Such a huge life change is thrilling and scary to both prospective parents. While couples share many of the concerns about having children (number one on the list is that the baby be born healthy), men have their own distinct worries.
Much of their concern stems from not having a role model to teach them how to be the father they want to be. Today's dads want to be more involved than their fathers were a generation ago, notes William Pollack, PhD, director of the Center for Men and Young Men at McClean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. Their fathers may not have spent as much time interacting with a newborn, for example. So jumping into the unknown causes panic.
Here are the five most common fears about fatherhood -- and how to overcome them.
Helplessness in Delivery
Some men have seen the videotapes of women laboring for hours, crying, and gritting their teeth, and they feel helpless about easing their partner's pain.
Susan Fox, a pediatric therapist and author of Rookie Dads (Pocket Books, 2001), says that many fathers have difficulty getting involved in the birthing process. They often feel like the sperm donor and that's it, she notes. After all, it's the wife who's having the baby and whose body is changing.
But it's important for a dad to feel as if he's a participant in the delivery room. Fox encourages all dads to take birthing classes and help their partner develop a birth plan. Talk to whoever is going to be handling the delivery, adds David Krauss, PhD, a clinical psychologist. Whether it's a doctor or a midwife, she can offer guidance and suggest how your partner might expand his role. If a dad can take the active role of "coach," the entire process becomes less scary.
Here are some helpful questions for him to ask:
1. What drugs might my wife get to assist in the birth, how are they administered, and what are their side effects?
2. If my wife requires emergency surgery, such as a cesarean, what's involved?
3. What will be happening with my child immediately after delivery, and how can I be involved?
Readiness for Parenthood
Some dads worry that becoming a parent would be the end of their youth.
Tied in with the fear of becoming a "responsible adult" is the concern that he won't be able to see friends, eat out, or do any of the social things he now enjoys. Your partner may not be able to have fun any time he wants anymore, notes Fox, but the upside is that having a child can mean seeing life and what constitutes a good time in a whole new way. And being a dad doesn't mean that he can never go out with grown-ups again. It just takes more effort and scheduling.
The bottom line is, a baby is not the end of life as you know it. "It can take fathers a long time to realize they can be mature without being old," says Dr. Pollack. When fathers see the possibilities in a new life, they may have a renewed vigor you've never seen in them before.
Baby care is often an alien concept for men, according to Armin Brott, coauthor of The Expectant Father (Abbeville Press, 2001), because most boys aren't raised to be caregivers. In general, boys don't have the experience that girls might get, he says.
Society perpetuates the stereotype that women are better at rearing children. And the media reinforces the idea that men know next to nothing about parenting. Turn on any TV sitcom and the fathers are portrayed as absolute buffoons. Sitcom dads are treated like another kid in the family. They're caring and loving but totally incompetent.
Fox recommends that expectant dads get some baby-handling practice. Visit a male friend or relative who has a baby and get your partner involved in the whole process. Have your friend show him how to pick up the baby, put him down, change his diaper, give him a bottle. You can get him a good baby book that offers a crash course in baby care -- and a boost of self-confidence.
Pets are good preparation, too. Your partner has to work out the caretaking with you -- the feeding, the walking or changing the litter box, trips to the vet. It's a good boot camp for the much greater demands of having a baby.
The reality is that many of the basics of child care are relatively simple, and expertise comes with everyday practice.
Experts say a baby can make a good marriage better and a bad marriage worse. Both partners are usually focused on this new, demanding creature in their lives, and that can be stressful. Men can feel neglected, explains Brott. There's all this focus on the baby, and your relationship gets put on hold. Because the woman often takes care of many of the child's needs, the man may feel left out and even jealous of the baby.
Couples need to schedule time for themselves, says Dr. Krauss -- and focus on what they liked and did before. And though it may seem less than romantic to schedule a sex life, you and your partner may not have one if you don't pencil it in.
Finances can be a big concern for soon-to-be fathers. Even if your family has health insurance, there are still significant costs that come with having a baby: diapers, food, child care, braces, bicycles, allowances, and college.
James Fritz Schafer, a certified financial planner in Cincinnati, agrees that taking control of things now will ease the anxiety. He offers these tips:
- Make a budget and live with it. Write down what your income and expenses are. Determine the mandatory costs and the ones you can do without. Time is in your favor for big-budget expenses such as college, and you can accrue money with savings options, including stocks, bonds, or a money market account.
- Consider home equity. If your bills mount, especially credit card debt, you might consider refinancing your home. Home equity loans usually charge a lower interest rate than credit cards and are tax deductible.
- Get life insurance. If you're suddenly not there to take care of your family, you will want to provide them with this means of financial support. A 20-year term life insurance policy for $500,000 can cost as little as $200 to $300 a year, Schafer says.