Finding Your Way as a New Dad

Shifting Priorities
Just having a third person in your house can be stressful. New fathers frequently describe feeling like second-class citizens, while being expected to revel in the joy of their infant. In reality, with a new baby in your lives, new dads can quickly move from being a number-one priority for their spouses to fourth or fifth place, behind the baby, sleep, self-care and work.

In addition, your own work may now take on new meanings full of double binds. New fathers are supposed to be physically present and emotionally involved, and they must also provide for their family. Ironically, climbing the career ladder often coincides with becoming a father -- and adds pressure to an already stressful situation. You may face new decisions about how to spend your time.

With the birth of a child, you suddenly have little time for "dating" and intimacy, and often the level of marital satisfaction declines. Don't be surprised if sexual changes begin to affect your identity. The reduced frequency of sex that may occur during pregnancy and after birth can lead to frustration, the feeling of being unloved or simply a longing for former physical intimacy.

Becoming a father is one of the most fulfilling transformations a man can make. Yet even as all the wonderful joys of being a new dad become apparent, change is difficult. Saturday night no longer feels like "date night"; you're torn when you have a business trip or you have to work late; you've lost the total freedom to shoot hoops with your friends or read a mystery just for the fun of it. It's important to understand that any change involves loss and therefore involves grief. Learning to process these losses in a healthy way will benefit not only you but each member of your new family.

Personal Growth
It's helpful to communicate your feelings to your spouse. She probably shares many of your same fears and frustrations, and it helps to air them so you can understand and encourage each other. This is not the time to keep everything inside. 

It will also help both of you if you talk with other people who've been through these changes before. Women do this almost naturally, while men often feel they should just tough it out. Finding other men who have experienced fatherhood, or are experiencing it with you for the first time, can be surprisingly reassuring.

Remember that your feelings are normal, and be honest about what you're going through. Pregnancy and new parenthood should be rewarding experiences for both you and your wife. The more you learn about your role as a father, the more you'll learn about yourself -- and that in itself is a rewarding quest that will benefit your whole family.

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