Advice for moms on stepping back and giving Dad the space to be his own style parent.
I don't think we show dads enough love here in the blogosphere so this month I'm dedicating my blog to the guys. Every week in June, I'll dish out my very best advice for mothers and fathers on how to be a great dad and how to be a mom who supports a guy to be a great dad.
Here's my #1 piece of advice for moms who want their partner to be a good dad:
That's right, step back. Get out of Dad's way and don't tell him how to do his job. His job is not to parent like you, but to parent like himself. It's not to be as good as Mom, but to be a great father, to learn how to care for and raise his child to the best of his ability (not the best of your ability).
How does he do that? Just like mothers, fathers learn by experience, trial and error. Over time, dads figure out what works and what feels right and they gain confidence. This gives children the opportunity to learn from day one that Dad's way is good too and they can trust that he knows how to take care of them. By having more than one loving adult take care of them on a regular basis, children learn flexibility, resilience, trust and that love, security and caretaking can be expected.
For many women, stepping back is easier said than done. When you tell them, "Just let him be a dad. Let him do things his way," their instant response is, "He'd never know how to care for the baby unless I told him exactly what to do." My response is, "unless your baby's father is a jerk or an idiot (and most fathers are neither), he can figure it out. Give him the space to be himself and his own version of "Dad," not your version of what it means to be a dad.
So many women make this mistake and it comes back to shoot them in the foot in terms of being overburdened down the road with carrying more than their share of the family load. It all starts when they figure they know best how their guy should father because they've read the books and know how to mother and they figure they've got the upper hand when it comes to all things concerning the children. Fatherhood isn't just a guy version of motherhood though. It's a separate and equal entity even though many of the activities and responsibilities are gender neutral and 100% the same for motherhood and fatherhood.
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Our society and culture generally sides with moms on the child-rearing aspect of life. In any family-based TV show, Mom knows best. Dad fumbles around and messes things up until mom sets him straight. No wonder many guys don't naturally gravitate to the job.They've been acculturated to think they're not that great with kids.
The fact is that both parents are fully capable of taking excellent care of their baby. That is, if they don't feel sidelined, second fiddle, bossed around, micromanaged, belittled, criticized, directed, scolded or otherwise treated like they don't know what they're doing. Most guys who feel this way (really, that goes for any of us stuck in a situation where we feel unqualified) are going to do one of two things: lash out or back off. Most back off. They try to do things "mom's way," but when that's not good enough (because they're not mom) they inch back, feign incompetence (which is often confirmed by mom) and relinquish the opportunity to really get in there with their kids. It's a shame because when men are encouraged and supported to be great dads, everyone benefits.
This is especially important for mom's who are going back to work after their maternity leave. Even if you're using a nanny or day care center, your ability to work will be so much easier (and more productive) if you set the stage from day one that both you and your partner can take care of your baby. Sure, you might be the only one who can breastfeed, but you can balance that courtside advantage with other baby-care responsibilities.
And guys, here's my # 1 piece of advice for you:
Don't wait for permission, instructions or suggestions to start raising your children. If you don't know what you're doing – start studying, ask for advice or wing it. Being a dad starts on day one with diaper changes, walks in the dark, sleepless nights, colic, teething, diaper bags and burp cloths. Form the bond that teaches your child – you can be trusted. And trust your instincts. You know what you're doing. Seriously, Dad, you've got this.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and children. And co-author of, The Complete Illustrated Birthing Companion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating the Best Birthing Plan for a Safe, Less Painful, and Successful Delivery for You and Your Baby. Got a question for Jeanne? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a future blog post.
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