Can I make any parenting choices?
When you are separated from the mother of your baby, especially if she is the main carer and so spends the bigger proportion of time with them, you may feel that you don’t get to make any decisions and that you have to go along with the decisions she has already made
In terms of joint parenting decisions, a lot of it will depend on your relationship with your ex, and whether legally you both have parental responsibility. You may be able to come to agreements on how you will both do certain things, which you are both happy with.
Decisions which happen at birth
There are some parenting decisions which happen within the first few moments of your baby’s life – if you have an amicable relationship with your ex, you may be able to talk through some of these decisions before the birth and reach a mutual agreement on them.
If you are going to be at the birth, you may get to be there when they are even made or carried out.
Decisions such as:
- whether your baby has delayed cord clamping, and for how long
- if your baby has the vitamin k supplement at birth, and how it is administered
- if your baby has skin to skin at birth
- if your baby has other tests or checks done in the day/week after birth (such as the newborn check, the heel prick test, the hearing screening)
If your relationship is less amicable, then it may be more difficult to influence these decisions. While this can be frustrating, especially if you have strong feelings about something, it is important to remember that these are also the first decisions of many more to come, and if you want to try and be more involved in future decisions, then it will be important to try and prevent the development of arguments, which could lead to further bad feelings and exclusion from future decisions.
Big lifestyle decisions
If you have parental responsibility for your child, this gives you influence over some of the bigger parenting decisions about their life and care, such as where you’re child lives, goes to school, any religious practice and consenting or not to medical treatment.
To find out more about parental responsibility, and how to take steps to make sure you can be involved in this kind of decision making, check out <<Should my Name be on the Birth Certificate?>>
Decisions to agree on
If your baby does spend more time with your ex, for their benefit, it can be helpful to have an understanding from them of their daily routine – when they tend to take a nap, have lunch, and so forth. Babies learn through repetition and come to find routines very reassuring – therefore it will make things easier for them (and you!) if you are able to keep following this to some extent.
There will also be some choices which will be important to support – such as if your partner has chosen to breastfeed your baby. If your ex is breastfeeding, it does not stop you from seeing your baby, but it might just involve a bit more creativity between you both and some additional flexibility from you, for how to support that breastfeeding relationship in addition to your own important father/child relationship.
We discuss the issues in more detail at If my partner chooses to breastfeed, how might that affect me?
If you or your partner swaddles your baby, research also shows it is important to do this consistently. Swaddling is fantastic if practiced safely, so you would also need to make sure you were fully aware of how to do so and at what age you both need to stop swaddling your baby for the same reason.
Some decisions may have been made for specific health reasons, and so it is important to understand these. For example, if you partner has chosen to carry your baby in a sling as much as possible to support them dealing with colic, you may want to find out more about how this works, and also get a sling which you feel comfortable using to continue to support that. You could still make your own choice here about which sling you use, but may want to do some research into this, or go to a sling library to find out more about the options first. If your partner is using cloth wipes or nappies to help your little one overcome bad nappy rash (disposables do contain chemicals which can aggravate it in some babies) or is avoiding some foods to help tummy troubles, then these may be good decisions to also follow, but they still give you lots of room to decide what cloth nappies you might want to use, or what foods you will prepare for your baby.
Decisions which can differ
In some of the more practical day-to-day parenting choices, if there is no pre-existing health reason as outlined above, then you can choose your own preferences for when you are parenting.
Choices such as what kind of nappies you use, whether you choose to carry your baby in a sling or baby carrier, how you interact and bond with your baby, and so on. Making your own choices on these things, even if they are different from the choices your ex has made, will not negatively impact on your baby.
Do make sure when you are exploring your options and making your own choices, to just check the safety guidance and recommendations, so you can make a fully informed choice. As an example, many shops still sell Cot Bumpers but all guidance, including that from The Lullaby Trust, recommends not using these as they can be a suffocation hazard. It is up to you what you do on these kinds of decisions, but it is good to make sure that you know all the pros and cons first.
If you want to get a head start on working out what choices would best suit you, a good place to start is with antenatal classes – we look more at what these can include and the options available for single expectant dads at Should I go to antenatal classes on my own?