Do you remember where you were when you found out you were going to be a dad? Maybe you received an excited phone call at work, or you were shaken from your sleep to hear the big news. Or maybe you stood in the bathroom and watched those two lines slowly materialize.
You probably felt a rush of excitement, followed by a bit of panic. Are you ready to be a father? What does it mean to be a great dad? Do you have what it takes?
In this guide to fatherhood, we’ll address your concerns, discuss the important role of a father, and explain how you can be a great dad.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling nervous or scared about being a dad for the first time. Many men worry about how a baby will impact their lives, or about how well they’ll manage the responsibilities of fatherhood.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common fears experienced by prospective fathers.
Many men feel societal pressure to be the family’s provider, and it’s no secret that babies are expensive. Babies need a crib, car seat, stroller, clothes, diapers, wipes, formula or food, and the list goes on. Depending on your family situation, you may also need to pay for childcare.
This list of expenses may seem overwhelming, but you can accomplish a lot with a family budget and some creativity. Of course, you may need to make a few sacrifices. But once you meet your child, these sacrifices will seem worthwhile.
Most men also wonder how having a baby will impact their relationship. They worry that their wife or partner will focus all her attention on the new baby, that their sex life will change, and that they’ll no longer enjoy fun date nights together.
A baby does change relationships, but you can grow together as a couple and experience new levels of intimacy. As you work as a team to care for your baby, your love for one another will likely deepen. Plus, you can always arrange for a trusted friend or family member to watch your child for occasional date nights.
LOSS OF FREEDOM
Some men worry that being a dad means completely giving up their freedom. It’s true that fatherhood requires you to put your family’s needs before your own, and that often means sacrificing nights out with your friends or other hobbies.
You’ll still have friendships with others, and you aren’t tied to the house forever, but your priorities will have to change. However, you may find that being a father is much more rewarding and fulfilling than your old lifestyle, and nights out might not interest you as much as they once did.
LACK OF A ROLE MODEL
In recent years, society has seen a shift in the role fathers are expected to play. While the father’s role was once to serve exclusively as breadwinner and disciplinarian, fathers are now expected to be more involved in other aspects of parenting. (http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/changing-father.aspx)
According to Dr. William Pollack, Director of the Center for Men and Young Men, today’s dads “want to be more involved than their fathers were a generation ago.” As a result, some men worry that they have no role model for the type of father they want to be.(http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/considering-baby/dads/5-common-fears-about-fatherhood/)
LACK OF PREPARATION
There’s also the fact that society doesn’t do much to prepare men for fatherhood, especially not the way we prepare women for motherhood.
Although men are becoming more involved as parents, society still sends the message that women are primarily caregivers and men are providers. Even from a young age, girls play with baby dolls and toy kitchens while boys play with trucks and building blocks.
Commercials for baby food and diapers feature predominantly women, and the majority of house cleaning products are marketed toward women as well. (https://visualculturecsousa.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/politicizing-gender-constructions/) With subtle hints like these, society sends the message that the home is a woman’s domain, and this includes childcare. For men, the emphasis is outside the home: going to work and earning a paycheck.
Rarely will you hear a man casually remark, “I can’t wait to be a dad,” but aspirations of motherhood are common for women. While men may pursue a high-paying career with thoughts of supporting a family, or envision playing catch with a child one day, they’re less likely to grow up thinking of one day changing diapers or rocking a newborn to sleep. (https://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/why-dont-we-prepare-men-for-fatherhood-dg/)
As a result of the above, men often feel completely unprepared for the birth of a newborn. It may be something men haven’t spent much time planning for or considering. Many new fathers are unsure how they can be useful during pregnancy, childbirth, and the early stages of caring for a child.
So what does a dad really need to provide for his children? Societal stereotypes aside, what is it that kids need from their fathers?
Studies show that fathers who are affectionate, supportive, and involved can have a significant positive impact on their children. These fathers affect academic achievement, self-esteem, cognitive and language development, and more. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-gail-gross/the-important-role-of-dad_b_5489093.html)
It’s a common stereotype that fathers aren’t affectionate enough with their children, but parental affection is vitally important in a child’s development.
According to Child Trends, a leading nonprofit research organization focused on children, affection from both parents results in higher self-esteem, better communication, and fewer behavioral or psychological problems, such as aggression or anxiety. (https://www.parent.co/how-a-parents-affection-shapes-a-childs-happiness-for-life/)
Children who feel more loved by their fathers are less likely to develop substance abuse issues as well. (http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/changing-father.aspx) You can demonstrate love and affection for your child with hugs, kisses, or simply by saying, “I love you.”
It’s also important to show affection to your child’s mother. Children who witness parental conflict, or their father treating their mother with anger and contempt, may struggle with depression, aggression, and even poor health. On the other hand, children who see kindness and affection between their parents are more likely to be happy and well-adjusted. (https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/fatherhood.pdf)
Being a supportive father means giving your child praise and encouragement. Let your child know that you’re proud of them, not only when they score the winning goal in the soccer game, but also when they demonstrate responsibility, compassion, or effort. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fixing-families/201103/fathers-sons-how-be-great-dad)
Studies show that children with supportive parents go on to be more successful. For example, when parents express high expectations for academic performance and high hopes for a child’s future, children are 81% more likely to graduate from high school. (http://www.washington.edu/alumni/partnerships/education/news/200809/succeed.html)
The more you support and encourage your child, the higher his or her self-esteem will be, translating to a happier and more successful life.
The good news is that simply being there is one of the things children need most from their fathers. Of course, “being there” also means being mentally and emotionally present. Talk to your child, play with your child, and get involved in the daily tasks of parenthood.
As early as birth, your involvement will significantly impact your child. A review of studies by the Father Involvement Research Alliance demonstrated that babies with more involved fathers are more confident in new situations, more eager to explore their surroundings, and more emotionally secure. By age three, toddlers with involved dads have higher IQs and are better problem-solvers. (http://fira.ca/cms/documents/29/Effects_of_Father_Involvement.pdf)
Data compiled from household education surveys shows that children of highly involved fathers perform better academically and are less likely to have behavior issues at school. (https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2001032)
The Father Involvement Research Alliance further found that girls with involved fathers have higher self-esteem and are less likely to experience teen pregnancy. Boys have more self-direction and are less aggressive and impulsive.
As adults, these children are more likely to have successful careers and successful marriages. They’re also likely to be tolerant, understanding, and emotionally healthy. (http://www.parenting.com/article/why-kids-need-their-dads)
That’s a huge impact, and the most significant type of involvement comes from simply participating in everyday activities, like eating dinner or playing outside. A study by Brigham Young University found that “the father’s involvement in common family leisure activities held more weight than the large, extravagant, out-of-the-ordinary types of activities.” (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254316963_The_Relationship_Between_Father_Involvement_in_Family_Leisure_and_Family_Functioning_The_Importance_of_Daily_Family_Leisure_)
By simply eating dinner with your family, playing with your child, and spending quality time, you’ll be making a significant positive impact on your child’s well-being and future success.
Clinical psychologist Brett Copeland says that fathers and mothers have “unique and complementary roles” in parenting. Fathers, he says, particularly encourage competition, independence, and achievement. (http://www.parenting.com/article/why-kids-need-their-dads)
And while dads don’t need to be the only disciplinarian in the family, fathers typically take a different approach to discipline that balances well with the mother’s approach. Fathers, says educational psychologist Carol Gilligan, typically enforce rules more systematically and sternly, which teaches children the consequences of their actions. (http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/parenting-roles/the-involved-father/fathers-matter)
Don’t be fooled into thinking that fathers play a less significant role in the life of a child. In addition to the influences already mentioned above, you’ll impact your child’s future relationships.
According to parenting expert Dr. Gail Gross, it’s true that daughters look for the characteristics of their fathers in future relationships. If you are gentle, loving, and kind, your daughter will seek similar behavioral patterns in her own relationships. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-gail-gross/the-important-role-of-dad_b_5489093.html)
Boys, on the other hand, will emulate the qualities of their fathers. If you show your son affection and support, he will mirror this behavior with his own children one day. Similarly, if you treat his mother will respect and kindness, this is how he will eventually treat women as well.
The way you interact with your children will influence how they view themselves, how they interact with others, the choices they make, their cognitive and language development, and much more.
Children need fathers to be affectionate, lend support, encourage independence, provide discipline, and simply be involved.
That may sound like a lot of pressure, but remember that being a good dad isn’t rocket science. You’ll be surprised to find that many parenting skills are instinctual. After all, men have been doing this for centuries.
If you still aren’t convinced that you can do this whole “dad thing,” here are a few simple tips to keep in mind.
One of the best ways to be a great dad is to get involved. The earlier you start, the better. Go to prenatal appointments, accompany your partner to a childbirth class, talk or sing to her belly, do research, and ask questions. Not only will you feel more useful during your partner’s pregnancy; you’ll also begin to get more comfortable with the idea of fatherhood.
Once your baby is born, help with the “mom” tasks like nighttime feedings, rocking your baby to sleep, changing diapers, and more. You’ll develop a bond with your baby from the start, and your fears about fatherhood will begin to melt away.
As your child gets older, attend performances, games, school field trips, or anything your child is involved in. Continue to be present and active in your child’s life, and your child will be a happy, confident, and successful individual.
Support the mother of your child as much as possible. Listen to her fears or anxieties before and after the birth of your child. Give her massages during her pregnancy, and be willing to run to the store to buy the odd foods she’s craving.
When your child is born, ensure that your partner takes time for self-care. It’s common for moms to become so absorbed in caring for the newborn that they forget to eat, shower, or change clothes. Later, stay home with the baby sometimes so your partner can go get a pedicure or grab dinner with a friend. When mom is happy, baby is happy.
As your child gets older, it’s also important to support your partner in parenting decisions (and vice versa). Always present a united front to your child, and don’t contradict your partner with your child watching.
We already discussed how important it is for fathers to spend time with their children, and reading to your child is one of the most influential ways to do so.
Reading aloud to your child stimulates their imagination, helps them develop language and listening skills, and can lead to a love of reading and knowledge that will contribute to your child’s intelligence and success. (http://www.rif.org/books-activities/tips-resources/reading-with-your-child/)
Even when your child is able to read independently, the benefits of reading aloud continue. Choose books that are engaging, but slightly higher than your child’s reading level. This way, you can help your child develop even stronger reading skills while spending quality time.
Another great way to spend time with your child is through play. In fact, studies show that the “roughhousing” between child and father is crucial for early development. (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/dads-roughhousing-children-crucial-early-development/story?id=13868801)
Play like tickling and wrestling helps children develop the ability to manage emotions, thinking, and physical activity simultaneously. It also teaches competition and concentration, and it gives children a sense of achievement, building their confidence and resilience.
You can also play games with your child that help develop his or her imagination, like pretending that a cardboard box is a rocket ship or acting like cowboys, ninjas, dogs, or anything else that interests your child. These games may seem silly, but imagination significantly advances a child’s cognitive development. (http://www.1stplace.uk.com/the-importance-of-imagination-and-creativity-in-childrens-development/)
Spend time outdoors, running around the yard or playing catch. Work on an art project or build a pillow fort. Make popcorn and watch a favorite movie together. Anything you can do to bond with your child is time well spent.
We talked about the importance of affection above, but it can’t be overstated. Children need to know that their fathers love and care for them. Physical touch is an important way to convey these feelings.
Hug and kiss your child, tousle their hair, put a comforting hand on their shoulder, etc. Also make a point of saying, “I love you.”
If you struggle with being affectionate, try to set simple goals for yourself, like giving your child a loving touch three times a day. Over time, showing affection will begin to feel much more natural.
Bonding through family meals is an important family ritual. It’s a set time that you can be together as a family each day, and it provides a sense of structure. As your child gets older, this is a great time for your child to talk about his or her day, giving you the opportunity to listen and be involved.
Conversations at the dinner table even expand a child’s vocabulary and reading ability. Studies have linked family dinners (occurring at least four times a week) to a lower risk of obesity, substance abuse, and eating disorders, as well as increased academic success. (http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/families_and_consumers/family_dinners.shtml)
For best results, turn off the TV and other electronic devices, engage in positive conversation as a family, and spend at least an hour over the meal.
Teach your child about right and wrong by modeling appropriate behaviors. Be a loving father and husband, use appropriate language, demonstrate manners when interacting with others, buckle your seatbelt, exercise and eat well, etc.
Demonstrate life skills like honesty, compassion, responsibility, and empathy. Your children watch and learn from everything you do—even more than you realize—so be sure you’re teaching them the right lessons.
It’s important to set limits by teaching children the consequences of their actions. Children need to learn the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
Bes sure that instead of simply correcting bad behavior, you also praise and positively enforce good behavior. When you do need to discipline your children, do so calmly and fairly. Rather than reacting angrily to their behavior, take the time to explain what they have done wrong and why they are being disciplined.
Self-esteem is the way that your child views himself or herself, and it’s extremely important to your child’s well-being and success.
Teach your child self-esteem by demonstrating that they are worthy and valuable. Praise their achievements, and encourage them to keep trying when they fail. Show them that you love them no matter what.
Help them feel competent and confident by teaching them skills like dressing themselves and completing simple household chores. Let them make age-appropriate choices like what to eat for breakfast or what to wear to school. (http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/self-esteem.html)
You’ve probably heard, “Kids grow up so quickly,” before, but it’s truer than you realize now. Don’t spend fatherhood stressing about if you’re doing a good job, because it’ll pass in the blink of an eye.
If you simply love your kids, play with them, listen to them, and encourage them, you’re being a great dad. Take the time to truly enjoy this experience. Do the best you can instead of worrying about if you could be doing better.
It’s natural to have fears about fatherhood, but you don’t need to worry. Parenting is largely instinct and learning as you go. It will involve some sacrifices, but sacrifices for the benefit of your child don’t seem so bad.
Children need fathers who are affectionate, supportive, and involved. They need their fathers to spend time with them, listen to them, teach them the difference between right and wrong, and be good role models.
If that sounds overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. You can accomplish many of these goals through simple steps like reading to your child, playing with your child, and eating dinner as a family. Be supportive of your child’s mother, discipline your children fairly, and give hugs and encouragement freely.
Take it one day at a time, and do your best. Being a great dad is as simple as loving your child and partner, making them a priority, and being present in your child’s life. You’re going to make mistakes sometimes, but your child will keep loving you anyway.
Stop worrying, and enjoy the crazy, wonderful journey of fatherhood. You’ll do great!