4 Mindset Shifts for a New Dad
Long before I was even married, I dreamed about being a dad. It was all about the fun stuff. I loved the idea of taking my future family on trips and teaching my kids how to fix cars or go fishing. But like any daydream, it’s rare we think about the challenges that come with it. And becoming a parent is no cake walk. I’ve never met a father who told me they walked into it comfortably and fully prepared. There’s always a process.
Fatherhood is a whole new world. And anytime you step into uncharted territory, personal change is required. And personal change starts with a shift in our thinking. It’s in our thought patterns and perceptions that we make sense of the world around us.
But changing our thinking takes time and conscious choices. That’s why so many of us experience whiplash when we become fathers. Our brains are still playing catch up with our new reality. This is normal. But I know from personal experience that change is easier if you’re self-aware enough to reflect on how your mindsets affect your actions. I’ve found the quicker I can change my mindset, the quicker I become the man I desire to be.
As I’ve reflected on common mindsets relating to fatherhood that have affected me over the years, there are a lot that need scrutiny. Here, I’m going to discuss four of them and the shifts needed for a better way of thinking.
Mindset Shift #1
From: “I’m here to help.”
To: “I’m a parent, not someone’s assistant.”
Truth be told, a newborn’s mother is needed in more ways than the father early on. Babies are wired to bond with their mothers for survival. And remember, for nine months the two individuals were literally inseparable! For this reason, it’s common for new dads to feel like their sole responsibility is to assist Mom. The problem, and this is a trend I have observed in countless couples, is that some guys never shed this “assistant parent” persona. They remain in a passive mindset that puts the majority of the parenting burden on Mom’s shoulders, often in seemingly benign ways:
“Let me know how I can help.”
“Whatever you think is best, honey.”
“Go ask your mother.”
“What we would do without you, babe.”
Help is good and praise is encouraging, but mothers aren’t looking to gain status or power within their own homes. What every parent wants is to feel like they’re a part of a team. Like someone is in the trenches with them. Engaged. Proactive. Consciously carrying the mental burdens of parent life, not just “helping out”. Every husband wants his wife to feel safe, but this has to go beyond locking the doors at night. When you’re mentally checked-out, it makes your wife feel vulnerable and the weight of the world is on her shoulders.
Mindset Shift #2
From: “I’m the provider.”
To: “My family needs me, not my paycheck.”
I often hear moms complaining how both parents in the home work in a career, but the father seems to check out when he gets home. Meanwhile, Mom is stuck with double-duty: earning income all day then managing the children at night. This grieves me every time I hear it! How do guys justify it?
With increasingly more families being supported by two income earners, the idea of Dad being the main breadwinner is literally not the case for most Americans. But aside from economics, it’s a tragically oversimplified view of his role in the home even if he is the breadwinner. Who wants Dad’s role to be that robotic and impersonal?
I’ll admit though, I think it’s an easy mindset to slip into.
Jessica and I had some years where money was extremely tight for us. Jessica quit teaching middle school to stay home with our small children while I kept teaching in the public schools. To make ends meet, I was finding odd jobs during my summers off and working at an afterschool program during the school year. That program kept me at the school late into the evenings after I’d already had long, busy days. It was exhausting. Waking up in the middle of the night to help with babies didn’t make things any easier.
All I wanted to do was crash once I got off work. But my tendency to zone out was causing strain in the home. I learned how even though my career was important and a paycheck was absolutely necessary, I needed to devote more mental and emotional energy for my family. I had not earned any right to distance myself.
So I started saying a phrase to myself everyday when I got off work: “Ok, time to go to my real job.” That flipped a switch for me and made a huge difference in how I balanced my career and home life. The priorities in my heart began to shift. And it may sound weird, but when I changed my mindset, I began finding a new energy to be the dad I wanted to be.
Mindset Shift #3
From: “Kids just want their mommy.”
To: “Dads make a difference.”
Like I mentioned earlier, infants will bond with their mothers in a way that a father can’t replicate. But there is still an important bonding that’s needed. Bonding with an infant establishes a relationship that will only deepen and become even more prominent over the years. Oddly, I’ve witnessed dads have the “kids always want mommy” mindset well into even a child’s teen years.
That is nonsense.
Did you know that the impact of fathers is a heavily researched topic? A dad’s impact in a child’s life (for better or worse) is unquestionable from an academic standpoint. Positive father engagement is linked to significant outcomes in children all across the board: social, emotional, behavioral, and even cognitive outcomes. Children with active, positive father figures have more self-confidence, higher stress tolerance, and are significantly less likely to engage in high risk behavior.
Dads make a difference. And I’ve seen this perpetuated firsthand during many years of teaching in public schools and mentoring kids. It’s not a question of if fathers make an impact, but what that impact will be.
Mindset Shift #4
From: “I’m just not good with kids.”
To: “I’m ready to learn.”
Women are not “better” with kids than men. They’re more comfortable with them. That’s because girls are socialized much differently than boys. By the time a man becomes a father, chances are he’s had only a tiny fraction of the experience that the mother has had being around kids (especially young kids).
Now, this is obviously a broad generalization and not true for every man or woman. But my point is, in many cases, dads bring no skills to the table and it creates this idea that they’re just “not good with kids.”
Of course they’re not! Most of them are still beginners! So instead of having a fixed mindset and accepting defeat, dads need a growth mindset - one that is ready to learn, grow, and change.
This is important for Mom to keep in mind, too. If she is frustrated at Dad’s initial incompetence, it will reinforce the fixed mindset and often lead to her carrying all the weight, which disempowers Dad to learn and get better (a.k.a. Maternal Gatekeeping).
If you’re a new dad struggling with this massive life change, start reflecting on how you perceive it. Often times, it’s small changes in the way we think that can immediately impact the way we carry things internally.
And if you want to learn some practical skills, go check out our Newborn Class for Couples. It will get you up to speed on all the things you need to know about newborns. It's an on-demand course with videos, hands-on demonstrations and downloadable guides. When you enroll, you also gain access to our private online community so you can ask me questions directly - man to man.