This scenario is not unusual. Being unable to settle a crying baby is frustrating and if you have a mother nearby, why wouldn’t you hand the baby over? Dads in an earlier era were probably no better at soothing a new baby, but there was a crucial difference; a generation ago that wasn’t expected of them.
Community values have changed. No-one is surprised to see a dad wheeling his infant or toddler around the shopping mall. Advertisers, one group which needs to judge correctly the mood and wants of the community, are targeting fathers as never before. And the tone of the ads has changed. Dads comically trying to change a nappy have gone. Everyone from Lego to Volvo to Ford is pitching their promotions to fathers who want to be with their babies and their children.
Dads today are spending more time at home when the baby is born, but exactly what to do with their paternity leave is not always clear. When dads attending antenatal classes are asked what they will do with their two weeks of paternity leave, the most common answer is “Whatever she tells me to.” Now some may see this statement as according the mother her rightful place; after all, she is the one who is central to everything to do with their new baby. But it suggests to me that these fathers, who also state how much they wish to be connected to their baby, don’t have a clue how to be a dad and are relying on the mother to guide them.
The truth is, of course, that the mother is fully engaged figuring out her own role. This can leave dad with a big information gap. Here is another post, this time by a dad.
I'm just coming back from being over in Iraq and my daughter, who is only 6 and a half months old, doesn't stop crying whenever I hold her. The moment my wife is out of her sight she starts crying and the longer I'm holding her the worse she gets. My upstairs neighbours said it sounds like someone is trying to kill her. I don't know what to do. I've tried holding her and letting her cry until she stops, but like I said her crying just gets worse. I want for us to re-bond so bad that every time she cries I cry. If any of you guys can give me any advice I'm more than happy to take it.
Any nurse and most mothers would have a fair idea about the way that babies become scared of unfamiliar faces in the latter part of the first year. The fact that this dad has been away for a considerable proportion of this baby’s life means he has a lot of contact to build up.
Dads in non-military jobs face something of the same dilemma. Most men work extra time around the birth to maintain the family income. What they trade off for meeting their financial goals is the time it takes to really get to know your new baby. Not only that, they miss out on the support that comes with attending clinics and knowing where to go to get help when things go wrong.
At the Family Action Centre we have struggled with the dilemma of busy dads who need to be connected to their little ones for some years now. We’ve conducted antenatal classes, father-child classes and groups for dads when the mums have depression. But in every case, it’s a struggle to get dads to come.
Now we are trying a new way to get information and support to dads before and after the birth. SMS4dads will send text messages with tips, information and links to services for new dads through their mobile phones. The tips in the texts will help dads connect with their baby but they will also help them be a support for their partners, the mums. Some texts will remind the dads to take care of themselves.
For example, a dad may get a text saying…
Babies cry. That’s how they talk. Did you know that baby crying peaks at about 6 weeks after birth?
Or he may see…
Touch helps keep the relationship on track. It doesn’t have to be sexual. Touching each other even briefly can make you stronger together.
Every three weeks the dads will also receive a ‘How’s it going?” text. Dads can reply with Awesome or Cool or OK or Shaky or Bad. Dads who respond ‘bad’ will be asked if they would like someone to call them who is a specialist in talking to men with distress.
SMS4dads is available for all new dads. They can enrol from three months into the pregnancy until three months after the birth. He’ll get messages every week at different times until his baby is six months old.
The project has already shown that dads appreciate the texts. In the last six months more than 500 dads have enrolled in SMS4dads from all states. Because it is so easy to opt out, by texting ‘STOP’, the low rate of dads exiting (only 11%) shows that the texts are acceptable.
The feedback when men finish is also encouraging. Not only do they appreciate the information and reminders but they say that the text messages start conversations with their partners. One text says, “Now is a good time to tell her she’s doing a terrific job.” Dads report that this reminds them to encourage the mum who is the one giving birth and breastfeeding.
One dad, when he received the text, went straight in to his partner and said, “You’re doing a terrific job.” She looked up at him and said, “That’s not you.” When he ‘fessed up they had a giggle about it. “It was a win-win,” he said.
The Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle has been funded by beyondblue and Movember to conduct the SMS4dads research. This Fathers’ Day, pass on the SMS4dads web address to a new dad. www.sms4dads.com
Dr Richard Fletcher of the Fathers and Families Research Program is Convenor, Fatherhood Research Network and Associate Professor, Family Action Centre, Faculty of Health and Medicine, The University of Newcastle.