By Joycellyn Akuffo
Hands up all mums who after a long slog during the day with the baby ? feeding, winding, changing nappies, followed by night feeds (even when you bottlefeed your new bundle of joy) ? wouldn?t swap their partner for the new renaissance man who is au fait with everything baby, and in tune with your feelings.
Yes, this type of man is so in tune with us that he?ll whip the baby out of our hands as soon as he sees a crease under our eyes, having run a bath, with scented candles and flower petals to boot having to ask, so you can relax in style?
Sounds like something out of a fantasy novel?right?
Well, it seems that this type of man really is a fictional character ? or they are thin on the ground ? because research by SMA Nutrition has found that new dads actually need reassurance to help them make take on their share of the load at home.
The study found that half of new dads don?t always make the effort to get home in time for baby?s bath and bed routine, while 43% admit that they rarely, or never, get at night to comfort their crying baby.
The results also show that far from being deliberate acts of negligence, these fatherly flaws are actually triggered by dads? lack of confidence in their parenting skills – 57% feel their partners are more skilled at looking after their baby than they are. These dads are also left feeling racked with remorse, 68% of those who don?t always get home in time for baby?s bath and bed routine feel bad and more than two-fifths (44%) of dads who have sided with their parents over their partner also feel bad about doing so. But before you start feeling too sympathetic, the study found that of those who rarely get up in the night to see their crying baby, only a measly one in five regret it ? typical!
Washing up duty
If dads lack confidence in their parenting skills, it appears that tackling the housework is a good way for them to earn brownie points with their partner ? as 33% of new mums said this is the task they?d like more help with. Nearly a quarter (23%) of mums said their biggest bugbear was their partner commenting on the state of the house but rarely helping to tidy up. Reassuringly then, 35% of dads said if they had to promise to do one thing for their partner, it would be to help more around the house and give mum more time with the baby. And if cleaning isn?t dad?s forte, then some extra help with the night shift wouldn?t go amiss either – 14% of new mums said this is top of their wish list.
New dad Greg Schofield agrees that he has struggled to adjust to the role of a confident and competent dad: “Although I?d read a guide on fatherhood and had plenty of conversations with friends about what to expect, I just wasn?t prepared for the reality when our daughter Eleanor arrived. I really wanted to do my bit, but I just felt overwhelmed. Even just holding Eleanor, I felt clumsy and was relieved when Laura took over when it came to things like bathing, bottle feeding and nappy changing, as I was scared of doing it wrong. She is absolutely brilliant with Eleanor, so I tend to gaze on in a state of awe as she really is so much better equipped for the job.”
Parenting expert Tim Kahn, author of Bringing Up Boys is unsurprised by the findings. “When thinking about what fathers do (and don?t do) at home, it?s important to remember the wider social context. We still live in a society where mothers are expected to be the primary carers of children. They request flexible working hours in order to fit their lives around their children, whereas fathers are still expected to be the breadwinners.”
“Many parents, both men and women, feel they should instinctively know how to look after their baby,” says Tim. “Men in particular are often reluctant to ask for advice, because that is not seen as manly. The reality is that parenting skills are mostly learned ?on the job? and the best way to grow in confidence and bond with your baby is to get involved in all aspects of parenting.”
Claire Halsey, clinical psychologist and TV presenter says: “Becoming a parent is a hugely rewarding, yet challenging, experience and often places an unexpected strain on a couple?s relationship. It?s not surprising that mums may feel slightly frustrated and want more from their overwhelmed partner when the baby arrives. It?s all the more important that mums and dads work together and support each other during this new phase of family life because it makes the experience a lot easier, and builds stronger bonds for the whole family.”
So how can mums involve dads in childcare and make them help around the house without having to drag them to it? Claire says: “Be proactive, divide up the childcare tasks, both the fun things and the chores, as soon as possible before unhelpful patterns set in.? Also, have confidence in your partner?s abilities. Try to avoid telling him what to do ? let them work it out for himself.”
That?s all well and good, but sometimes when your partner doesn?t show some willing (or do it all wrong), it can make it harder to want to get them involved, and can seem like less hassle to get on with it yourself. But in the end, you pay because you?ll burn yourself out.
Make them pay
But sometimes you need to throw them in at the deep end and let them get on with it ? if you?re not around they?ll have to learn, won?t they? Tim says mums should create opportunities for your partner to spend time alone with the baby.? “This will help their confidence grow and give you the opportunity to have some much needed ?me? time,” says Tim.
So how do you deal with dads who ?skive off? daddy duties by staying late at work, and going on every business trip available? “Evidence shows that British dad?s work the longest hours in Europe, so as a mum you need to assess to what extent work pressures are keeping dad away, and to what extent it is an individual choice on his part,” says Tim.? “I believe that dads want to do more with their children, but when time is precious they understandably prefer to devote this time to play than basic tasks.”
There are of course some men who feel that looking after the kids is the woman?s role? – and being on maternity leave or looking after the kids full time while he is working may not help your case.
Claire says making it a family issue, so that you both feel a sense of responsibility for the baby and the chores around the house: “Try to get dads to see the division of childcare as a family problem that needs to be solved together,” she suggests.? “Sharing the task of raising a child can bring you together, but it can also be a challenge to equality in relationships, and like anything else the key is good communication.”
Communication, as ever, seems to be the best way to deal with these issues. Tim says: “Evidence suggests that men do really want to be involved in childcare, so I?d like to clarify that we are talking about a minority of father?s here. Point out to your partner that there is a growing body of evidence that suggests an active and involved paternal figure is beneficial to a child?s development.”
Whichever way you look at it, communication is the way forward. Good luck!