So, you’re new baby has arrived and you’re no longer just a man, a bloke, you’re a father. With that,
of course, comes a weight of new responsibilities, pressures and expectations, seemingly from all
directions. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on what you should do and how you should divide up your
increasingly precious time.
Friends and social
Most couples’ social lives take a hit after the arrival of a new baby. You’re usually both so busy and
physically exhausted that going out simply doesn’t appeal. After a while things will probably settle
down a bit, and you may be able to get into a good routine with your partner that allows you both to
have regular time with friends each week, but you’re unlikely to ever go back to the heady days of
pre-baby socialising – unless you’re an insensitive twit who never carries that baton at home, that
is. Some friends will accept this more readily than others, often depending on what their own family
situation and experiences are. If you’re one of the first among your social group to start a family
then you might find it takes some explaining before they even begin to understand why you’re not out
on the tiles so much anymore.
Career vs family
While the ongoing dominance of traditional gender roles still exerts a strong pressure on men to
provide well financially for their families and derive their self-worth almost entirely through their
career progress, many women – themselves juggling family and career – expect their partners to be more
hands-on in the home and with child-care than a generation ago.
Your exhausted new-mum partner probably hopes for some relief from nappy-changing, night-time waking,
vomit cleaning, settling a cranky baby and drowning in laundry. But, after the initial congratulations
have died down, your boss and work colleagues may expect you to carry on almost as though nothing has
happened. As a result, although two week’s paternity leave is standard in the UK, many men still feel
uncomfortable taking even that much time off. And even your own parents may raise an eyebrow if you
decide to take more time off to get to know your child, or decide to take on the main responsibilty
for childcare yourself.
If you’re one of the lucky few whose employer has a positive approach to fatherhood which gives you
greater flexibility to accommodate your new family, then you may have things a little easier, but
you’ll still probably feel pulled between the need to provide for your family financially and
providing for them by being present and involved.
Focus on what you want
Try to block out the ‘noise’ all around you of other people’s expectations and take some time to focus
on what you want, and to set your own expectations for yourself. Of course, trying to separate
what other people expect of you, and your reaction to those expectations, from what you actually want
for yourself isn’t necessarily easy. Maybe try to imagine that you’ve reached your old age and are
looking back on these years with a young family. What do you hope you will have achieved with and for
your family? What kind of relationships will you want to have forged with your children? What will you
want your relationship with your partner to be like? What do you think your regrets or missed
opportunities may be? Will you look back and wish you had spent extra hours at the office working
towards promotion and a bigger pay packet, taking more ‘me’ kick-back time to reduce stress and/or
more time getting to know and care for your children and building great relationships with them? Think
about the relationship that you had/have with your own father and how it has affected your outlook on,
life, what would you want to recreate from that with your own children? and what would you want to do
If you have an idea of where you want to get to, or where you want to avoid ending up, it can help you
sort out your priorities in the here and now.
Once you’ve worked out what you want for yourself it’s time to start communicating / negotiating with your partner, the other key person to consider in all this. One key to a successful partnership is
making sure that you’re both working towards the same overall goals as a family and that you balance
each other’s personal needs well.
Once you and your partner have a clear idea of how you’re going to approach parenthood together you’ll be in a much stronger position to buffer the ongoing storm of expectations, which probably won’t completely die down for many years to come!