There are, roughly speaking, a gazillion resources for women to help prepare them and get them through motherhood.
Internet articles, books, magazines, television programs, internet and real life groups. There’s a lot of help available, which is awesome. I don’t know about you, but I need all the help I can get.
There are significantly fewer resources available to men in preparing them for fatherhood. Even resources that are for both parents tend to focus more on mothers. It’s a real shame too because fatherhood is just as life changing for a man as motherhood is for a woman.
My husband is the youngest of three. Neither of his siblings has children, so until we got married, he had no nieces or nephews. Needless to say, his exposure to children was limited.
I, on the other hand, have five younger siblings and have a bunch of nieces and nephews. Not to mention I read quite a few Babysitter’s Club books back in the day.
So, I figured it would be up to me to prepare my husband for fatherhood, using my vast wealth of knowledge. And I knew just how to do it too. I made sure he spent time with my siblings’ children.
I made him hold a newborn baby. I used a stuffed toy to show him how to swaddle, how to change a diaper, how to burp. I thought I had all the bases covered and that he was as ready as I was.
Boy, was I wrong.
It turns out, those things were not what my husband needed me to prepare him for. According to him, he could pick all that up on the fly as he needed. It wasn’t the physical chores of fatherhood that he needed to know; it was the emotional toll being a new father that really kicked him in the teeth.
I hadn’t given it much thought, to be honest. My husband is a self-proclaimed emotional robot. I honestly expected him to take any emotional whammy in stride. Like I said, I was wrong.
So, learn from my mistakes. Don’t let your husband be blindsided. Some things you can’t actively prepare for, but knowing that they are coming is half the battle.
Here are some of the things your husband needs to be prepared for, and how to help him.
Let’s talk about sex.
Let’s talk about you and me. Actually, not you and me; that would be awkward. Let’s talk about you and your husband.
Still awkward? Well, let’s talk about sex anyway.
My mother always says that sex isn’t important in marriage unless you’re not having it. And let me tell you, after squeezing out a baby, or being cut open for a C-section, you won’t be having sex anytime soon. There’s a lot of recovery involved with giving birth. And while you’re recovering, your husband will be anxiously waiting with his perfectly untraumatized body.
To be fair, I told my husband that he shouldn’t expect sex anytime soon. But this was first on his list of things he wasn’t prepared for.
While there’s no real way to prepare for this, here are some suggestions.
Don’t make promises. I told my husband that after my six-week appointment with my OB, we could most likely have sex again. And then I found out that I hadn’t healed yet and possibly had a bladder infection. Oi. Sex was definitely off the table until those issues were resolved.
Although he understood, he was still disappointed. So, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Let your husband know that there’s no timeline; you’ll have sex when you’re ready.
Discuss alternatives. Just because you can’t have sex, doesn’t mean that intimacy is off limits. Before giving birth, talk to your husband about other ways in which you can be intimate. Continue the conversation as your body informs you of what it can handle after birth.
And, again, don’t make promises. I told my husband that we could always cuddle. But since giving birth and staying at home with baby, I’ve found myself with touch overload. By the time we have a chance to canoodle, I am usually done with being touched for the day.
Husbands have an annoying habit of wanting to fix problems as soon as they crop up. Which is why when we start complaining about something, they immediately start suggesting solutions, even though all we want to do is vent.
It’s not their fault; men’s brains are wired that way. But something that my husband has had a hard time with is that he isn’t capable of fixing baby’s or my problems right away.
If baby is hungry, he doesn’t have the option to breastfeed. Or maybe baby is just cranky and there’s nothing that can be done but to hold her and rock her as you endlessly pace back and forth.
Even if they do stumble upon something that works once, there’s no guarantee that it will work a second time. And sometimes, a baby just needs its mom.
Let your husband know that there will be times when he will be completely helpless to fix a problem, and that that doesn’t make him a failure.
For nine or so months you, as the mom, have been getting ready for your baby. Perhaps you were already in love with her before she even arrived. While the bond you feel with your baby may not be instant (and that’s okay), your maternal instinct can help overcome that.
For dads, bonding may take a little more time. They haven’t had the benefit of building a direct connection with them before birth. And, since baby needs mom more than dad in those first few weeks of life, your husband probably won’t be spending as much time with baby as you do. It may take time for him to get to know her and to fall in love with her.
You can help things along by allowing your husband to take over baby duties and not criticize how he does so.
If he doesn’t change a diaper the same way you do, let it go. He may end up having to clean up a mess, but he’ll learn from his mistakes.
If he’s holding the baby a little awkwardly, don’t hover and try to re-position (as long as baby isn’t suffocating). You don’t want to connect his interactions with his child with negativity.
Don’t try to make him interact with baby the same way you do, because he’s not you. You’re the mom, he’s the dad and you both have essential roles. When you let your husband interact with the baby the way he feels is natural, then a natural fatherly love will eventually follow.
It should go without saying, but once you become a parent, your free time is shot. Still, neither my husband nor I were prepared for just how little free time we would have.
Until recently, I couldn’t put my baby down for any length of time without her thinking it was the end of the world (and there’s just something about that newborn cry that is impossible to ignore).
It’s not selfish to want free time; everyone needs time to do something for themselves whether it’s simply enjoying a good book, working on a hobby, or meditating.
My husband is a sweetheart. After work, he will come home and ask if I need him to take the baby to give me a breather.
Usually baby is not up for that, so instead, he will ask if anything needs to be done. The answer is almost always yes. Yes, everything needs to be done.
It’s very tempting to think that because the baby isn’t glued to him all day, your husband has enough free time. It’s tempting to dump all the chores on him (after all, you’re completing the greatest chore: keeping baby alive).
While it’s appropriate to share the load, you need to discuss how to work in free time for each of you. Your relationship and your baby will be better off if you both have time to develop yourselves as people.
Even if it’s only for a few minutes every day, find time. My husband is much happier and a lot more helpful after he’s taken time to do something like play a few songs on his trumpet. The old proverb of “happy wife, happy life” can apply to husbands too.
During pregnancy, you gained weight and your husband may have gained some sympathy weight in a show of solidarity (so they say). But while you may be shedding pounds after baby’s arrival, this may be when your husband starts getting heavier.
There are a few reasons for this: stress, lack of exercise, less sleep, change in diet.
My husband has put on a few pounds, and it’s been hard on his self-esteem. He’s preaching to the choir; I’m not exactly happy with my post-baby body either.
For him, it’s the lack of exercise that has been the biggest culprit. And it isn’t just the weight gain; without exercise, my husband’s energy levels have dropped. And a lethargic husband is not a helpful husband.
If I could have foreseen this, here are some of the things I may have done:
Enlist help. Before baby arrived, I collared one of my husband’s friends and told him that he needed to get my husband out of the house. I figured they would just end up playing video games, or whatever it is that men do to bond. But, if I had been smart, I would have told his friend to take him to the gym, on a run, play basketball, or something that would get him exercising.
Prepare meals. This is something I did do but should have done more of. Before baby comes, prepare at least a dozen healthy meals that you can freeze. It will make post-baby meals quick and easy and prevent you and your husband from eating other convenient junk.
Invest in weights. One of the things my husband likes to do is to take baby for a walk. It’s good exercise, but adding walking weights that he can tie around his ankles would maximize the effect. It’s only a small difference, but every bit helps.
Post Partum Depression
One of your husband’s most important jobs after baby’s arrival is to take care of you. Make sure he knows the signs of post partum depression and anxiety. You will be too caught up with taking care of your baby, that you may miss the signs.
If you have any of these symptoms, your husband needs to act and call a doctor, instead of waiting and hoping for improvement:
- Depressed mood or severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Difficulty bonding with baby
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Loss of appetite or eating much more than usual
- Inability to sleep, or sleeping too much
- Overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy
- Reduced interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Intense irritability and anger
- Fear that you’re not a good mother
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or inadequacy
- Inability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
- Recurrent thoughts of death and suicide
Obviously, your husband cannot read your thoughts, but if he’s observant and knows the signs, he can definitely pick up on certain actions and moods.
Even if you don’t eventually end up having PPD, it’s better to be safe than sorry and contact a doctor for help. Where I live there is a medical hotline that gives priority to people with babies two months or younger.
Find out if there’s such a service in your area and make sure your husband knows the number.
Also remember that post partum depression may not show up instantly; PPD can happen up to six months after birth, even if you were completely fine beforehand.
But you’re not the only one who can get post partum depression. Did you know men can too? I didn’t. You and your husband need to be aware that he can experience post partum depression too and it can be just as serious.
While some symptoms are the same, men typically experience PPD differently from women. Know the signs:
- Increased anger and conflict with others
- Increased use of alcohol
- Frustration or irritability
- Violent behavior
- Significant weight gain or loss
- Isolation from family and friends
- Being easily stressed
- Impulsiveness or risk taking, including gambling, drugs, or extramarital affairs
- Feeling discouraged, worthless, or cynical
- Increased physical problems, such as headaches, digestion, or pain
- Problems with concentration or motivation
- Loss of interest in work, hobbies, and/or sex
- Working constantly
- Concerns about productivity and functioning at work
- Feeling sad, or crying for no reason
- Thoughts of suicide
Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to men expressing their feelings, so your husband may be tempted to keep his struggle to himself.
Before baby arrives, let your husband know there is a real possibility of him getting PPD, educate yourselves on the signs, and make sure your husband has a support network.
Let him know that he needs to seek medical help and that no one will think less of him for doing so. Men are stubborn and often put the needs of others before his.
If he won’t do it for himself, help him understand that he needs to be healthy and happy for your sake, and for your child.
The website postpartummen.com is a good resource and includes and online, anonymous forum for men to talk about PPD. It features an 11-minute movie called We Men Do that’s worth watching.
In It Together
You and your husband are about to embark on the greatest journey you can ever take together: parenthood. It’s a journey that requires fortitude, patience, understanding, and unbounded love. Make sure you’re as prepared as you can be.
Unfortunately, sometimes the only solution for some problems will be for the both of you to “keep calm, and carry on”. But hopefully, some of these tips will make that much easier to do.
Ultimately, your greatest tool for preparation is knowledge. Talk with your husband about the emotional bumps on the road ahead and get ready to face them head on together.
The going may get tough, but trust me, there are so many sweet moments throughout that the whole journey is well worth the while.