Respecting and finding ways to empower the new father will go a long way toward ensuring that both parents work together to strengthen the family bond.
An expectant woman spends the better part of nine months gradually acclimating to the reality that her home will soon welcome a new baby. Early on, she reacts to the sight of raw chicken or the smell of steamed broccoli in ways she never imagined she would. Shortly thereafter, she’s forced to cinch the waist of her pants with a safety pin instead of a button. Before she knows it, she’s being kicked and punched (usually in the wee hours of the night) by a growing person eager to remind her that the days of shopping at the supermarket without having to purchase diapers or pureed peas are almost behind her. When that baby finally makes an appearance, more relief is usually involved than surprise.
The new father, on the other hand, might understandably feel a bit unsure as to where exactly the tiny, slippery, wailing being suddenly placed in his arms came from! After all, he watched his wife blossom, but didn’t feel the sensation of a baby growing inside of him. He may believe in his heart of hearts that he experienced “sympathy weight gain,” but he can’t blame any of it on the weight of a fetus, a placenta, or excess fluid. So when baby makes three, a dad might feel as though he’s been tossed into the Parenting River without a proper paddle, yet nevertheless needs to learn how to row as quickly as possible.
According to Armin Brott, parenting expert and author of The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-to-Be, “Probably the most common concern that new dads have is that they won’t know what to do with a baby, or that they’ll do something ‘wrong’ (whatever that means in their mind). Because boys typically don’t babysit as much as girls, many new dads have never had anything to do with babies before holding their own.”
Respecting this fact and finding ways to empower the new (and possibly a bit daunted) father will go a long way toward ensuring that both parents are contributing in ways that work to strengthen their bond as a family.
Buy Him a Book
Kim Black, mother of two-month-old twin girls, took this approach with her mate. “Before the babies were born, I bought him The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year, by Armin Brott. After the babies arrived, I bought books such as Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads, by Greenberg and Hayden, and She’s Had a Baby: And I’m Having a Meltdown, by James Barron. These books helped him realize that he wasn’t alone with his feelings as a new dad.”
Don’t wait until the baby is born to find ways to get your partner involved. Help him connect with your new baby by soliciting his input on the nursery, name selection, and equipment choices. Should you be horrified by his suggestions—as I was when my husband proposed a hunting theme for our nursery—politely redirect him to an activity such as narrowing options from an equipment catalog.
Don’t Be a Control Freak
A new mom is understandably tired and often has an idea in her mind as to how the baby should be cared for. Because she and her spouse may not have discussed their perspectives on how many feedings each will be in charge of, who will change diapersin the middle of the night, or how mom might be able to get a break now and then, the stress encountered during the first few weeks can exacerbate these issues when they do arise.
According to Brott, “To start with, mom has to back off and let dad do things his way. Mom learned what works with babies by doing a lot of things that didn’t work. Dad has to have the leeway to make the same mistakes too, otherwise he’ll never develop the confidence that comes from experience. This is often very hard for moms to do, but it’s critical.”
Give Him Space
Brott also recommends, “Mom should avoid taking a crying baby or one who needs a diaper change away from Dad. Yes, she may be able to resolve the issue faster, but Dad needs the practice.”
Allowing your husband an opportunity to find his own way will benefit everyone long-term. “In the end,” comments Brott, “Mom and Dad will end up with two ways of soothing a babyinstead of just one.”
Black reveals, “I’m starting with baby steps. I’ll make a trip to the neighbor’s house and come home in thirty minutes or so. This way, I’m in close proximity in case he does need help. If I need to go for a longer period of time, I’ve found that just leaving him with one baby is not as overwhelming for him.”
Give Him a Job
Giving a new dad a task which he owns day-in and day-out will make him feel more like an integral part of the process than merely a helper now and then. Ben Branch, dad to six-month-old Elise, is in charge of part of her bedtime routine each night. “Book with Ben” is literally (no pun intended) the third and final step in the routine, and something both he and Elise really look forward to.
Other options: have Dad be in charge of Baby’s nighttime bath or feeding. Better yet, ask him what task he’d like to own! As much as I wish nature allowed men to be able to lactate at 4 AM, breastfeeding is really the only activity a dad cannot do with his new baby, so the options are almost without limit.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
It can be difficult to find a spare moment to talk when there’s a new baby in the house. In many cases, calm moments are deemed opportunities to catch a few winks before the baby needs to be fed, changed, rocked, or questioned as to what on earth he doesneed.
Not being clear on one another’s perspective, and not having an opportunity to chat about it, can cause unnecessary stress for a couple. Many times a dad is less involved because he feels that “his way of being with his baby is not as good as the mother’s,” notes Brott, and in return the mom believes that “he isn’t interested in getting involved.”
Advises Black, “I think the presentation of information has been key. Even though I’m so tired that I’m propping my eyelids with toothpicks, I have to remember he is trying. So when he is slow to go to a crying baby, I try to remember he is nervous, give him encouragement, and keep my patience in check.”
Brott concurs, “She should also praise him as much as possible. Many new dads feel a lack of confidence, and if they hear that they’re doing a good job, they’ll be back for more.”
Today’s reality is that on the whole, dads are more involved than they have ever been. I observe them with their broods as often in grocery stores as I do on playgrounds. They are involved because they want to be, even if they need a boost of confidence and a dose of direction in the beginning.
In fact, just the other day I tried to contain my praise for a dad who, with a toddler and a newborn in tow, was in the feminine hygiene aisle muttering quietly, “No wings … super absorbency … OK? … ” Without making eye contact (I didn’t want him to misinterpret the smile I couldn’t get rid of), I simply grabbed the box and handed it to him. And then my thoughts turned to his wife who was, with any luck, at home soaking in a bathtub overflowing with bubbles enjoying the contents of the latest issue of People magazine.