Research by Galt Toys has revealed that new dads take more than five months to get the hang of fatherhood. The months before and after the birth wrapped dad in a whirlwind of anxiety over whether he could become the parent he needed to be and doubting his abilities to step up alongside mum. Struggling to follow mum’s strict instructions, worrying about leaving the house alone with baby in tow and feeling completely overwhelmed with basic daily processes were permanent stresses until parenting confidence struck five months after the birth.
The study of 2,000 parents found that one in seven dads knew ‘almost nothing at all’ about parenting before the birth or what to expect from the pregnancy and labour. The research, which was commissioned by Galt Toys, found changing and bathing proved the areas men felt the least confident at tackling in the early days, while a fifth lacked confidence in the feeding process. In fact four in ten admitted to feeling completely out of their depth at times as a new father.
Parenting expert Dr Miriam Stoppard, spokesperson for Galt Toys which conducted the research, said:
“A baby wants to bond with its dad just as much as its mum and early interaction with babies and toddlers is absolutely crucial to their development. A lack of contact between a baby and its dad means they are both missing out on critical bonding opportunities, which will help dad’s confidence grow creating a parental bond for life.”
The study also found that, although excitement was the biggest emotion for dads before their child was born, being scared and nervous was a problem for 46 per cent. That fear and nervousness subsided almost by half in the weeks after the child was born, however the feeling of being overwhelmed almost doubled once the baby arrived. That led to one in four feeling completely overwhelmed at the thought of them being a dad. While a quarter were convinced their partner was simply a more natural parent than they ever would be.
No wonder then that six in ten stick regimentally to the rules set out by their partner and followed instructions from mum to the letter in order to get by. And since holding his child for the first time four hours after the birth it isn’t until a solid five months of parenting experience under his belt that his confidence grew. In fact in the early days three in ten even went as far as to confide in someone that they felt completely out of their depth with the new arrival. Many others avoided mentioning the feeling they were ‘failing’ at being dad as they didn’t want people to feel they were struggling or were too embarrassed.
John McDonnell, Managing Director of Galt Toys added: “Most dads probably feel that if they fail at fatherhood, they have failed at everything – and being a dad myself I know this feeling all too well! Dads want to be involved and are equipped to provide the nurturing a baby needs, but many worry that they are not very good as a parent and are fearful of making mistakes, which in turn also prevents them from early interaction with their child, so a vicious cycle is set.”
The lack of contact early on didn’t help as 56 per cent felt they missed out on crucial bonding opportunities and were away for key moments after only having two weeks paternity leave in the early days. More than a quarter worried that they weren’t very good as a parent and feared making mistakes which also prevented them from interacting with their child early on. And that went on to affect their relationship with their child- three in ten felt their child treated them differently to mum because they worked and were away more.
Almost one in four dads (23 per cent) left it more than a month before feeling they could go out of the house with the child on their own. More than half of dads didn’t read parenting books opting to learn from mum’s reading instead.
Dr Miriam continues: “The research confirms that a dad’s lack of confidence and feelings of embarrassment are aggravated by making comparisons with the other partner. For a dad to find his parenting feet, mums need to let go, so the dads can build up their confidence and have their own, and different, relationship with their child.
“Although society’s views have changed towards parenting roles, the traditional messaging is still there on the TV shows and adverts we watch and in the articles we read, telling us that mothers should do most of the childcare. It is subliminal messaging that encourages fathers (and mothers) to stick to set stereotypes when it comes to childcare, or simply buying toys.”
Dr Miriam Stoppard offers some advice for new parents:
1. If possible dad should hold his newborn baby within the first hour after birth against the bare skin of his chest so the baby can breathe in his lovely masculine odour and bond immediately with him. He might try changing the baby’s nappy on his own within the first 24 hours too.
2. It’s good for dads to be given the chance to do things their own way without mums writing lists for them. Dad’s way isn’t necessarily the wrong way it’s just different.
3. To give himself confidence dad should have a go at bathing his own baby unaccompanied within the first few days of the baby’s birth. Don’t worry dads your hands are big and strong enough to keep the baby safe.
4. Sometimes it’s hard but mum should try to resist the temptation to laugh at dad’s efforts or criticise saying “you’re doing that wrong”.
5. Dad should try using his own taste to choose his baby’s clothes and then dress them by himself during the first week after birth.
6. It’s not helpful for mum to say “don’t put him/her in that”. It dents dad’s confidence and motivation. Dad’s taste is just different from hers and worth tolerating.
7. After getting a few tips from mum dad should have a go at packing the baby bag within the first week.
8. It’s demoralising for dads when mum says “the baby prefers it this way”. The baby can have many preferences that will include dad’s.