By: Dr. Gregory Popcak
Often, new parents ask me, “If mom is nursing and being the primary care-giver to the baby, what’s dad’s job in all this? How does he get to bond with the baby?” As your child grows and develops, he or she will be drawing closer and closer to Dad as a matter of course. In the meantime, dads have several contributions you need to make in order for your wife, your marriage, your child and your home to actually flourish instead of merely struggle though.
1. Take the Initiative in Baby Care You Can Do.
It is essential for you to begin developing your relationship with your child from the very first moments of birth. The best way to do this is to be available to meet all the needs of your child that your wife is not biologically equipped to handle better (i.e. feeding). In our home, that usually translates into several duties for me. First, since my wife does all the nursing, I get the diapers. Yes, it’s stinky. But it can be fun too. Having the chance to rub my baby’s feet on my beard, watching the baby giggle and wiggle when I “zerbert” (make a “raspberry” sound against the baby’s skin) her bellybutton, making goo goo faces with my baby and meeting her eyes with mine are all experiences that are worth the price I pay by undergoing thirty seconds of “P.U.!” Bath time can also be lots of fun for dad and baby. Plus, it gives mom a few moments of much needed rest.
Likewise, it is important for me to spend as much time as my baby will allow me to spend cuddling, “wearing” the baby in a sling, and playing with him or her. Some fathers are content to play with the baby as long as he or she is quiet, but as soon as the child begins to fuss he immediately passes him off to mom. Some moms are just as bad, taking the baby away as soon as the child begins fussing–making the father feel like an incompent boob in the process. It is better to let dads struggle with finding their own ways to comfort baby so that both the child and the father can get used to their rhythms and own, unique music. Of course if the child begins wailing, or it is obvious that he is hungry, mom should be given her shot at comforting the child. But take care not to do this at the expense of the father’s feelings of competence surrounding his ability to bond with his child. Dad’s, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Besides nursing, women don’t know any more about comforting babies than you do. There are no secret “girl meetings” about infant care any more than there are secret “boy meetings” about child care. Your wives learn their baby comforting repertoire the same way you do, through trail and error. And they have to learn a new repertoire which each new baby. Take the time you need to learn your baby’s cues, and develop your own unique ways to fulfill the needs those cues represent. In this way, you will be able to provide exceptional care to your wife and your child; giving the former a much needed break and giving the latter a rewarding experience as he begins to venture out of the world of his mother’s arms, and learn about the world in yours.
Beyond this, I consider it my job to help my wife feel put together every day. Moms who do this kind of “attachment” parenting without the proper support from their husbands can get burned out. They can feel guilty getting a shower or going to the bathroom alone because the baby is crying while they do it. Of course, the creative mom can work around some of this (for example, by playing peek-a-boo with the shower curtain while she is bathing) but nothing takes the place of a present father to help mom maintain some sense of herself and her sanity. When our children are infants, besides diaper duty, I take advantage of this very special time to cuddle and play with the baby while my wife does what she needs to do to make herself feel somewhat “pulled together.”
2. Take Charge of Your Relationship While Protecting the Bond with Baby.
Your child will be a constant reminder to your wife of her motherhood. You must be an equally devoted reminder to your wife of her youthfulness, attractiveness, intelligence and femininity. Some men try to do this by nagging, “When are you going to spend some time with meeeee?” Or by constantly nagging the wife, saying, “Don’t forget about me! Why don’t you leave the baby with a sitter so we can get some time?” This never works. It only makes the woman feel like she has even more demands to meet. The only way to successfully solve this problem is for you to be as giving to your wife as she is to your child. First, try to keep in mind that your wife might be feeling somewhat guilty that she can’t be there for you the way she would like to be. Let her know that the most important way she can love you is by being a good mom to your child and in the meantime, you are going to take care of her. This might seem paradoxical to you. After all, you want more time with your wife not less. The only way to get this is not to demand her attention, but to invite it as a loving response to your loving response. In plain English, when you are stressed, to whom are you more likely to show affection, a person who gives you a “things to do” list or a person who cleans your house, cooks you dinner, buys you a rose and gives you a neck massage? You get my point.
Make it your business to be present to your wife as much as possible. Cut back on some of your commitments. You need to be as available to her as she is to your baby. Your wife may be struggling with feelings of “losing herself” to her motherhood. This is a natural concern, and with time and husbandly support, it will evolve into your wife’s ability to integrate her motherhood with her personhood. For the time being, the best way for you to support her in this is to join her as intimately as you can in the parenting role. It will be difficult for your wife to get through this phase without resenting your baby or you if you are out golfing, playing, socializing, traveling, or even working too much instead of being home to support her and your child. Your presence is the best indicator of the value you place on her motherhood and the worth of your children. For a while, you may need to back off some of your hobbies, and other acquaintances in order to take the time you need to nurture your wife and your marriage through this transition.
I believe it is also important for husbands to increase their capacity for non-sexual expressions of romance during this phase. Some men are used to their wives maintaining the relationship in general, and experience resentment when their children prevent their wives from doing their “job” of nurturing the marriage. Guess what, dads? If you’ve been hanging back, its your turn now. God is giving you the opportunity to practice self-donation by developing all those relationship skills you were able to coast through before because your wife’s efforts were letting you off the hook. You can either accept God’s challenge and reap the rewards of the exceptional intimacy in your marriage that results. Or, you may refuse God’s challenge and devolve into that quiet resentment experienced by so many husbands and wives who say, “It just isn’t the same once you have kids.” Your marriage, your choice. Choose well. For those dads who are up to the challenge, this is your time to shine. Communicate your love for your bride through all of her senses. Tell her how much you love her, one hundred time a day–even if it seems redundant. She needs to know it and you need to tell her. Stimulate her intellectually (by reading aloud together or conversation or some other creative venue). Many people will be treating your wife as if she has contracted maternal brain rot. She needs to know that you do not agree with those people.
Show her that you love her. Make eye contact with her when she speaks. She needs to know that she is still interesting to you. Look at her when she’s nursing your baby and let her know how beautiful it is to you. She needs to know that you like this new role she has. Write her a love note. Buy her the traditional cards and flowers and seek out other, even more creative ways to show your love for her, all the while–and this can be the tricky part–resisting the evil temptation to imply by your attitude that you expect to be “paid” for your efforts with sex. Touch her. Often you hear that new and nursing mothers feel “all touched out.” Of course, you will have to get your wife’s feedback on this, but many times I find that new and nursing moms don’t mind being touched unless that touch implies that they must perform sexually in some way. The transition from new, physically sore, breastfeeding mom to seductive vixen is a difficult one that often takes more energy than most new moms feel they have. If she tenses up when you touch her, let her know that you expect nothing from her except to lie back and let you give her a neck, shoulder, whatever, rub. Take care of her and follow her lead. Your gentle, patient and mature response will be rewarded with her own loving response when she feels enabled by your caring for her needs. You may soon find yourself in the enviable position of having a better post-partum love life than a pre-partum one. It is possible with some loving attention on your part. Don’t hide behind that pseudo-macho excuse that “mushy stuff” isn’t for you. If romance and affection don’t come naturally to you, it is time to learn. I recommend the books, For Better…FOREVER!, Isn’t it Romantic, and Creative Dating for starters. Of course, there are many other titles like this in your local bookstore. Make the investment in your marriage by learning how to give more of yourself.
3. Cheerfully Pick Up Any Slack Around the House
The primary job of a new mother is to nurture her baby. You can hire someone to clean your toilets, and dust your furniture, or better yet, a dad can jump in and do those things himself, but you cannot hire someone else to nurture your baby. Admittedly, you may be able to find someone to supervise your child, change his diapers and make sure he doesn’t stick his tongue in a light socket, but no one will nurture a baby like a new mom. If your wife has been primarily responsible for maintaining the home, it is time for you to do more than “help” around the house. You will need to learn to be a cheerful partner when it comes to identifying and completing household chores…Dad’s play an essential role both in taking care of baby and taking care of the marriage. The dad who embraces his role is an incredible blessing to his wife and family. For any additional help with your transition into parenthood with your partner, give your PaxCare Tele-Coach a call today. We can provide you with the skills you need to succeed.