By Denise Yearian
When a child is born, much emphasis is placed on helping the new mother and baby adjust. But they aren’t the only ones undergoing major change. Most first-time fathers also experience stress due to sleep deprivation, change in routines and their own apprehensions about parenting.
“There are a myriad of emotions that come with being a new father,” says Armin Brott, author of multiple books and one DVD on fatherhood. “Most often it’s a feeling of pride and excitement. At the same time there can be apprehensions—‘Will I be a good father?’ ‘Can we afford this?’ ‘How is this going to change our lives?’”
This was what David Wuttke found. “When my son David Jr. was born, I had overwhelming feelings of anxiety and excitement all at once,” he says. “I had been babysitting since I was 16, so my anxiety wasn’t about child care. It was the reality of the responsibility that this was
my son. And that sent a shock to my system.”
Just knowing there’s another person to care for can be a big stressor for first-time fathers. Couple that with the fact that many men don’t initially know how to bond with their newborns.
“If a mother is nursing, it naturally brings her in contact with the baby,” says Brott. “Dads don’t have that same natural bonding method, so they often get stuck doing the dirty work. But it shouldn’t be that way.”
Susan Maroto, LCSW and parent educator in prenatal care and postpartum adjustment, agrees. “There are things moms can do to help dads feel competent in that role,” she says. “Encourage them to take part in all areas of child care—feeding, bathing, reading and putting the baby down. Just be careful you aren’t overly critical. Standing behind your husband and correcting his every move will only frustrate him. Show him what needs to be done then let him develop his own style.”
Fortunately for Wuttke, basic training occurred as a teen sitter and paid big dividends when his son was born. Soon after his wife Christine delivered, she enrolled in college and David was thrust into solo evening childcare.
“I never had to think about how to take care David. I just fell back on my babysitting days,” says Wuttke. “If he was crying, I would say, ‘Okay, let’s guess what he needs?’ Then I’d check his diaper. If that was okay, I’d try to feed him. If he wasn’t hungry, I thought maybe he had gas or needed to sleep. One of those usually did the trick.”
For Anthony Franco, the adjustment wasn’t that easy. When his wife Lisa gave birth to the twins, Franco seemed to be fine. But four months into it, things changed.