have to hold your child, and it’s only by letting your child drift off to sleep in your arms every day that you start to come to a true understanding of what is expected of you.
Quit thinking and just experience the moment
Many men are very deliberate. When they learn they are going to be a father, they start thinking about practical matters. They want to make sure the house is in order, that they have a good job, that they are able to provide. All of that is important, but it’s not the only thing that matters.
A father must also attend to the emotional side of things and the physical contact does that naturally. We all have instincts to guide us that are just waiting to bubble up to the surface. The emotional connection is not something you can forge with your intellect.
It’s important for men to be allowed the time for the love of their children to descend from their heads and take root in their hearts. A commitment to being a great father is fantastic, but that commitment is just a seed. You plant the seed with your intent, water it with good practices, and in time it blooms. But make no mistake, it does take time.
Social pressures sometimes steal this from men
Our society is not necessarily structured to allow men to have the time to bond with their children as infants, but it is vital, particularly with the first child. A lot of men feel that their place is in the background as an accessory to the process. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The earlier you begin fortifying your emotional bond with your child, the better every aspect of your experience as a parent will become. Physical contact helps you move from intellectual understanding to emotional understanding.
It’s like taking the leap of faith to fly an airplane on instruments rather than visual flight. It takes trust and confidence and a knowledge that not everything in the world can be controlled, but that it’s still going to be okay.
A parent never stops learning
It’s tough to take on a job when you understand that you’re unqualified to do the work required. But once you become a parent, you can’t allow your insecurities to negatively impact the effort you put in.
A young man never transformed into a perfect father the instant his significant other told him a baby was on the way. It’s important to have patience and faith that you will get better with time.
At the beginning steps of the journey, men lag behind women in their ability to process what it means to be a parent. Women get the information first, and have months of physical contact before the father ever gets to even look at his child. Make sure that when your baby is born, you hold him or her close.
Give yourself permission to stop thinking and just exist in the moment. Your heart knows what to do, all that is left for you is to turn off your mind and let your instincts guide you. But it’s up to you to make sure you secure the time necessary to allow it to happen.
Previously published on “A Parent Is Born”, a Medium publication.
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