Dads, Dads, Dads…
Why support dads???
I’m sure most families will agree that most birth partners and non-pregnant supporters are predominantly left out of the whole pregnancy, birth, and parenting system!
I honestly think this is completely wrong, and something that needs to change, but change takes a very long time!!
Think back to the early 1970s, when dads were then ‘allowed’ into the birthing room, that was 50+ years ago and this is really the only ‘major’ change to be seen so far, except those partners are now able to ‘ask’ for shared parental leave.
Why are partners left out of this miraculous and exciting part of their baby’s development both inside and outside the womb? It’s very much a teamwork event. If the birth partner is the father, then they were most likely there are the start! If they are a same sex couple, they were also most likely there supporting each other at the conception.
I’m going to talk predominantly about Dads / father figures from now on. I am very inclusive in my work, and have supported many same sex couples, so I am not disregarding them, or female birth partners. I am considering men only in this article, as their needs are different from women’s needs.
Have men changed from pre-1970s?
Generally, no not really, not to any great extent, although there are always exceptions! Since the industrial revolution, the traditional patriarchal role of the father started to wane slightly, with fathers wanting to be more involved in their parenting role, but their priorities were drawn to financially supporting the family as the main breadwinner. Back comes the patriarchal role of the father that stayed stagnant a bit longer, as the women had to leave employment to stay home bringing up the children, whilst the father was needed even more to financially provide for the family. Even though many dads wanted to be involved, many were not able to due to these financial pressures. Add in the geographical disconnection of families due to traveling and moving away, and this family support was even less.
What do dads want?
- They want to be involved, to know what’s going on with their partners growing body, their baby’s development, what’s happening, how it’s happening, why it’s happening.
- It’s not happening to them, so can’t fully understand everything, hence wanting to know more, wanting to learn and have so many questions.
- Men generally want to fix things…they want to help when things aren’t quite so rosy, to be able to support their partner in pregnancy, labour and as a parent.
- They want to learn how to be a good father, and are generally happy to attend birth education courses to find out more.
- – They want to get involved with play and caregiving roles with their children, but need the skills and confidence to do it.
What do dads NOT have?
- The guidance from maternity / parental systems. It is very clear, especially during the last few years that ‘any’ partners were not ‘essential’ to the pregnant woman, the labouring or birthing woman, even though guidelines suggest otherwise. There is no wonder that mental health has suffered recently with absent birth partners, women not having the support they need and deserve with them in labour, or in postnatal wards. Don’t get me wrong the NHS are amazing, and do the very best they can under incredibly difficult circumstances, but surely by having the partner there could positively affect outcomes both physically and mentally.
- The opportunities to ask questions. Most appointments are during the daytime where the majority of partners are working, and if not, in many cases only the pregnant women is able to attend. Men are then left to hear what’s going on from their partner and have little opportunity to ask questions from a male perspective.
- The opportunities to offload with other dads. This is a big one. Generally, men do not express their emotions as readily as women do, and often keep those emotions firmly held deep, which as we know is not what is needed. Dads need opportunities to talk to other dads about the trials and tribulations of being a parent, to normalise their feelings and to have an outlet, outside of the home.
- Possible lack of parental guidance from previous generations. This is not always the case, many parents and grandparents are incredibly supportive and great role models. However, in some families the dad wants to move away from the way they were parented and move into a different more egalitarian approach.
- The opportunities to take part in parenting activities that aren’t women heavy. Many dads do not feel comfortable in women heavy environments, they feel watched, and their parenting skills judged.
This is the reason I founded Blossoming Bumps and Babies. I wanted to support dads further, give them those opportunities to do dad things the way they want to without any pressures from mum or the systems that guide us.
I set up a monthly ‘dads only stay and play’ session. It was really popular and had over 20 dads and their children attending monthly up until Covid. I have since run my groups through the Dangerous Dads Network as part of the ‘Plymouth Dads Project’ that I’m currently project managing.
How can you involve your partner more with your child?
Many dads feel pushed out of family life with that ‘primary maternal preoccupation’ and ‘maternal gate-keeping ’ that us mums naturally produce as a protection for our children, try to let go a bit more although I know from experience it’s REALLY hard at first.
- Find out what they want to do
- Encourage them to give it a go, without watching in the background.
- Only get involved if they ask, but don’t take over.
- Don’t tell them that’s not the way it’s done!! There’s rarely only one way of doing something, and it’s good for the child to experience different methods
- Praise your partner for what they’ve done, suggest they have another go again later, perhaps initially when baby is pretty settled and laid back.
- If it doesn’t go well, praise him and give gentle pointers for next time, and say you have times when it doesn’t go well either!
- Book them up for a local dads group (with permission), this will build their confidence and your trust in their abilities.
- Invite them to go out occasionally with their male friends, it’s a great opportunity for them to offload and feel less pressure as a dad and partner.
- Don’t force them to do things they’re not confident in, practise makes perfect. But let’s face it…none of us are perfect parents!
This will help to build and boost their confidence as a parent, be, and feel as involved as they are able, and give you the mother, a well-earned break knowing that you trust your partners ability to parent too.
Nicky Wooderson Founder of Blossoming Bumps and Babies