Finding out that you’re going to become a father can bring up many different thoughts and emotions. Even though most books, media programmes and seminars about parenthood generally tend to focus on the mother, fathers too may struggle and experience difficulties following the birth of their children. Fathers too may feel that the birth of their children was the most life changing experience that they’ve ever had. The role of a father is a crucial one – it is not less important than the role of the mother as children are affected by their fathers just as much as they are affected by their mothers. The relationship between a father and his children may determine the way children perceive life and the world around them, and will determine the way they see themselves for the rest of their lives.
For ease of reference, this blog shall focus on the most common experiences of heterosexual couples. However, homosexual couples or single individuals who become parents with the help of IVF, surrogacy, adoption or other methods, may experience parenthood in a very similar way. The parents’ background and their personality, not their orientation or relationship status, is what mostly affects the way parents bring up their children.
One of the most noticeable differences between mothers and fathers is that a father cannot physically experience the growth of their child before birth. Even though men may very well start bonding with their baby before birth, it is generally more difficult for them than it is for women, since a woman’s pregnancy can better prepare her to welcome their child. Even though many consider fathers to be lucky since they spare the downsides of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth, it is common for loving fathers to wish that they can experience the close bond that many women feel with their children during pregnancy. It may sometimes take more time for fathers to experience the great rush of love towards their children that many mothers seem to feel instantaneously. It is common for fathers to say that their bond with their children and their great love for them increased gradually over the first few months.
Having said this, one cannot generalise as the experience of pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood is a very subjective one. While there may be trends of what the norm generally looks like, other factors such as the conception, couple relationship, their support network and pre- or post-natal mental health issues, may affect the experience of it all.
During pregnancy and the first few months following birth, many fathers experience a lot of pressure to do things perfectly. Apart from the responsibility of taking care of a new baby, many fathers are concerned about the well-being of their partner. It is not always easy to give the right support because they might worry that if they ask or do too much, they would seem as though they are not believing in their partner’s capabilities, but if they don’t do enough, they would seem as though they are not as interested or committed as much as they should be. In heterosexual couples, many fathers also worry that they are not able to take care of their baby as much as their partner because of the assimilated stereotype that women are more naturally capable of taking care of a baby. Unfortunately, because of this misconception, many fathers might feel as though they are looked at as babysitters instead of fathers with duties and responsibilities that are equal to the mothers’.
In the second part of this blog we shall continue exploring the different struggles that fathers may face, even though unfortunately, many might be silent about it.
Claire Borg is a gestalt psychotherapist at Willingness. She works with adolescents and adults. She has a special interest in mental health. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.