Becoming a Father: “Babies Don’t Come With Instruction Manuals” … Or Do They?

by Sep 9, 2016

Share This With the New (or Soon to Be) Dads in Your LifeAre you a new dad? Know a dad in your life, or perhaps someone who is about to become a dad? I know you’ve heard the expression before, “Kids don’t come with instruction manuals.” Everyone has advice to give about parenting. And you can certainly make yourself crazy trying to get as much of the most important and relevant information that will help you to be the best father you can be. Some of my favorite resources for new fathers (and mothers) will be included at the end of this article, but what I’m most eager to share with you has to do with raising emotionally healthy babies and children.Full disclosure here, I have only been a father for about 10 months now, so I can only personally relate to the beginning of this journey. Last year before our daughter was born, I took the train up from Washington, D.C. to New York City for a training put on by The Gottman Institute called Bringing Baby Home. As a psychotherapist who is passionate about helping couples, families, and new parents making the transition to parenthood, this training was right up my ally. And with my first child on the way, this 2 day workshop couldn’t have been offered at a more opportune time. I want to share with you what I learned, and how you (and your child) can benefit from the latest findings. As it turns out, there IS a manual! And one if it’s most important teachings is that raising your child(ren) to become healthy, well adjusted people begins with your relationship with your partner.

The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Child Is a Strong Relationship Between the Two of You

The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Child Is a Strong Relationship Between the Two of You

Think about this for a moment, a baby learns about the world through her primary caregiver(s), she learns what it means to be human, what “No” and “Gentle” means. Your child will learn about the way he is supposed to act in the home, how to behave at a restaurant, at the movie theatre, all by what messages you tell him right? The fact of the matter is, we parents are sending strong messages that teach our child how to “be” in the world by the way we, ourselves, act in it.

Imagine, if you will, a parent sitting their two children down to talk with them about showing respect to their sibling, when not but 20 minutes ago, the father was criticizing the mother about how she makes the mac n’ cheese. As a parent, you send powerful messages to your kids by the way you act when you and your partner are in an argument, how you talk to the server when she brings the wrong order, and how you manage your own stress when running late to catch the movie. It should be no surprise, then, that your relationship with your partner is often the first and strongest model your child has for making sense of being in a relationship.

Now apply this thinking to how you as parents behave towards one another when you’re around your children. What kind of relationship are you modeling for them, one with respect, kindness and appreciation, or one with hostility, blame, and grudges? How do the two of you address conflict in your relationship, by openly expressing your needs to one another without attacks and criticism, or by emotionally running away and shutting down? How do you solve problems, together or independently? Your child’s primary emotional educator is you.

Many new parents, understandably, are stressed out by the myriad adjustments that come along with baby:?

  • New parents are sleep deprived for an extended period of time; this perpetual exhausted state can lead to depression. poor concentration, irritability, and poor eating behaviors for new mommies and daddies.
  • Conflict between partners increases within the first year of having a baby.
  • Sexual desire and intimacy may significantly decline and remain low throughout the first year. This is normal.
  • Communication can decrease between partners or become stressful.
  • New moms and dads are psychologically adjusting to their new roles, new values, and new identities. Some parents withdraw emotionally while others show an increased neediness.
  • Some fathers withdraw from mom, from family responsibilities, and from baby. Dads can feel left out while many new moms receive support from other women.
  • Changes in responsibility and financial stress lead some dads to feel the need to spend more time working (which can lead to feelings of resentment and some moms to feel like they are parenting alone).

What Do I Need to Know About My New Role as a Dad?

What Do I Need to Know About My New Role as a Dad?

Many men want the solution to a problem. “How can I fix it?” There may, in fact, not be any problems yet (that you know of). The point here is that as an expecting or new father, you want to be prepared and know how to prevent problems before they arise.

1) Make sure your relationship has had a fresh tune-up. You are likely to be a better father when you are enjoying the benefits of a healthy relationship. Check in with your partner about how you are meeting their needs. This is also a time when you can express how your partner is meeting yours. This does not have to be a platform for complaining, but rather a constructive conversation to “take the temperature” of the team. Not all couples will succeed at this task. If you feel like your relationship could use some help, it may be a good idea to consult a couples therapist.

2) Be involved. The benefits to your child(ren) are innumerable. Being involved means engaging in high levels of quality caregiving and play interactions. When dads are involved, children:

  • Have higher cognitive functioning at 6 months old
  • Are better problem solvers as toddlers
  • Have higher IQs by age three
  • Are better able to manage their emotions and impulses
  • Show more concern for others (higher in empathy)
  • Are more likely to be securely attached
  • Learn more about the benefits of involved fathers

3) Be fully present. Depending on where you look for your information, you’ll find that the average American checks their phone 46, 85, or even 150 times in a single day. Now certainly these statistics depend heavily on your age group. I bring this up because each and every time you check your phone while in the presence of your awake baby, is a time when you are not interacting with them. This seems obvious, and yet the disruption that technology provides is robbing your baby from your potential “high levels of quality caregiving.” Remember those benefits? Truly anything could be a distraction, and you should not expect yourself to be the perfect dad. But when it is time to be with baby, do your best to be fully present with them.

Now you may be wondering, “What about single moms and dads who are parenting alone or coparenting with a relative whom they are not in a relationship with?” This is an incredibly important question, and one that I will address, at length in a later post. If this is your situation, a lot of the principles in this article still apply.

Dads rock! Dads matter! If you found this article useful, don’t forget to share it with a new or expecting dad in your life. And be sure to check out the resources below for both dads and moms.

More Resources for New Dads (and Moms)

  1. Bringing Baby Home: A psycho-educational intervention to increase relationship satisfaction during the transition to parenthood

Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to The Couple and Family Clinic Blog.

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