My brother is about to become a father. His wife is due on Friday. We had them over for dinner last night --one last visit before their baby girl is born. They both seemed very excited and anxious about the impending arrival. Maybe a little naive, but I think most first-time parents are. ;)
Dinner conversation was dominated by the three-year-old at the table. He was quite excited to have guests and also pretty into touching his aunt's belly (and, embarrassingly, her boobs). They entertained his suggestion to give him his bath while I went in to put Sprout down for bed. I said goodbye and wished them luck, and the offered my brother a one-sentence pep talk, "You're just as important in all this." To be fair, I could have phrased myself better, but I hoped my intent came across. Before the words were even out of my mouth his wife guffawed, "Yeah, right!"
I don't want to say she's wrong, but I don't think her quick response was right either. In fact, I think her response is a big part of what's wrong with many people's perception of parenthood: the birth mother is seen as the all-important one in the pregnancy/labour/birth/newborn etc. experience, and the non-birth parent takes a back seat.
I've heard many mothers complain that their husband doesn't help with the baby, but I also see so many mothers perpetuate the idea that their husband's role is not as important as theirs. Really that message seems to come from just about everywhere. If I were told that I wasn't as important, I'd probably be less likely to step up too. Not that that makes it fair for dads not to help out. But I can see how it happens.
I was pretty fortunate when The Bean was born because most people seemed to give me a good amount of recognition as his parent. As his mother. I also owned my role. I told people that my wife was pregnant and that we were going to be mothers. I did what I could to be as involved as possible. He was our child, not just hers.
What I wanted my brother to know is that his role is just as important. It's important that he be there for his wife --that he shows her his love and support through the labour and birth. It's also important that he be there for himself --this is his daughter. His first child. He is going to be responsible for loving her and nurturing her and helping her to become a wonderful person. That starts right away.
I think The Bean's birth is probably the single most significant event in my life to date. He made me a parent. Watching his birth, cutting his umbilical cord, being the first person to hold him and kiss him, those are things I will never forget. Outsiders may not have seen my role as being as important as Jen's, but it was, it was just different. And I wouldn't change it for the world.
You guys get what I'm saying, right?