Thursday, March 1, 2012

Getting Dad Involved

Monday night on the way home from our breastfeeding class, I looked at Steve and said "Hey - thanks for coming with me to the class tonight."

Steve's response? "I wouldn't have missed it. Thanks for always making sure I feel involved."

Something that made me incredibly sad when I started to do reading about pregnancy and birth was something that to me can be so obviously avoided. If "dad" starts to feel left out, they can become jealous of the attention that "mom" gets and start to resent her. Even worse - if "mom" gives all of her attention to the baby (even starting while the baby is in the womb) and diverts most of her attention away from "dad" completely, he may start resenting the baby.

The truth of the matter is that it took two people to make the baby and it's going to take two people to raise the baby into a man/woman successfully. From day one of our marriage, Steve and I have always said that we are "Team Athanas", and I knew that neither of us wanted the pregnancy (and upcoming birth) to be any different. I knew that I didn't want Steve to feel left out or resentful of me or the baby for a single second.

While the books and such that we read mentioned the potential for what I'll call DRS (Daddy Resentment Syndrome) as well as tips for the dad/coach of things they could do to help mom, I've found that what has worked best are things that I didn't find in any book or article. I thought that I would share them with you here - maybe you will find them helpful as well.

Tip Number One: Doctor's Visits and Classes - Yes, your name is on the appointment book for those doctor's visits - but believe me when I tell you that Dad is just as interested in how you and the baby are doing as you are. If he hasn't outwardly stated that he wants to come to every visit, make a point to invite him to them. Even if he declines repeatedly, make sure you invite him to come along each time. If he can't make it because of work or isn't interested in actually attending, sit with him prior to the visit and come up with a list of questions about everything together and make sure you get heads together the same evening as the visit to discuss the answers. The same goes for classes; he's going to be the one holding your hand in the delivery room and standing by to help with feedings & diaper changes. Make sure he understands how important he is to the parenting process and how much information is dispersed in the classes. Besides - two heads remembering the information are always better than one absentminded pregnant lady.

Steve right after finding out we were having a baby boy - and that everything looked perfectly healthy for mommy & baby!
Tip Number Two: Tummy Time - As soon as that little person growing inside you starts moving and you can feel ANYTHING: get Dad involved in the excitement. The first time I felt our little guy move, I called Steve at work immediately so that he could share in the moment. As the movements become more pronounced and you can feel the baby from the outside, let Dad touch your stomach and feel him move as much as humanly possible. Something that Steve and I do is that every night we have "Daddy Tummy Time". During this 20-minute or so period, Steve puts his head down where the baby is and either talks/reads to to the baby directly or talks to me with his head there. There is a lot of evidence that the baby can recognize the voices of the mother AND the father, so we do this so our little guy can get to know Steve's voice. Not only that, but it allows Steve to partake in the wonderful feeling and visuals of our baby's movements. One other thing: if Steve puts his ear to my stomach, he can often hear our little guy moving around. That is something that ONLY Daddy can experience (since I certainly can't bend that far... nor am I letting anyone else put their ear to my stomach).

Tip Number Three: Communicate - Got big plans for the nursery or to stock up in the freezer? Read something incredibly interesting about baby's development? Wondering why Dad is looking at you concerned every time you bend over? SPEAK UP!!! Tell him everything you learn, advice you get that you're appreciating/questioning, how you felt when the old lady at the grocery store rubbed your stomach, how excited you are, any questions you have. By telling him what's on your mind or what your plans/ideas are - he will feel involved in the process. Steve and I have probably communicated better about this pregnancy than we have a lot of other things in our marriage, and I can only imagine that we're going to be better for it long-term.

Tip Number Four: Talk About Dad - Everyone is always so interested in how I'm feeling and how the baby is doing... and then proceed to ask if Steve is "ready" to be a father or if he's "petrified" at the prospect of having a kid. My thoughts on that are a rant for another time, but what I will say is that I have found that talking up how awesome of a job Steve is doing in encouraging me through the pregnancy and how excited he is to be a dad have really made a difference. Not only do people see us as an an excited couple, Steve is able to hear through my responses to others that I WANT him involved and that I APPRECIATE that he's involved. While he hasn't said anything outright, I would bet that kind of public encouragement has really helped him to feel like he IS a part of the team. 

Tip Number Five: The Registry & Shower - I think that the best way I can sum up why I think it's important to include the Dad in the process of registering is the Tale of the Diaper Bag. Steve and I were looking at diaper bags and I found one that I really liked that decidedly looked like a purse. I beeped it into our registry (I had the gun). Steve said: "No way am I taking that thing with me when it's just me and the baby. I'mma register for that one," and he beeped in one that was essentially a diaper-backpack. Dads have opinions on everything from diaper bags to diaper pails to the carseats (remember - he's probably going to be doing the carrying) to sheet colors. Involving Dad in the process of registering reinforces that you value him as a member of your team AND that you value his opinions. Remember - he has to use and look at everything on that list too. As for the shower - while most guys will pass at the opportunity to sit in a room full of women talking about all sorts of womanly things, it's a nice touch to make sure Dad's encouraged to come along too even if it's just towards the end. 

The decidedly "manlier" diaper bag that Steve picked out.

While I'm sure that there are tons of other things that Steve and I have done together that have helped him to not feel left out of the pregnancy, these are the ones that stand out the most to me. If you're wondering how to get Dad involved in the process - I hope that these have helped you a little or sparked some ideas in your head of how you can. 

If you've had a baby before or are currently pregnant - what are some things that you've done to help to make sure your other half feels like a part of the process? 
If you're reading this and you ARE the other half, what are some things that Mom did while pregnant to help you feel involved/wanted?