Sunday, December 31, 2006

Giving New Dads Credit

I read an article a few months ago that really made me wonder. A man wrote the article for a parenting magazine, and in it he explained how he felt that his decisions were questioned more than others questioned his wife. I asked my own husband, who is a very involved father to our son and soon-to-be daughter, how he felt, and he said he understood. My husband said that when he is out with our son, he gets far more warnings, admonitions, and advice from older ladies and other moms who are trying to explain to him how to parent.

It is not something my husband had ever mentioned before, and when I asked him why, he said that he did not see the purpose in mentioning it. Still it bothers me. Of course, I cannot go screaming and yelling at the women who say things to my husband, but it did make me aware of how we treat new fathers.

We live in a time when men are encouraged to take part in the lives of their children, but many women apparently have not learned that these men need our support and encouragement and not our disdain. After hearing about how other men feel, I am more aware of seeing men out and about alone with their babies.

Women who see these men should not make a big deal out of their presence. My husband and the gentleman who wrote the original article both said that they feel women are a bit patronizing with the “aren’t you the good dad?” bit. Just let Dad and baby be; chances are they will be fine. Acknowledge them only in the way you would a new mother. If Dad looks like he could use someone to hold the door, offer to do it. Coo over the baby. Treat the new dad like any other parent.

Avoid any chance to tell him the baby should be wearing a hat, is desperately in need of socks, or offering any advice on holding, feeding, burping, or otherwise taking care of the baby. If this Dad is out with his baby alone, chances are good that he has taken care of him before by himself. Even if he has not, now is the time to learn without someone hovering over him. Besides, even as a new mom, I learned that older generations have very different ideas on what is right for my child. They do not always think I should be holding, feeding, or burping the way I am either, and frankly I do not want to hear about it. So avoid the urge to correct Dad and move on.

Another gripe the man in the article had was that when he is shopping for his baby, women look, and sometimes even touch things, in his cart. They will make comments about how he should have purchased the Johnson and Johnson lotion or that the store down the street has diapers on sale this week. This man, and no other I am certain, does not want women criticizing his shopping choices. Perhaps his family does not bargain shop. Perhaps he is learning. Either way, he does not need a busybody to come along and try to tell him how he could do it better.

The general rule is that if you would not do something to a new mom, then you should not do it to a new dad, either. Even the most progressive of men are a little nervous about their first babies. Heck, even new moms are nervous about their first babies, though we act as if they should not be. This new generation of men is more involved than ever with their children, and we should give them the respect they deserve, instead of being so critical of them.

The next time you see a dad with a baby in a sling, you should think about how that mom must be at home getting much-needed rest. Instead of questioning Dad and making him uncomfortable, silently applaud him and his efforts to be an active part of his family from the beginning. And take comfort in knowing that whether he buys the right lotion or not, his baby will grow into a child who has an active father, and that gift needs no comment from anyone else.

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