How to help him be a hands-on dad

Reading time: 7 min

By default, mothers are expected to be hands-on, and so we are. Even the term ‘hands-on dad’ is questionable as there isn’t really a female equivalent. It made me wonder what the world would be like if the same that was expected of us was expected of dads.

As progressive as 2019 is, definitely compared to even 20 twenty years ago, we still have a way to go when it comes to paternal involvement in the home. While the ultimate responsibility of this relies on the father, we could do a few things to help him on his way.

Chat about expectations

Expectations are a ceiling, so the lower they are, the less things will happen. As first-time parents, you’re not going to know everything that you’ll be thrown into but there are some basic responsibilities that most people know come with parenthood.

Of course, things may change after the baby arrives, but it could help to talk about what’s ahead and agree to share responsibilities. Being on the same page from the get-go can help to avoid a lot of unnecessary arguments about whose turn it is to change the nappy.

Bathing and grooming

I know my husband was a bit nervous about bathing our son the first few times. But he was involved from the start and would put his bigger hands to use by holding our baby, while I’d gently wash him.

Nappies

It might be worth discussing if this is a no-go for him or not. Personally, the hospital gave my husband no choice and taught him how to change my son’s nappy, so he knew how to do it days before I did. It’s a simple but obvious task, but is really helpful when you’ve just finished feeding the baby and he now needs to be changed. As my son got older, my husband made it a game by competing with himself on how quickly he can do it. Whatever works!

Household chores

Having a baby doesn’t stop the normal errands from having to be done and this is a great way for him to support you. If your husband can’t cook, can he pop the clothes in the wash? Or vice versa. Even if he doesn’t have a domestic cell in his body, something as simple as washing the dishes will go a long way to relieving you of some of those household responsibilities.

Be specific on how he can help

I think a lot of new dads want to help but are too proud to ask how or aren’t confident enough in their parenting skills to just try it on their own. Designating certain tasks to your partner can go a long way and encourage him to get more involved when he sees that he’s helping and capable of doing it.

My husband became a master swaddler. No matter how many times I tried, I just couldn’t wrap our son snug enough in those cloths and he’d hate it. So, hubby was the designated (and might I say proud) swaddler. When it came to cutting those ever-growing baby nails, I was too scared to, so hubby did it. He still cuts our son’s nails today. When our son got bigger, he could soothe him on his chest quicker than I could because there was more surface area for him to actually rest on.

Let him be a dad

Many of us first-time moms had no idea what we were doing. We had to get to know our baby’s cries, personalities and find our feet in motherhood. We did so by trying, failing, learning and trying again. The only way we could realistically do this until we got it right was time. But society at large doesn’t really have that expectation on the father.

Just look at the stark difference between maternity and paternity leave. Granted, the mother does need more time off work because, well, her body needs to recover from childbirth. And yes, South Africa recently extended paternity leave from three days to 10. Yet that pales in comparison to the time a mother spends with her child, so of course she’ll know the baby better. And some of us use that as a reason to always do things for the baby, even if we could do with a break.

“Trust him and he’ll become more confident. He may not do things the same way you do and that’s okay – he’s the dad and you’re the mom.”

Not giving the dad the space and opportunity to get to know his child won’t benefit anyone. You may have perfected getting junior to sleep by rocking him in your arms while listening to a certain song, but only because you’d tried seven other methods first. Try and be patient and let dad figure out his own way to do it. Who knows, he might even stumble on something you didn’t think about.

Trust him and he’ll become more confident. He may not do things the same way you do and that’s okay – he’s the dad and you’re the mom. You’ll always be different in how you parent, but as long as it’s done.

Praise him

When he does get something right, even if it’s not how you’d do it, a little praise can go a long way. As much as I expected my husband to do certain things, I still always thanked him for it. Okay, not always but as often as I’d remember to, I would. It’s a small word but can mean so much to him to know that he’s doing okay – especially coming from the socially expected expert on parenting (ahem, I’m referring to you).

Imagine being told most of your life that you can’t change a light bulb. Then, the first time you do it, the light switches on. Wouldn’t you be chuffed if your husband told you that you did a good job? The bulb might have needed to be screwed on a bit tighter, but you did it all the same. I realise that this may not be the best analogy but I challenge you to come up with one close to parenting. The point is, it will encourage him to want to do it again next time.

This may seem like a guide only for the new parents, but if he’s hands-on from the start, chances are he’ll continue to be because the bond and his confidence will be established. It’s then about continuing to nurture that.

Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads!

Aisha O'Reilly Profile ImageAisha O’Reilly is a young African woman who loves natural hair, beauty and being a new mommy, among other things. Her aim is to inspire and encourage fellow women by giving them a peek into her life, with all of its ups, downs, questions and adventures in her blog, Aisha and Life.

Also read:

Fathers need to get involved in the first 1000 days of their kids’ lives
Rules of ‘how to be a dad’ are changing as gender roles continue to blur