Most parents usually feel an innate sense of responsibility to protect their babies, but sometimes mums take the lead in this department, leaving dads worrying that they’re not as capable.
This can kick off a vicious cycle where dads don’t feel confident with the baby and mums feel like they have to do everything. If this goes on for a long time, it can create a lasting sense of tension, so it’s important to try and address it early on.
This conflict between mums and dads is quite common. It can start during pregnancy when mums have a very real experience of protecting the baby, and making sure it has everything it needs. Because of this, mums often – but not always – already have a close bond by the time the baby is born. If breastfeeding, this bond can be deepened even further.
For dads, the bond usually take longer to develop. Dads have to take time to get to know their babies and develop a sense of their roles as they adjust to the new responsibility.
This doesn’t undermine all the effort and support that dads put in during pregnancy – providing comfort and encouragement, singing to the baby, attending pre-natal classes, – but it can leave them feeling like they’re on the back foot.
In the majority of parent couples, women are the primary caregivers, meaning they spend the most time at home with the baby:
76 per cent of women and 56 per cent of men state that in reality, women have the responsibility of primary caregiver .
Whichever of you spends the most time at home is likely to get to know the baby better sooner and be better at responding to what the baby needs. If, as in the majority of families, that’s the mum, then it may feel quite natural for her to take the lead, especially if she’s had more practice with tasks like changing nappies and is able to get them done more efficiently.
This can often mean that the other parent, usually the dad, doesn’t have as many opportunities to care for the baby, and might need longer to develop these essential parenting skills. The dad can start to feel less confident, which can lead him to avoid parenting tasks, and the mum can start to trust him less, and just do everything herself.
As these factors start to feed into each other, the cycle begins.
The first thing to do is acknowledge it to each other. Try to avoid making any accusations or blaming each other and instead talk about it from your own perspectives, starting your sentences with “I feel”, rather than “You make me feel”. Even if you’re annoyed and wound up, try to keep the resentment out of your conversation, and focus on finding solutions together.
To make sure you’re more equally involved, you’re going to need to make an active decision to trust each other. Although one of you may be the primary carer in the most practical sense, you can still share most parenting responsibilities. You both deserve opportunities to bond with your baby and you’re both capable of delivering the best care. To back that up, here’s a snippet from an extensive study on mums and dads as caregivers:
Both men and women seem to be equally competent caregivers and exhibit high degrees of similarity as caregivers .
If one of you is struggling with certain tasks, like changing nappies or putting the baby to bed, then ask the other for a demonstration – don’t just give up and fall back into the patterns you’ve developed so far. The entire family will benefit from having both of you skilled up.
The more a father engages himself during the delivery and postnatal period, the stronger his attachment to the baby .
As with anything in life, it’s easy to lose confidence in the face of criticism. It can take a few goes to get these things right, particularly in front of someone who already does it well. Being a new parent can be a scary time, certainly in the beginning, but by trusting and encouraging each other, you can help you build this confidence together as a couple.
 EHRC (2009) Research Report 15 - Work and Care: A Study of Modern Parents. Retrieved from: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/publication/research-report-15-work-and-care-a-study-of-modern-parents
 Kovner Kline, K. and Bradford Wilcox, W. (2014) IAV | Report: Mother Bodies, Father Bodies: How Parenthood Changes Us from the Inside Out, p. 25
 Litton Fox, G., Bruce, C. and Combs-Orme, T. (2000) Parenting Expectations and Concerns of Fathers and Mothers of Newborn Infants. Family Relations, 49(2), 123–31.