Lay off the pressure
British expat Scott Harper, 43, is dad to William, five, and Elin, four. He is totally opposed to the pressure women are under to bounce back post-baby
“It’s sad to see the pressure women put themselves under to conform to what society and the media tell us is perfect. I don’t ever compare my wife to the airbrushed, photoshopped images in magazines; she’s her own person and unique. We all change through time. We have periods of good health, bad health, phases where we can’t find the time or motivation to exercise… You don’t marry someone purely because of the way they look.
“Where looks do matter is when they start to affect a person’s happiness and mental wellbeing, and a man’s role here is to be supportive. My wife put on quite a bit of weight throughout her two pregnancies, but I’m not upset for me, I’m upset for her. I know she hasn’t been happy with it and many factors – severe postnatal depression included – have meant it’s been hard for her to change her appearance back to what it used to be. As a man, I have no clue what it’s like to go through such extreme physical changes and how a person can be affected mentally, so all I can do is be as supportive as I can and try my best to help her. I’d be a pretty lame husband if I started giving her a hard time about her size or appearance.
“If your wife has gained weight or lost fitness and isn’t happy about it, help her. Make sure she can get out to the gym or to a class – or to do whatever sport she enjoys – and encourage her. If you can find something you can do together, so much the better; training together is a great way to maintain the connection in a relationship. It’s difficult for a man to get the ‘being supportive’ bit right, especially when someone’s feeling a bit fragile, but it’s so important. Make sure she understands you couldn’t care less which celebrity lost all their baby weight within three weeks, that she understands you love her regardless, and that you appreciate there are other things in life that are far more important.”
Enjoy every moment
Iraqi Wisam Mahmood has a daughter, Jana, three. He’s passionate about dads being involved in their children’s lives
“Take a look online and you’ll see no end of mummy blogs full of advice, info and opinions on raising a child. But how many daddy blogs do you see? Not many, I’ll bet. It’s a fact of life that the primary caregiver is often the mum. But that doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean Dad gets pushed to the side.
“I believe in the vital importance of fathers playing an active role in their child’s life. When dads are sidelined children miss the entire life experience of having a second parent; there’s an abundance of research that shows children who have an involved father are more likely to be emotionally secure, confident and exploratory, and they’ll likely have better social connections. If a child’s dad is involved he can contribute greatly to the child’s cognitive, language and social development, as well as achievement, and help to shape a strong inner core resource, sense of well-being, good self-esteem and authenticity. My favourite quote is, “A dad is a son’s first hero and a daughter’s first love”.
“But it’s not just children who miss out if dad isn’t around; dad himself misses out too. Parenting is a rich experience that teaches dads about themselves, and it’s amazing to have the privilege of being able to pass on your values to a child and be a part of shaping them as a person. Having a child, for any couple, is a phenomenally life-changing event. I soon realised nothing I’d heard from others – how difficult raising a child really is, how hard it is to raise them with values – had prepared me for just how hard it actually is. It totally didn’t register until my daughter was actually here. I love her completely, but having her and bringing her up is a huge ongoing life lesson! It’s a learning journey in itself, especially since she’s the first child in the family. I thank God for my wife, who’s a great mum and stands nex to me supporting me as a parent and sharing this tough but incredibly joyful journey.
“I know it’s often mums who end up juggling careers with childcare, as often they’re the ones who give up full-time work to have a family. I started Zoom In Photography a few months after my wife gave birth and it’s given me more time to be a hands-on dad as I have flexibility, so I’m the one juggling work and family. Some days I have the privilege of taking my daughter for lunch after nursery, so we get quality daddy-daughter time, and I’m glad I’m able to do it. I know for many dads it’s a challenge to be able to pick their children up from school or nursery, so I’m blessed with what I have. ”
Stand up and be counted
British expat Lee Ryan, 33, is dad to Lily Grace, 16 months. He believes parenting is a gender-neutral word, and if mums speak up, dads are usually more than happy to do their share
“Often, dads get categorised as only good enough to be a babysitter – only good for fun times – and become a target of the jokes at many mummy coffee mornings. It’s not right. Man or woman, you are both a parent in equal measure. It’s not a gender-specific role. But I think this comes down to how much mums can let go and let dads take control. Mums need to ask for help and look to include dads in the children’s upbringing as much as possible.
“Yes, you may get a few women reading this, saying, ‘This never works; I ask for help all the time and never get it.’ But ask your husband why he is not getting involved and you may learn something positive from it. Yes, some dads may just not want to get involved, and to those mums, I’m sorry. But, for others, when your partner gets involved, try not to micro-manage too much and scare him off from ever offering to help again.
“If dads do hold back when it comes to parenting, I think it can be for one of two reasons. Either they are very old-fashioned, selfish and feel it’s the mum’s job; or they are scared of doing anything wrong. To the second group of dads, I’d say parenting is a learning curve that lasts forever. You don’t know everything and never will. You get thrown advice from every angle, but you do what works for you and your family.
“It could be the smallest gesture that helps, you don’t have to replace mum, just let her know you are there to help when she needs it, make her coffee, change nappies. Don’t be scared to offer help or ask for help. I promise you, it will work out and you will love every second.
“Mum and child have a bond from the start and it can be quite intimidating for a new dad. I just made sure I did everything I could to make my wife as comfortable as possible, and to try to lift the pressure from her as much as possible, for example by cooking, winding, doing nappies, soothing the baby, and bath time. Suzanne was phenomenal through everything – and still is – and it blew my mind and made me fall in love with her even more.
“Parenting is hard. It’s the hardest, but most rewarding job in the world. It’s lots of work, sometimes not even knowing that whatever you’re doing is correct – and that will never ever stop. But that’s being a parent, and that’s what you have to do.”