The stereotype of the dad who comes home from work, relaxes in an easy chair, smokes a pipe, and watches his wife raise the couple's children is as much a myth as a baby who sleeps through the night from birth. Dads in today's society are oftentimes as involved as moms in every aspect of their children's lives. Gender roles are nearly non-existent.
For many involved dads, this is uncharted territory. We have few role models to look to for guidance and help. However, as we learn on the job we are setting the bar high for the next generation of fathers.
Like any skill, learning how to engage in healthy involvement in our children's lives takes time, failure and practice. Here are a few ideas to help you navigate the biggest and most rewarding experience of your life.
1. Expand your comfort zone.
You've never been to a Mommy & Me class. You've never taken a baby to the mall. You've never organized a play date. These are all things you might be asked to do — or even want to do. Remember, this isn't about you anymore. This is about your children, and if it's good for them, then you should expand your comfort zone and make it happen.
2. You will be solo.
Get ready to be surrounded by women. Constantly. Mommy & Me classes are filled with mommy's. Same with play dates. Just go with it. Sure, the breastfeeding conversations might be over your head, but you are every bit as involved in the raising of your child — before you know it, you'll be discussing sleep cycles, the best baby food and the patterns of your baby's bowel movements.
3. Resist peer pressure.
Your single friends will still want to hang out. They will invite you to spend a Saturday golfing or enjoy a rock concert on a Friday night. You should definitely make time for yourself. However, the majority of your time will be spent with your family and that's as it should be. There may be some friendships that wither but there will be new ones that spring up.
4. Find a dad buddy.
In the coming months and years, there will be more changes and transitions than you can imagine. And there's no guidebook for what your son or daughter will throw at you. Find a dad buddy who's going through similar things to commiserate with. Or at least knock back a beer with.
5. You aren't mommy.
You might wear the pants in your family. You might be the breadwinner. But you aren't mommy, and in the early months, children may bond more closely with mom than with dad. Don't try to take over. Remember to complement, not control.
6. Ask questions.
Every first-time parent faces a steep learning curve. But remember, we all go through it and somehow we survive and thrive. As an involved dad, for example, you'll want to go to doctor's visits — think of questions ahead of time and take notes. This is new territory for you and the only way to learn is to ask questions of teachers, nurses, and anyone who deals with children. Don't be afraid to show your cluelessness. Your curiosity might wind up helping your child in a myriad of ways.
7. Involve your kids.
You might feel like your identity as a man is being usurped. And in some ways, it is — but in a good way. Whatever life you're leaving behind is no comparison to the new life you are creating. One way to maintain a sense of self is to involve your kids in your favorite activities once they are old enough. By seeing the joy that you have for golf, sailing, or other activities, it might open up new worlds to them, too.