You’ve just found out you’re expecting – you’re going to be a dad!
If you haven’t already, you’re going to announce it to the world shortly. Everyone (and I literally mean EVERYONE) is going to smile at you, tell you it’s fantastic news, and tell you how amazing being a parent is… and then they’re all going to start telling you their own personal horror stories.
“Congratulations – it’s the best, I’m so happy for you! You’ll never sleep again!” “Aww, that’s beautiful news. You’re going to have wee on everything! It’s just amazing” “Babies are the best thing, they’re so adorable. You’ll get ZERO sleep and can’t go anywhere. All your things get covered in pee and poo and your kid will spew everywhere, but it’s the best… really, just the best thing!”
I don’t know about you, but continued sleep deprivation and being covered in a stinking heaving variety of bodily fluids is not even remotely close to being ‘the best thing’. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty close to being the exact opposite of ‘the best thing’. Sleepless nights, not being able to leave the house and being covered in another humans filth actually seems more at home in the pages of a newly released CIA document on Guantanamo Bay, not in a conversation in the hallway corridors of an office with an excited colleague.
With enough of these horror stories, as a future dad you start to worry a little. You get stressed, and freak out slightly. Hey, we’ve all been there. After going through the process with baby #1, I realised there are three distinct elements of pre-fatherhood nerves that I went through during the pregnancy. Keep in mind, I am in no-way qualified to be giving psychological advice. I’m just a guy with a baby.|
1) ‘Delusional denial’
(I don’t need to worry / plan / think about it – babies can’t be that hard right?!)
This stage kicks in pretty early on, often in cahoots with stage two (which we’ll cover below). For me, stage one or ‘delusional denial’, was purely about embracing the idea of having a little baby – and trying to stay positive about all the challenges we’d need to overcome before the baby arrived.
“We need a baby room? Sure – we’ll figure it out” “Yeah – we’ll have to book in that car-seat installation soon” “Sure Honey, I know we need to paint the baby’s room, but can we do it later – the baby doesn’t arrive for another month or so.”
The problem was that my wife and I would discuss what needed to be done – and then I’d NOT do any of those things. Why? It’s hard work preparing for a baby. And preparing for it makes it all real. You see, the ‘delusional denial’ comes from two distinct places. – Good old ‘male procrastination’: If I don’t think about it – maybe someone else will deal with it. – More importantly, ‘fear of the unknown’: I don’t have mental capacity to deal with this right now otherwise I’ll freak out!
That Dad’s advice: Ditch the procrastination and get involved (early) in creating a space for the baby and buying cots, prams and more nappies than any human could possibly need (those nappies will last a couple of weeks – I’m serious). Your partner isn’t asking you relentlessly for the sake of it, preparing a space for your baby is showing her you’re there to take care of her and your child; it takes away that stress of the unknown for her. You can NEVER be too enthusiastic about painting a space, or decorating it with kid pictures. But keep some of the optimistic naivety associated with having your first kid. Go into it with an open mind, and expect to be able to overcome anything that is thrown at you… because you will have things thrown at you. And you’ll do just fine.
2) ‘Overwhelming self-doubt’
(Hyperventilating in a corner whispering “I can’t do this, I can’t do this” over and over to yourself)
This one is bad. Real bad. It’s the kind of soul crippling fear that eats away at you. Self-doubt will keep you awake at 3am with feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. It’s more pronounced if you are on the receiving end of a ‘surprise’ baby announcement – as you’ve not had time to prepare mentally, financially and socially.
Men like to feel like we’re in control, even if we’re not, and this is why self-doubt is so crippling… because it has absolutely nothing to do with your ability or inability to be a father to your child. Self-doubt has everything to do with our long developed and reinforced cultural stereotypes that as ‘men’ we need to be in control of our environment, and the provider of our household.
That Dad’s advice: Stop and take a moment – relax. You’ll be ok. If you can support yourself and provide a loving environment for your partner and child, you already have everything you need. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: you don’t need fancy things. Babies don’t care how much their designer blanket cost. Babies don’t need Converse sneakers (although you can pick them up cheaply on Ebay). Honestly, they just want to be fed, hugged and rocked to sleep, usually by their mother. And if you can look after your partner and make her feel relaxed and special as well as change the odd nappy and spend a Saturday morning walking to the café with your baby so your wife can sleep in, you’re 99% of the way there.
3) ‘Horrified resignation’
(Life as I know it is about to terribly MESSED UP!! It’s OVER!)
Well, there’s some truth to this one. Yes, life as you know it is about to be shaken up in the most dramatic way. Your child will spew, wee and poo on you. There will be spew, poo and fingerprints on EVERYTHING. And you will love almost every minute of it.
That Dad’s advice: There’s no way around this one buddy. There will be no sleep, lots of screaming and dirty clothes, and a walk to the café will take more strategic planning than the D-Day invasion in WW2. Don’t even try to go out to the movies. Instead of going to the pub with your friends you’ll sit on the couch and spend hours staring into the face of your child. And trust me, you just wouldn’t change it for the world. Just roll with it – let your plans slide and just enjoy the haze of parenthood.
It’s important to acknowledge and recognise that these are nerves are perfectly normal and acceptable – and more importantly – they are just ‘stages’. They will pass.
Remember it’s totally ok to freak out at times. My best advice is to talk to other friends who’ve had kids, talk to your parents and get some perspective on things.
Honestly, most things work themselves out – and there isn’t anything to stress over.
People have been having babies for hundreds of thousands of years.
Champ – your baby is in good hands.
You’ll be fine.