The joy and elation of expecting your first child can be tempered for many men by a tinsy touch of fear. For some, it is a mudslide of angst and doubt.
Change can be scary, and aside from death, changes to your life don’t come much bigger than parenthood.
Truly, unless you’ve had a child you really don’t have any idea what you’re in for (and even the second time around is daunting).
For us men, it’s not uncommon to focus on what we’re going to lose — sleep, sex, freedom, friendships — rather than what we’re going to gain, probably because that part is harder to imagine.
These fears are, of course, both natural and largely irrational. Well, if not irrational, greatly exaggerated. So let’s look at six of the biggest fears dads face, and cut them down to size.
1. I’ll never have sex again (or not as much as I want to)
Sure, this might not be the number-one fear for all dads-to-be, but if the wisdom of sitcoms has taught us anything it is that fathers who are married with children spend significantly more time complaining about their sex lives than they do having one.
The facts here are simple, and predictable. There will be less sex. Perhaps not forever, but for the foreseeable future.
This is not because your partner is going to love you any less (see fear No.2), but because she’s going to have a whole lot of other things on her mind and sapping her energy.
And thanks to a lack of sleep and the constant adventure that is the first few months of child-rearing, you’re both going to be too exhausted to bother a lot of the time.
If you’re one of those couples who’ve been trying to have kids for a while, and thus been going at it with great regularity, the drop-off will be fierce.
Or, if you’re just a couple who’ve already been together for a few years, the downshift probably won’t be quite as noticeable.
Recent statistics run in the US Parenting magazine suggest a lot of us fall into the former. According to the research, 45 per cent of parents are having sex once or twice a week, while 30 per cent are down to once or twice a month.
An alarming 10 per cent admitted to intimacy less than once a month, while a bemused 15 per cent answered, with alarming frankness, “Sex? What’s that?”
The usual excuses come down to not having enough time, or energy, but Professor Ian Kerner, author of Sex Recharge: A Rejuvenation Plan for Couples and Singles, says it’s more than that.
“What these stats show is that couples don’t prioritise sex, or aren’t sure how to prioritise sex, in the onslaught of new responsibilities and roles as parents,” he says.
“We all want happy children, but happy children need happy parents, and happy parents are loving and connected and still make the most of their relationship.”
So, it’s not going to be easy, but it’s best to know, going in, that things will change. Prioritising sex, for the sake of your relationship, not just you, will be something you have to work on together. One day.
2. I’ll no longer be the most important person in my partner’s life
The words “suck it up, princess” come to mind here, but this is a genuine fear for many blokes.
Before you have children, you and your partner are — or should be — the centre of each other’s universes.
But once you bring a baby into that partnership, the dynamic changes, pretty much forever. The two of you now orbit a different son (or daughter), and your universe expands, exponentially.
All I can tell you is that the love you have for your child is entirely different to the love you have for one another. Indeed it is different to any kind of love you’ve felt before, and infinitely more profound in many ways.
But it does not mean your partner will love you any less, indeed you may find the bond between you strengthening — as long as you don’t let the various stresses drive you apart — because you are sharing this amazing, enlightening experience together.
Scientifically, as animals that benefit from being brought up by two parents, it makes sense that parenting should be something that makes you fall more in love rather than less.
If you are one of those slightly sad, slightly childish boys who needs to be the most important person in the room at all times and the centre of your partner’s every thought, here’s some free advice; it’s time to grow up. You’re a dad now.
3. Sleep deprivation might break me
Here are the cold, hard facts. Babies don’t sleep like we do, they sleep in fits and starts, with newborns requiring between 16 and 20 hours of it in any 24-hour period, but not in long chunks, the way you like it. Many babies feed every hour or two. Oh yes, every hour or two, night and day.
This means it’s going to be virtually impossible for both you and your partner to sleep the way you did before. Adult humans need between seven and nine hours sleep a night and if you don’t get that amount you start to build up a “sleep debt”, which can, over time, cause your health, and your mood, to suffer.
Sleep specialist Dr William C Dement says parents with newborns lose, on average, two hours sleep a night until their baby reaches five months old. From that point until they reach the age of two, the losses are usually only around one hour a night.
The good news is that the really hard part only lasts around three months, according to the Nemours Foundation, with 90 per cent of babies “sleeping through” (what a relative term that is) for between six and eight hours a night from that age.
So, yes, you’re going to miss out on sleep and if you’re forced to go to work in that first three months, it’s going to be tough, but it doesn’t last forever. My daughter started sleeping through regularly when she was five years old.
To cope, you’ll need to change your habits, particularly if you were a night owl before kids. People tell you that having children turns you into a morning person, by default, but I am living proof that this is utter bullshit.
What I have learned was the value of napping, and the ability to take whatever sleep you can, where you can get it. Before I had kids I refused to nap, ever, and accused people who did so of being lazy and prematurely aged.
Now? I’d be happy to have a nap as we speak. Bring it on.
4. What if I stuff up?
Changing nappies, attaching a Baby Bjorn to yourself, and somehow getting a baby into it, making up formula, burping (them, not you), even just holding a baby without letting its neck loll around while people LOL at you — all these things can be intimidating.
I remember being very worried about taking on a job — being a dad — about which I knew so little and had exactly zero experience for. I’d never been a baby person and didn’t particularly like kids, so I was worried about the hands-on stuff, all of it, and whether I might somehow break our child through my ineptitude.
So it’s natural to worry, but know that babies are tougher than you think, and that all this stuff comes with time. And, as long as you’re willing to get involved and have a go at all of it, to fail and not be embarrassed, to learn as you go along, you’ll have plenty of time to practice.
And a lot of it even turns out to be fun. Except changing nappies; that really is shit.
5. I will have to grow up (aka ‘my life is over’) and lose all my mates
The saddest thing I’ve ever read on the DAD Facebook page were the responses to a piece I wrote about losing your mates when you have a child. I was shocked at how many people said they had lost not just some, but all, of their friends after becoming a parent.
This should not happen, and if you’ve got a mate who’s become a dad, or is about to, stick with him. That’s what mates should do.
Now look, obviously, your dad life is going to be different from your single-man days, and even your pre-baby married ones, but that doesn’t mean it’s over.
The boozy nights (if that’s what you enjoy) will be reduced, particularly in the first year, and really late nights will become a thing of the past, not just because it will seem like the wrong thing to do, but because babies and hangovers do not mix.
But normality does return, and if you can keep your friends around you, eventually those opportunities will come back. Or they will have kids too.
As for growing up? Sure, being a father is a very grown-up thing to do but it doesn’t have to entirely change who you are. In the words of Billy Connolly: “Growing old is compulsory, growing up is optional”.
6. Everything will be about the baby
Yes, it will, at least for a little while. This is not a small change you’re going through, and babies are very exciting, particularly to your female relatives, but on a wider basis to just about everybody.
Even when the initial cooing and ahh-ing excitement dies down, things are still going to be about the baby, because they take up a lot of time and effort. And they’re 24/7. You can’t leave them to their own devices … not yet anyway.
Yes, there will be a lot of baby talk, and you, yourself, are at risk of becoming a baby bore, but that’s all just part of the ride. Much like puppies, children aren’t just for Christmas — they’re for life.
The good news is that, for the large majority of men at least, they are absolutely worth changing the focus of your life for. They’re that good. Fun, funny and fantastic. Don’t be afraid, be happy. And enjoy the ride.
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