With Father’s Day coming up, I have been giving a lot of thought to the role that dad’s play for new moms. I say dads, but I of course realize that in some two parent households, the other parent may not always be a dad. It goes without saying that there is no one right way or dynamic to raise a family. For the sake of less confusion, I will refer to the parent who plays a smaller role as a caretaker as Dad. I find that even in single sex families, one parent often takes on the bulk of the child-related responsibilities. It is rare where there is an equal distribution of child rearing and general household “work.” For those couples of have found that equality, congratulations! I’m impressed and I will sign up for any class you teach on how to make this happen.
So often I hear from moms that their partners often don’t feel the same connection with their child or don’t even have the same level of interest in their new baby that they may have expected them to have. This is not to say that dads don’t love or care about their babies. They most certainly do, but the early weeks after having a baby are all about trial and error and figuring out what works for your individual child. Of course, as many new parents know, what works is often a moving target so the more time you put in, the more experience you will have to guide you when it comes time to decipher what exactly your baby needs at any moment and then problem solving what to do about it. When dads are at work for many of your child’s waking moments, they simply can’t log the hours that moms do while on maternity leave or when staying home permanently. I remind moms all the time that developing your instincts as a mom is all about on the job training. It’s easier to feel that connection to your baby when you begin to have a certain level of competence at care taking. Additionally, small babies don’t typically interact that much with their parents (the first interaction doesn’t usually come until 6-8 weeks with the beginning of smiles) so sometimes dads simply don’t know what to do with their babies in those early months.
Here are some tips to help dads feel more connected and involved with their babies:
- Find a routine that can be all his. For instance, when he gets home from work, it’s daddy-baby bath time. This becomes a special time for the two of them, and it also gives mom a much-needed break. This means resist the urge to micromanage! Even if he doesn’t do things the way you would, it’s okay. Let them figure out their own rhythm and routines. Find other tasks that can be his job to perfect. Dads are great at swaddling and can often burrito babies tighter then moms, making for longer stretches of sleep for everyone.
- Give him some space. If you are breastfeeding, you know you have a sure fire way of soothing your baby but since dad can’t do this, he needs to figure out his own tools. Often being nearby makes it harder for your baby to accept soothing by other means. Again, even though he doesn’t soothe your baby the same way you do, it doesn’t mean that it is wrong. If you are comfortable (or even if this feels slightly outside of your comfort zone), give him a few hours on his own. Everyone will be fine. He will learn ways to handle a fussy baby, you will get some much needed time to yourself, and he will also gain a greater appreciation for the work you do as a mom. When you get home though, resist the urge to criticize about the state of the house. His job was to care for the baby, expecting him to accomplish all the tasks you do while also caring for the baby is above and beyond for most dads.
- Don’t forget about skin to skin contact with Dad! Pregnant and new moms hear so much information about the importance of skin to skin contact in the early weeks. Dads can do this too. Or as part of dad’s bath routine, make that a group bath and take a bath together. This is a great way for dads to bond with their babies. These are also opportunities to practice letting baby get used to dad’s soothing voice.
- Baby carriers work great for dads too. Okay, so some dads aren’t crazy about the thought of wrapping themselves up in a Moby wrap so then designate the Beco or Ergo carrier for dad to use. When you go out to run those weekend errands, let dad do the baby carrying.
- Let him become the expert too! In the early weeks, it’s easy to forget that dad is also a new parent and just as clueless as we moms are in the beginning. There are many things that dads can also become the expert at if given the chance. Sure, this sometimes means that there will be the “error” part of the trial and error equation but babies often respond differently to each of their parents. When he is unsuccessful, support rather then criticize. Your baby will tell him if he’s done something wrong. Parenting is a team effort that forces you to cooperate with your partner in ways that you may never have imagined before. The more you empower your partner in their role as a dad early on, the better teammate he will be.