When my wife and I brought home our first child, a daughter, it was an experience I will never forget … but not a good experience, to say the least.
My wife and I experienced some trouble in the hospital with our daughter not latching properly during breast feeding, which meant she was not getting as much nutrition as she should. We were sent home with assurances, “Don’t worry. Mum and bub will figure it out soon.” Unfortunately, soon was not soon enough.
Almost immediately upon walking in the door of our home, my wife started to panic about the feeding. She was worried our daughter would not figure out how to latch and so would not get enough milk to meet her needs. There was no consoling her. I tried. Her visiting parents tried. Eventually, we had to call in a woman from our church who ran a daycare centre out of her home and who was especially sensitive. She was able to talk my wife through the process and help get the latching process sorted.
Mum and bub soon figured it out, and we now have a beautiful young woman in our family.
Here’s the thing: My wife could easily get the support she needed to calm her and teach her how to accomplish all the tasks of a new mother. I helplessly stood by, offered what assurances and reassurance I could, but it was to no avail and, I dare say, almost unwelcome.
Sadly, there was no one to support me in supporting my wife and daughter. No one to help me, to calm me, or to teach me all the tasks of a new father.
The Brains of Fathers Change
Now, I was not a disengaged father. In fact, no one can deny I ‘got my hands dirty’, literally and figuratively, with the care of my children. Being a father, even in the early days, was and is a wonderful experience.
Thus, when I came across an article on Fathers.com, summarising research into the “significant biological differences in dads’ brains as they grew into the role of fathering their infants”, I was greatly encouraged. According to a 2014 study published in Social Neuroscience, new fathers that are actively engaged in childcare become better at multi-tasking, are more emotionally responsive, grow in sensitivity to his baby’s needs, among other changes.
This means men change into fathers physically and emotionally, as much as do mothers, although obviously in different ways. Yet these changes will only come if men become actively engaged in child care. They will not actively engage in child care if they are afraid or are unsure of themselves. Thus, men too will benefit from and need support, encouragement and training in how to be prepared for becoming fathers, so that they too actively engage in child care, an experience which can and should be enriching for them.
Both the family and the father lose when he is pushed to the side, as if he has no contribution to make. Yet he will not contribute if he does not know how.
Support for Dads in Camden and Narellan
This is why I am happy to support fathers in my local area of the Camden LGA, which includes Narellan, Spring Farm, Harrington Park, etc. I am supporting fathers through a number of initiatives:
- I have started a Facebook group called Men of South Western Sydney, which I hope will encourage and equip men.
- My church, Narellan Community Congregational Church, runs social events for men under the banner of Forge Men.
- We have partnered with Mentoring Men Australia to run quarterly breakfasts, providing a safe space for men to talk about issues related to manhood and manliness.
All of these initiatives bring men together with their peers and elder-mentors to learn how to be good men, husbands and fathers, and to be better in these roles.
- My church has started a playgroup called Forge Minis, which runs on Fridays, from 10:00 am-12:00 pm. Fathers and their children are just as welcome as are mums and their children.
- We have also started an Early Days Parenting Drop-In, run at the same time as Forge Minis, to support parents in their early days with their children. From my own experience, new parents often just need an experienced voice to encourage, support and instruct in what to do with this baby, now that they’ve brought it home with them.
- We are also pleased to have Baby Sensory Macarthur NSW run classes in our facility on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. These classes are specifically designed to aid child development. Parents and babies become involved in massage, movement, visual stimulation, music, instruments, sign language, textures, puppet shows and so much more!
I really want you to pay attention to that last point! As a new dad, my daughter and I enrolled in baby massage classes. My wife and I also learned baby sign language. The point of these weird sounding classes was to equip us to actively engage with our baby. I cannot recommend such activities enough!
Sadly, looking in on one of the Baby Sensory classes recently, I noticed a group of men present, but they were talking to each other in a corner rather than paying attention to what was going on. It is too easy for new fathers to feel uncertain and shrink from actively engaging. The problem is when you shrink away, others will find it so much easier to push you away, to not include you in your child’s care.
Dads, you will not know what to do at first. You will feel like you are being pushed aside because everything is about mum and baby, right? Wrong! You are just as important as the mother, but for different reasons. You need to be actively engaged with your baby, for your sake as much as for the baby’s sake. But you need to step into this because you will find little encouragement to do so.
You do not need to father alone. Feel free to connect with me at any of the activities listed above or contact me directly with any questions you might have.
Your body and brain are designed for fatherhood. It may not feel like it at first, but you will change into a father; you just need a little encouragement and equipping to bolster your courage to step into the task. That was certainly my experience.