Please note: All families, no matter what they look like, have a tricky road to walk. In writing this article, I don't want to take anything away from single mums or same-sex couples. All of my professional experience thus far has been with mum-dad teams, and this article is about dads. Stay tuned for articles covering diversity in parenthood soon.
Options for parenting roles have broadened in the last few decades. In theory, we are not bound by former stereotypes, but with new-found freedom comes less certainty about who does what and how.
Dads are great for romping, providing, building & playing, but sometimes they can feel excluded. Dads are also great at nurturing, snuggling and caring, but sometimes they don’t know how to fit this in. Sometimes I see dads on the outer edges, not sure how to walk beside their partners in the best ways. Other times I see dads snuggling, romping, cooking, and generally being involved and it warms my heart, just as it warms their family.
There are many different kinds of roles that dads have around the home now. I have worked with families who have dads as sole providers, or mums who are sole providers, parents both working and anything in between.
One constant for every family with a new babe is the window of time after birth. This window is where we all may have the opportunity to find new ways of doing things. The introduction of a tiny new human into a home can be a time of overwhelm and confusion, but it also holds a lot of opportunity for change and growth.
There needs to be space for all dads to be included. But what are the best ways for dads to be involved? When mum is at home with a newborn, dad could feel excluded. He may be at work in the office for much of the day, or he can even be up on a mine site for a stint and physically removed from home for weeks.
I think doulas can play a part here, especially with new dads finding their feet. I want all dads and mums to have a champion in the raising of their children.
Doulas can make the space for conversations about how and what dads can do with their family. Doulas can give new mums and dads suggestions and stories of how other families have strengthened the bonds between all of the family members.
It is great to start with simple and achievable things that strengthen bonds. Some families include moments of connection, love bridges and snuggling, some families have particular tasks or activities that are special to Dad like night changes or supporting mum while she breastfeeds.
I often see dads enjoying skin-to-skin contact with their little ones, having a snuggle on the couch while mum showers or has a nap. I see dads taking responsibility for part of the routine, like bath time or bedtime. I see dads playing critical roles supporting mums as they learn to breastfeed. It can be a positive feedback loop: the more room there is for dads to be involved, the more they are able to be, and so on.
But what if dads are away for longer time periods? I believe that doulas can also help dads by being "another pair of hands to help"; by nurturing the family. This extra support can be while dad is at work or up on site for a week or more. Dad can go about his working day trusting that his partner is still being cared for. Doulas never replace dads, instead, they provide additional and different support.
Three cheers for all the dads out there, I think you're really great.