We have just come back home from hospital after my wife Natalia and my baby girl Tosia had spent there a few days. Those days were action and emotion packed as our baby girl challenged us in an unfair competition of “who will learn new things quicker”. Obviously the winner was known from the beginning. During those days I also reflected about my new life’s role, perhaps because I got so many questions from my friends and family: “how are you feeling as a dad now?”
However interestingly, looking at my own experience but also having chatted to other dads in the hospital corridor, I found out that as much as we talked about and were excited about the new concept of parenthood we began to discover, what was much more important in these moments was our role as moms’ partners, after they’d just given birth.
There is no doubt new moms need a superhero in this particular moment of their lives. And no matter what they say or what we dads think, we are potentially the best superheroes they could have. This ability is given and dormant from the moment you first hear the words “I am pregnant”, through various stages of pregnancy, birth and culmination during these few days in hospital after birth. Let’s be honest, future moms are constantly testing the ability of her partners to be right dads for their children, even subconsciously. While it was marginal during initial dating times, this idea becomes more and more important, when the relationship develops and reaches the climax after birth. After they trusted us we were the ones, now it is our time to prove we deserved their trust. It is the perfect time to be and act as superheroes, who save the world. And in our case the world is our closest family: our partner and our child. By the way, it is big enough already.
So what do moms expect from their superheroes? How can we save them? I am sure, any new dad knows that feeling of “what the hell can I do? How can I be useful”? It is often very confusing, especially if our wife does not clarify or worse, she claims, she would manage everything perfectly by herself. The truth is that either openly or deeply in her heart, a woman, at least sometimes, dreams about a superhero to take care of her. And it is better that she would dream about you and not this handsome guy from the neighborhood, whom she once saw pushing a pram in a park.
There are at least three areas, in which we can develop our superpowers. Bear with me as they are listed from the easiest to the most difficult.
“Just do, what I say” or a practical superpower
Bingo! This is what you are looking for! You are so confused with this baby, hospital, and kid stuff, that you need guidance, hints, leadership! We easily assume moms would know best what to do with these little screaming creatures and we would just follow the orders. Moreover, your experienced friend, already a hundred light years ahead of you in the parenthood journey, just called you to congratulate and shared a piece of advice: “you’ll be better off if you just do, what she says”. From this moment you have a mission, an important one, of swiftly executing all possible requests, tasks and fulfill all mother’s needs, from “could you go and ask again a midwife about…”, through “get me a chocolate muffin, will you?” to “give me a lower back massage please”. No doubt that is important, but contrary to what many of us men think, it is absolutely not enough. She needs another piece of superhero in you…
“The baby does not stop crying… I do not know what I should do…” or a gentle leadership superpower
This may be already quite confusing from the outset. If she knows what to do, and I am just supposed to follow what she wants, which she also expressed explicitly before, how the heck should I respond to such question? Well, perhaps you can try out “you’d know it best darling, you will find out, I really have no idea”. Wrong answer. Actually she may really not know or not be too sure what to do, because in spite of all these legends about mother’s instinct, the truth is that mothers also need to learn everything from scratch. Well, she may be, and in 99% cases is, a quicker learner and spends also more time with babies, which definitely helps with rapid learning cycle, but the answers to all questions are not encoded in their DNA. So perhaps she would immediately accuse you of putting all of the decision-making burden on her shoulders and of avoiding responsibility, possibly finishing her tirade with “I cannot count on you!”.
Ok, so how about another possible answer. “This is not a problem love, I know exactly what we should do. She is crying because x, y, z. I told you already what to do, why didn’t you listen to me?” Well, wrong answer again. If she had really considered your point of view as valuable, she would have used your brilliant solution by now. So what you may expect as a reaction could be: “Are you nuts? Do you want to kill our baby?!?!? I will never do it! I cannot count on you!”
Therefore we need to embrace this paradox and act as gentle leaders, without withdrawing from the problem and without pushing for our one and only solution. Let’s acknowledge her feelings: she is confused, which is normal, it is ok she does not know, it is great she constantly wants the best for your child. Now you may gently ask, what she considered as options, so she shares with you more details and various possibilities and thoughts she had. Offer her a comment to these options based on facts, external views, but do not decide for her yet. Just present positive and negative aspects of each option in the most objective manner possible. Calmly and slowly. The key is that she feels you care and she is not alone in making a decision. And that requires patience. So finally, when she feels comfortable enough, she could share with you her best option which you could simply support, so that it is clear it is your common decision. In other cases, she may get to the point when she admits, that she is not able to decide. In such cases, based on what you both discussed in details, tell her you may take the responsibility if she wants and suggest a solution which you would choose. Believe me, if that is a no-go for her, she would react immediately. Perhaps she would choose the same thing, but she really wants you to help her emotionally with this enormous pile of responsibilities that suddenly rose so high. And she wants to know you are able to take decisions if needed. Once she knows that, it will be easier for her to regain her confidence.
Well done, you now lead her gently and it seems you are on cloud 9, mastering a second level superpower. But there is still one left, top of the top, at a proficiency level.
“Just stay around” or an empathy superpower
“Just stay around…”. How far is this from a doing mode, men usually operate in? Well, very far. That is why it is one of the hardest skills. To shut your mouth when what she needs badly is a warm and long hug; to say and show her you really see how she suffers and you are with her, holding her hand, when she is overwhelmed with the reality. It is that simple but it ain’t easy at all… As it is not about doing but simple being with her, words are secondary. The key to success here is to totally focus on her and mindfully be with her. And it does not have to take long. It is better to show your partner in need a short undivided attention, so that she feels she is in the center of your universe, rather than being with her all day but partially, checking your phone in the meantime or telling her your stories. It takes practice and patience. Good luck for you, good luck for me with this extreme superpower.
By now you may probably have noticed that you can use these superhero powers not only when your partner has just given birth… Actually you may learn, nurture and use them all the time in any relationship.
As a final note I would also have one simple tip for our ladies. Or maybe two tips. First, please remember that we, men and future or current dads, already possess these superpowers and would love to develop them to feel important. So do not hesitate! Use them! See them through in your partner next time you look at him. He is your potential best superhero, there is no one else around as devoted to you and the baby. Secondly, once you realize it, start growing your superhero in your man, as much as you intuitively do it with your baby. Notice and praise their efforts, no matter how clumsy they may appear for you in the beginning. Encourage trial, do not beat them up for errors during learning period. Superheroes are best fed and growing strong with your respect, appreciation and encouragement.
Let’s see what happens!