Adjusting to parenthood
Parenthood is a time of transition, requiring you to mobilize lots of your resources and energy to cope with it. New parents must adapt to a new role with enormous ongoing demands and responsibilities.
The reality of fatherhood is that there are wonderful highs and many joys and intense feelings of love and closeness. But there can also be challenges.
- It may be very different from what you expected.
- The isolation and uncertainty of caring for a baby can be very stressful.
- Your partner may have physical discomfort after birth for some time, feel tearful, anxious and emotional at times and/or feel confused and overwhelmed and may need more of your support.
- Difficulties with sex are quite common for some months and so there is a drop in intimacy while the couple adjusts to the changes in their life. Being able to recognize and talk about this will be supportive for both parents.
- Breastfeeding is a skill that needs to be learnt and doesn’t always go smoothly. This can cause a lot of stress as everyone adjusts and the best feeding solution for your family is chosen.
- Some babies are hard to settle, and at times, it may be difficult to know what they need. There is a lot of trial and error, and this can lead to frustration and tears all around.
- Parenting is a 24-hour job and the demands of this take time to adjust to.
- Some parents may feel disappointed about the way their baby looks. They are all shapes and sizes and sometimes look funny. They do not always fit with your expectations of what your baby would be like.
- Not everyone responds to your new baby in the way you expect.
- You may feel that your partner or family are not offering you the support you had expected.
So, disappointment may be part of your experience.
Some parents say they are surprised by the variety and intensity of the feelings they experienced after childbirth.
Who supports you?
All mother-child and father-child relationships ideally develop over time and within a network of support. You will find it easier to develop a close affectionate relationship with your baby if your adult needs for closeness and affection are met.
It may be good to think about whether you have a network of other mates with children to share your experience with. Remember that if you are being supported, you can better care for your baby.
Many Dads rely on their partners for nurturance. Take a few moments to think about who nurtures, comforts and supports you. If your partner is going through their own adjustment to being parent, or you don’t have a supportive relationship with them, you might like to think of other people who you could turn to. Friends, parents, family, and other Dads at work or sporting clubs or neighbors for example, might all be possibilities for support. You just need to start the conversation. See Library article Getting Support.
Dads need to develop their own relationship with their baby. They might not do everything just as Mum does but this provides the opportunity for a unique relationship to form. See Library Article Dads Play.
Fathers can also experience a sense of loss of their previous relationship with their partner now that there is a baby to be considered. They may feel a bit displaced or ignored as most of the attention and effort is on the new baby.
Most couples experience a decrease in intimacy, especially sexual intimacy, after the arrival of their baby. Many women report that they are less interested in sex and value other signs of love and intimacy.
Factors contributing to less sexual intimacy include:
- Hormonal state,
- vaginal dryness,
- reduced sexual urge
- reduced arousal
- Fear of pregnancy/contraception
- Lack of time and opportunity
- Changed body image and confidence
- Need for some space to have body to herself
Communication is the key to navigating your way around some of these delicate issues. Talking about how you feel is the first step in sharing and moving through any of these changes and issues. Finding time to do things as a couple can help to keep your relationship going and changing with the times. See Library article Managing Your time for some ideas about how to fit it all in and Communication to help structure your discussions.
It takes time
Whilst you may rely on your partner for nurturance, remember your partner need to have supports, too!
Men become Dads over time, not overnight. Expect that it will take everyone time to feel comfortable in the new role. Taking the time to be with your baby, learning what they enjoy and how they interact will be the foundations for a good relationship. Mums and Dads provide different special experiences for babies through their interaction and play. Feel confident to give it a try your way.
New family values
New parents tend to think more often about their own childhood; they identify with their own parents or parental figures; they think about what they liked or disliked and what has left them with happy or disappointing memories. Dads might wonder how their relationship with their own father has influenced their attitudes and behaviour as a father.
Most people have things they admired about their own parents and things they would like to do differently in their own parenting. Families are different and very often are formed when two partners come together with different experiences of being parented and from different social, cultural and economic backgrounds.
There is no such thing as a ‘perfect father’ or ‘perfect mother’ but it is worth considering what your ideas are about being a dad, and what your partner’s ideas are about how they want to parent.
Talking about this as your baby grows is important as you start to form your own little family and learn what is important to you both.
We hope you enjoyed this article. It is one of the many support articles in the DadBooster online program. For more great tips and strategies, give DadBooster a go.