Half of all new dads have “minimal to no involvement” in the early weeks of their newborn baby’s life, according to a survey out this week.
This statistic - courtesy of a survey of 1000 parents by parenting app WOTBaby - is both depressing and (according to the mums in our office) wildly optimistic.
After all, if half of all new dads have no involvement in their babies’ first few weeks… then by extension, half of all men claim to be very involved in those early, sleep-deprived, vomit-covered days. And this is not the way most of us remember it.
Before I had a baby I envisaged that parenting would be a two-person job. I railed against hospital forms asking me to identify our daughter’s “primary caregiver”, believing that my husband and I would share the load relatively equally.
But it was only a week or so after my daughter was born – after several days of being camped out on the couch with either an infant or a breast pump clamped to my body while my husband went to work, as usual – that I realised how naïve I’d been.
I’ll never forget the evening that my husband arrived home at the end a long day – him at the office, me at home with a newborn – and proudly showed me his new screensaver: a photo of our baby. “‘This way I look at my phone and remember: I have a daughter!” he proclaimed.
Reader, I saw red.
But looking back, it’s no wonder we had such vastly different experiences.
Biology is at least partly to blame. After all, only one of you is a natural food source for a newborn.
But it’s also down to the way our society approaches parenthood. Men head back to work two weeks after their baby is born, while women traditionally stay at home – where they slowly become more capable and skilled at child rearing. At least I did (and I started from a pretty low base).
I don’t believe for a minute that women have superior parenting instincts. I am not innately more patient than my husband. Nor was I born with superior nappy-changing skills. I learnt them thanks to hours and hours with my daughter.
And this is no slight on my husband. If anything, I think I took our division of labour a little too literally. I wrongly viewed our new life as a slice from a 1950s sitcom; my husband’s role was to earn the family income, and, now that I had no earning power, my new job was to look after our baby.
However, there’s a growing sense that this approach to parenthood doesn’t do anyone any favours. Dads and babies miss out on crucial bonding time together (and some researchers suggest that this affects their bond even years later), while mums miss out on support and career prospects.
There’s a happy end to my story. By the time my daughter was a few months old, her dad had realised that if he didn’t want her chubby arms to automatically reach for me instead of him, then our parenting needed to be more equal. And the only way to do this was to extricate myself from our new trio. So I found ways to give him alone with our daughter: time to develop the same skills I had to learn, time to grow in confidence in being a new caregiver and time to bond. He may have personified the hands-off new dad in those first few weeks but next time, I’m confident he’ll be doing his bit to turn this study's statistics on their head. .