It can be hard to know what to do when it comes to being a good dad before the baby has arrived. During those nine months — and the delivery-room experience — the best thing you can do is be a good husband. We tapped Stefanie C. Barthmare, a couples counselor for 18 years, to give you the tips you need to be just that while you’re waiting to become a dad.
First of all, it’s crucial to not get ahead of yourself in the parenting game — you can’t plan your new family’s life together before you even have the chance to be together. So focus on the here and now. “During pregnancy, I’ll get a couple who is trying to prepare for birth — and especially birth of a first child — and there’s a romanticism and a heightened sense of the ‘ideal,’ and that it will all go a certain way,” Barthmare says. “The pre-stages are tinged with a certain sweetness, but it’s very short-lived because sooner or later you realize you can’t just go along with the ideals of what you plan for because they won’t unfold.”
This is why new parents and expecting parents must be able to make changes and adapt. “Be open to the fact that we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Barthmare says. “Your threshold for exhaustion are going to be very different, So while you may pick out colors for the nursery and talk about your baby’s best-friends-to-be, realize that it’s very far from what the reality will be when your baby comes home.”
And the only way to combat the potential downfall of dashed expectations is to always be present and realistic with the good, bad, confusing, and exciting circumstances of pregnancy. “When it comes down to it, the dad’s job will be to ask questions and stay in there with his partner when the reality sets in,” Barthmare says. To make sure you are able to be there for your partner when it matters most, utilize these three practices.
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- Stay curious. “Ask about her well-being and her overall needs,” Barthmare says. Continue to inquire — because that’s the only way you will know what you can do to be the best partner for your partner during these new experiences.”
- Do your own work. “Take care of yourself,” Barthmare advises. “Take a walk, take a lunch break, and keep self-care practices in place. It’s easy to get sucked into trying to doing everything for her, but realize that doing something for yourself benefits everyone.” If you come to the table depleted looking for a new mom to nourish you, you will be pulling on her energy and everyone will end up depleted.
- Keep the line of communication open.“Don’t make assumptions,” Barthmare says. Assumptions often lead husbands to withdraw. “You think, ‘I don’t know what to do, she needs space.’ But to withdraw when things go unexpectedly only puts distance between you and your partner.” So try to stay put and stay in the process. Ask, “Where do we go from here? How do we make this workable? How do we make this new variable a part of our program?”
Above all, Bathmare encourages husbands to remember that you and the mother of your child are partners, and a team. Even though you never know what could happen during the game, you have to play by the rules to be successful. “As many patients that I’ve seen in 18 years, that’s how many different birth stories that I’ve heard,” Barthmare says. “That leads to an inability to plan — and as parents, we’re planners. So start planning to inquire about everything. Don’t guess. Ask: ‘What’s happening? How do I take care of me? How do I take care of her?’ “
And most importantly, stay open to what the answers are. “You think you know your wife — but you don’t know anybody in the throes of delivery,” Barthmare says. “Really be open to the fact that what you think you know may not be applicable or useful in the moment. We have to make room for the times when the plan goes to the side.”