Ready, Set, Hang on a Minute

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I have only been married for about eight months. He’s 45 and I’m 36. Before we got married, we talked about starting a family—and we’re both aware of the small window of opportunity to get pregnant. But since the marriage he constantly tells me we aren’t ready, that we need more money, I see how great he is with my niece and nephews—he enjoys playing with them and they just love him to death—and I know he’ll be a wonderful father. What can I do to bring him along?

A: Your situation reminds me of a discussion I had with my parents when I was an expectant father for the first time. I was in a bit of a panic about money and worried about how my wife and I could possibly afford to have a baby. When I mentioned this to my parents, they told me that just about everyone has worries about whether they’re “ready.” The reality, though, is that just about no one actually is—and if you wait until all the pieces are in place, you might end up not ever having kids at all. Then, as if to reinforce their no-one-is-ever-ready argument, they told me that when I was born they were both starving students at the University of Illinois—so broke that they couldn’t even afford a crib, so I had to spend my first few months in a sock drawer.(I’m sure that explains all sorts of things about how I turned out, but that’s a topic for another day.)

That said, I have a feeling that what’s troubling your husband has less to do with money and more to do with his fears about repeating his parents’ mistakes with his own kids.The good news on that front is that the whole acorn-doesn’t-fall-fall-from-the-tree thing is garbage; what his parents did is almost completely irrelevant. It’ll take some work on his part and plenty of support from you, but he really can be the father he wants to be.

A lot of men worry about whether they’ll be able to actually care for a child. Given that most guys have a lot less baby-handling experience than their partners, that’s a reasonable concern. But it’s one that can be easily resolved by simply closing his eyes and jumping in. Babies are remarkably resilient little creatures and there’s no substitute for on the job training. In addition, your husband’s behavior with your niece and nephews pretty well proves that he’s got good instincts. Kids have an uncanny ability to identify adults who like being with children and they wouldn’t “love him to death” if he didn’t.

There’s a good chance that your husband is concerned about how his age will factor into his parenting. Another reasonable theme. While there’s no question that his back and knees aren’t as well suited to wrestling with kids as they were 20 years ago, there are plenty of other ways to be involved. Many of the “older” dads in my research told me that while they had less of a physical relationship with their kids, they felt that they had an especially strong emotional bond. In part that was because they were able to spend a lot of time reading, talking, teaching, mentoring, volunteering in their children’s classrooms, and getting to know their children’s friends.

As far as what you can do? Be patient. As a lot of questions, point out all the great parenting traits he has, and make sure your sock drawer is ready.