You remember those pre-natal classes your wife signed you both up for? You know, those classes where you sheepishly followed your pregnant wife into the room carrying blankets and a pillow so you could learn everything you need to know about giving birth and caring for newborns - all in just under 8 hours.
A nurse who had lots of experience and really knew her stuff taught our class. I learned a lot about contractions, swaddling, bathing and even the benefits of doing kegel exercises (Dads, you might want to Google that one). Overall, I felt I was as ready as I could be. In other words, I was still scared out of my mind. Unfortunately, my child-birthing fears were all for naught as my wife had to undergo a planned C-section.
A few months into being a new father, I got thinking about those classes. I thought about all of the information and the workbook where you could go online to watch birth videos and such. And then it hit me. Of all the information covered in these classes, the one thing they missed was how having a baby drastically changes your relationship.
Sure, friends give you the generic, “Life will never be the same,” but no one gives you specifics. Now I know why - they don’t want to scare the crap out of you and make you have second thoughts.
My wife and I have been together just over ten years now (married for almost five) and we are approaching our daughter’s first birthday. I’m going to be honest with you. In ten years, we’ve never had a rougher year relationship-wise than this past year. The only thing that has kept us together is our love for our daughter and each other, along with the desire to keep working on things in order to right the ‘ship.
Let’s get even more honest here. I know most people think dads need these birth classes, because we’re supposedly clueless about how to change a diaper and things like that. Even if we are clueless, we don’t need the classes to learn that kind of stuff. We’ll get the hang of changing a diaper, bathing and feeding our baby. However, if we really want to prepare ourselves for fatherhood, we need to talk about the inevitable changes that will take place in the relationship.
About six months into fatherhood, I approached the expectant parents organization who put on our pre-natal class. They were actually eager for my feedback. I offered the following thoughts:
Dedicate and offer a component of the class just for dads. There’s no point in talking about the relationship piece to all the couples at once - at least not at first. The dads won’t speak up in front of all the moms and when they go their separate ways at the end of class, the dads will still be feeling awkward about it. My advice is to first separate the moms and dads. It’s also important to have an “alumni” dad to talk with the dads - not one of the nurse educators.
Once separated into their own group, I would engage the dads in a discussion about:
The importance of communication. I know I’m a genius right? Seriously though, you need to tell each other how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking about, what’s going on inside of your heads or it’s going to eat at you and cause problems.
Asking for help. This was a huge deal for us. My wife and I are stubbornly independent and rarely asked for help. Then when we got overtired, stressed out and irritated with each other, all hell broke loose. There’s a simple solution to this: bury your pride and ask people for help. If you don’t have family close by, ask friends, find a babysitter, etc…but find a way to take a break together.
Getting back in the flow…romantically.
It’s not going to happen right away so get it out of your head and pretend you’re a camel or something. However, when the time comes, make sure you get back in the saddle. Seriously. You need this part of your relationship with your wife. It’s going to happen a lot differently than before the baby, but it needs to happen.
Go the extra mile.
I’ll give you an example of my thinking early on in my “career” as a stay-at-home dad. I figured since I was home all day with the baby, when my wife got home it was her turn to take over. In my mind, it was like turning over the ninth inning to the relief pitcher. Man, did that backfire and I wasn’t smart enough to realize the errors of my ways, at least right away. Now, when my wife gets home from work, she comes home to a presentable house. Dishes are done. Baby is cleaned up. If I’ve been home, dinner is started. End result: Mommy is happy. When mom is happy, everyone is happy.
Note: In May, Chris will be facilitating a section of a new course on Newborn Care for the Expectant Parent Organization in Lansing, Michigan. He will be leading a discussion with expectant fathers called “Mom, Dad & Baby: Adjusting To Your New Family.”