The conversations before baby arrives are very much about mum and baby.  A friend mentioned the other day how throughout the pregnancy every time he has seen friends their immediate inquiry is “how is mum doing?” 

I mean, Mothers are the main player in this baby making game.  We grow our babies for 9 months, we labour and birth them and then, whilst lactating, healing, and moving into our new role as Mothers, we must cope with A LOT of change physically, emotionally, and mentally.  It is a pretty big deal and we deserve the attention.

It must also be acknowledged and appreciated how it is a big deal for dads/partners too.  They are there for it all.  The excitement, the worries, the fears.  Watching the person, they love the most, change from day to day, growing their baby, birthing their baby, feeding their baby.  They see the discomfort, they hear the intensity, they feel the overwhelming pride and love as their baby is born.

Dads/partners have a huge role to play and it must never be underestimated.  During labour your job is to be the communicator so mum can go inwards, she can go into her zone uninterrupted and birth your baby in peace.  In the early weeks, your job is to be the protector, keeping visitors at bay (unless they are bringing food or have come to clean!).  You are the support whilst mum rests, recovers and heals.  You are the reassurance when she needs it the most.  

Many dads/partners can find themselves standing on the side-lines feeling useless but, in this vulnerable time, you are very much needed.  Assisting mum whilst she establishes breastfeeding is massively important.  Keeping her nourished and relaxed is vital.  Your baby has a whole lot of other things they require from you, aside from feeding.  From nappy changing, carrying, and bathing, to cuddling, singing, and storytelling, your involvement is key.

Parenting is beautiful and wonderful.  Parenting is challenging and tough.  Parenting is teamwork and, dads/partners, your part in the team is significant.

I asked a group of dads to offer some insight into their journey becoming fathers, to help dads-to-be to understand what they might want to prepare themselves for…….

What has surprised you the most?

How natural parenting felt after 9 months of worrying whether I’d be any good at it.

How it made me grow up and take responsibility.  How trapped it made me feel.

How much energy I had despite the lack of sleep.

How all the little things made me so proud, e.g. the smiling and giggling, then onto sitting and eventually walking.  The tiny improvements made me immensely proud and happy.

Having two kids, it really surprised me at how different their personalities were as babies.

Not much really, I had done some homework and my wife was in control.  I knew my role would be to support her.

What did you find the most challenging?

The tiredness, the irritability, and allowing the small insignificant things to upset or cause petty arguments.

Parenthood is a marathon, not a sprint, and an ultramarathon at that!  Keeping everything going day in day out for years is hard.

My son spending 2 weeks in intensive care whilst my daughter was starting school.  Dealing with a child who is reluctant to feed themselves, even at 18 months.

Having huge changes in my life happen so quickly.  I had only been living in England for 6 months then a baby was on the way. 

Nothing to do with looking after the babies, just keeping on top of normal stuff, cooking, cleaning, laundry, as well as trying to be a good dad and husband.

Sleep was an issue, but I think the most challenging was the growing realisation that nothing would be the same again.

What help have you received that you found the most beneficial?

Family and friends helping, babysitting, taking the babies out for walks, giving us a bit of headspace.

My wife read lots of books by Janet Lansbury, Sarah Hockwell Smith and others that have really helped us understand and define how we want to parent.  Her knowledge and our discussions have been really useful, as has her support and patience.  It is important to be a team!

Support and advice from our parents.

Just the small things like a phone call or message and food being brought over.

We did hypnobirthing classes which helped me prepare for whatever was going to happen.  Even when the birth did not go to plan, I felt I was in control of the situation and made the right choices.

Help – it was lovely to get support from my mother-in-law.

What did you buy/think you needed that you found you did not? 

Loads of plastic baby toys.  We discovered they were an unnecessary expense and uninteresting, all they really wanted was us.

A stupid pink change bag with 1000 annoying girly bits.

Swaddle blankets because we weren’t 100% committed to using them and our daughter was born in July when it was damn hot!

I can’t think of anything.  We had friends who told us what worked for them, so I guess they had already worked out the rubbish stuff!

Nothing.  We probably only bought stuff that we knew was essential or that we discovered would be beneficial.

What gifts were the best?

Wine, whiskey and a cleaner!

Free babysitting from parents and friends!  Anything that gives you time to yourself.

A Jumparoo because it was the first thing that held our daughter’s attention long enough for us to be able to do something else like chores or to sit and chill for a bit.

Food, wine, beer, small things.

We got so many gifts; they were all great.  I loved the wrap sling with my first baby, but hardly used it with my second baby as he didn’t seem to like it.  We got a sheep-wool rug that is great to help them sleep.

Clothes are always good gifts.  We got far too many soft toys, a number that is still painfully high today, however the kids love them all.

What is your biggest tip?

Don’t be part of the baby race.  All babies hit milestones at different ages and that is ok.

Before the baby is born the focus is almost entirely on the birth, but this is just the start.  Think about breastfeeding and all the other stuff that must happen once the baby has arrived.

Don’t expect to be the perfect parent every day.  Try your best but accept that there will be bad days.  It makes the good days even better.

Relax and enjoy – even rocking then to sleep at 2am – baby’s grow and things change, so try to enjoy the challenging times as well.

Don’t listen to all the advice, do what you feel is best.  If you think a soother is going to help calm your baby use it.  If your baby is taking a longer nap, let them.  Just get a feel for it, all babies are different.  Sometimes I thought the advice online just confused me.  Go with your instincts.

Don’t stress it!

Going back, what advice would you offer yourself when your baby was newborn?

Use baby naptimes wisely.

It will get easier.  Hang in there.  Just be patient.

Don’t move to a new house and start a new job within 2 weeks of your first child being born!

In the words of Douglas Adam “Don’t Panic!”  Try and stay calm – although easier said than done!  Remember some babies do cry more than others, don’t let it worry you.

Carry on – it’s not rocket science – but definitely get rid of all those grand ideas about you’re your kid never being rude, demanding, or selfish in the future……

Would you do anything differently?

No.  Although it was at times daunting and confusing, wondering if we were doing the right thing.  We made mistakes, but the mistakes made us reflect and retry with different tactics.  We found the best thing is to simply be honest with ourselves, and our children, along the way when we do need to admit wrong, apologise, and find a better way.  Like my brother once told me when I was struggling with figuring out parenthood “no-one said it was going to be easy.”

It’s a cliché but enjoy it!  The early years are really hard but also very precious.

I would try to have more patience when my children don’t go to sleep.

Probably not, learning from mistakes is more valuable.

No, I don’t think I would have learnt everything I have about my children if I did anything different.

Not really.  I love our family and even though they’re not perfect, they are magnificent works in progress and I thank my wife, extended family and myself for that.