A first-time father in a post-pandemic world
Luca La Monica laments the lack of support for new dads.
Parenting is a challenging affair, even for those with plenty of experience. However, becoming a parent for the first time in the middle of the recent pandemic served only to increase the levels of stress and worry for this novice father.
Living through this difficult experience has made me realise the need for deeper reflection on the effect of the pandemic on the overall question of parenting.
As a first-time father, I have had the opportunity to discover a wealth of resources and encounter incredibly well-prepared staff committed to the support of first-time mothers, but I have found it baffling how very little attention is given to the role of fathers.
This is particularly worrying not only considering the role fathers should play in parenting their newly born child, but also thinking of their essential responsibility to give moral support to the mother throughout the whole pregnancy and beyond.
During her pregnancy, any first-time pandemic mum was effectively forced to attend most of the antenatal appointments by herself because of Covid-19 restrictions; this reality has had a profoundly destabilising effect on some new families.
On the one hand, mums-to-be have had to face the uncertainty of these appointments and all the tension that can come with them alone and this has deprived first-time mothers especially of the psychologically crucial support which the fathers of the babies could offer.
On the other hand, the pandemic has also hugely affected the fathers’ experience of pregnancy and fatherhood in general, and the feeling of being effectively excluded from these appointments has been overwhelming at times.
Any attentive and committed father would normally feel an unavoidable remoteness from the pre-natal care which is rightly centred on the mother and her needs. But this feeling has been amplified by the pandemic and the impossibility of attending the various appointments and scans.
Another factor which has significantly altered the experience of first-time parents during the current pandemic is the disruption to antenatal classes.
These courses have been often identified as key experiences for first-time parents. Firstly because antenatal classes are run by professionals who offer their expertise to inform and educate new parents about their role and the life-long commitment they are taking on.
And secondly because these courses provide an opportunity to meet other parents who are embarking on a very similar journey and to create a network of relationships which offer couples the chance to talk about any doubt or anxiety linked to this life-changing event of becoming a parent for the first time.
This social dimension of antenatal classes has been effectively removed by the pandemic.
The courses, though welcome, have been delivered remotely and this has caused the complete loss of the interactive and social element, denying new parents the solidarity and support of their peers.
As a new dad I confess I was disappointed to discover that the resources provided remotely are almost totally mother-oriented: out of nine units of learning only one is dedicated to fathers and their experience of the pregnancy. This is clearly insufficient.
Sure, the role of mothers is worthy of maximum attention, but it is also true that the low level of attention dedicated to fathers only adds to the sense of exclusion which many men experience, and that simple fact is harmful to both parents.
An ‘excluded father’ is a parent who will not be sufficiently involved in the pregnancy experience and this deprives the mother of vital support.
When considering the postnatal phase, the fact that, in most jobs, fathers are only granted a maximum of two weeks paternity leave is also striking.
It is incredibly important for new families to have the opportunity to bond together. This bonding of fathers with their baby and the first-time mother can have an incredibly beneficial impact on all three of the subjects involved in the astonishing journey into parenthood.
There are clearly important reasons why things are the way they are, and processes have been dramatically changed by the pandemic. All types of institutions and governments have had to react to this emergency as best and as quickly as they can. However, this extreme situation has provided further proof not only of the challenging nature of parenting, but also of how underestimated the role of fathers is.
As a new dad I feel strongly that there should be an increased focus on fathers and that a wider range of opportunities should be offered to us to effectively fulfil our vocation to fatherhood …. Covid or no Covid.
Enjoy reading about parenting? Why not take a read of Marie McCoy’s reflection on the somewhat stressful birth of her daughter here, reframing the difficult experience in a positive way.
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