Becoming a new dad is a significant milestone in a man’s life. During the 9-months of pregnancy, men often experience a range of emotions. I’m no psychologist, but I have personally experienced – and witnessed in others – “Five Stages of New Fatherhood:” denial, anxiety/fear, neglect, acceptance, and joy.
Many fathers don’t experience the stages in the order listed below, and that’s okay. The important thing to understand is that as a new dad you will experience a range of emotions – some of which may take you by surprise. Generations of men before you have felt many of the same things on their fatherhood journeys.
Five Stages of New Fatherhood
The first reaction to learning about pregnancy is to deny the reality of the situation. I’m not talking about the Maury Povich kind of “It’s not my baby” denial. Instead, I’m referring to the “Are you sure? Will you check the pregnancy test again?” denial. During this phase, new dads are overwhelmed with a flood of emotions and wanting to verify the pregnancy helps to buffer the immediate shock. Many men also struggle with the notion that they have created a new life, for which they will be responsible. It takes some time to digest the enormity of this revelation.
Men like to be in control and fatherhood makes us have to admit that we don’t know everything. Just thinking about all of fatherhood’s job requirements can cause an anxiety attack. Not to mention our innate desire to want to protect our children from harm, yet fully knowing that most things are beyond our control. Talk about a recipe for fear. What did I know about being a father? Absolutely nothing! My mentor helped me to overcome the fear with the following statement:
We’ve all been afraid. All you can do is be a good role model for your kids and equip them to deal with life’s ups and downs. I know it’s scary, but you have to push past the fear and trust that God will give you the knowledge and the wisdom to raise your children the right way. Once you get past the initial fear, you will realize that being a dad is the most fulfilling job you’ll ever have.
As I watched my wife’s belly grow, I often felt neglected and useless. My wife was being showered with attention while I was ignored. It felt as if people were saying, “You’ve done you part. Now step aside.” Because of these feelings, I often said the wrong thing or reacted in the wrong way when my wife was trying to reach out to me. I wasn’t trying to be adversarial towards her, but I was frustrated and I didn’t know how to express those feelings. Eventually, my wife started telling me what she needed from me. I no longer felt useless and my wife and I were able to develop a stronger bond. If you’re experiencing feelings of neglect, you should talk to your wife about how you can be included.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually men start to accept their roles as fathers. They start to feel a glimmer of hope and start to believe that they can handle being a dad – at least until the baby arrives and won’t stop crying.
New dads often feel joy throughout the pregnancy. Whether it is the elation you feel when you first hear the news or the euphoria you feel when you hold your child for the first time. Being a new dad instills a sense of pride in most men.
As you move in and out of these stages, try not to judge yourself too harshly. Becoming a dad is a major change in your life, and eventually you will embrace it. Besides the baby is coming in 9 months – ready or not.