What About the Papas?
Dads get a lot of flack for just “being there” once the baby is born; useless nipple memes, anyone? They also get significantly less attention than moms after a baby is born. In my opinion, the mom isn’t getting enough attention and the dad is getting even less. We all spend nine to ten months preparing to welcome a new life into our home and still not knowing exactly what to expect. The parents (mostly the mother) are showered with congratulations and gifts right up until the baby is born and then it’s all about the baby. The baby is new, it’s cute, and it’s snuggly. After the first rounds of visitors die down, it’s you and your partner and the baby or babies. Dads can feel neglected and exhausted in their new role; maybe not replaced but certainly less important. That role adjustment can be tough no matter how long you’ve been together. Unfortunately, not one person can tell you what a child will do to your relationship. For some couples, the relationship immediately improves and gets stronger. For others, it can expose the places you need to work on to create a more solid relationship. For the vast majority of us, it’s both. Babies are hard. All of them. I don’t care if they sleep through the night at 5 weeks old. I don’t care if they hardly fuss during a diaper change, adding even one member to your family is a lot of people.
So here are five big things you can do to help encourage the bond between the dad and the baby and help your relationship adjust to the new family dynamics.
Skin to Skin
It’s not just for moms! Once we were out of the hospital, my husband was more than happy to go shirtless and hold Lucas. A diaper change and a cuddle went a long way and gave me time to pee or grab a few bites of food. It’s great for bonding; the baby has been hearing their voice for months and getting to know the way they feel and smell is just as important for the two of them.
Whatever your partner does well during those first few weeks, tell them. Yes, you’re the one doing the heavy lifting, literally, your boobs are heavy. Tom had never changed a diaper until we had Lucas but he was a champion swaddler. Our baby was a snug little burrito every time he did the swaddling. It reminded him that the baby needed him just as much. Even if it just so he’d be wrapped up correctly before bed. Your partner will only feel useless if they feel there is nothing they can do for the baby. You have the boobs so you know all the things. You did the work, you deserve all the praise and… YOU DO. Hopefully your partner verbally acknowledges all that you’ve done. But don’t forget, they are in this with you every step of the way and they deserve some recognition too. Not a popular opinion according to media and memes but it really does help to let them know they’re effort and work is seen.
Chances are, your partner is not a mind reader and neither are you. So if you feel happy, overwhelmed, tired, or exhausted, say so. Check in with them and ask how they’re doing. Ask if they’re feeling extra stressed or feel connected to the baby. Ask them if they can spend some alone time with the baby so you can have 10 minutes to yourself. If you need more than 10 minutes, that’s OK too. I’m a nurturer and good at making sure others have what they need. But I struggle with communicating my own needs, in and out of baby-rearing. I think many moms are like that but it’s something I’m working on getting better at. Babies need us to be good at communicating our feelings so that they can be good at communicating theirs. Ultimately, asking my partner to spend time with the baby so I could do things for myself has made them super tight. Early on, it stressed him out because he wasn’t sure what the baby wanted and I always seemed to know. We all know that I did not but I did my best to fake it or figure it out. However, Tom has been his favorite person from very early on and it’s continued to this day. Mama definitely gets her shine but he knows we’re both there for him.
Give yourselves the gift of time: time to adjust, alone time, and time together. Babies change constantly so you will constantly be adjusting. Give one another the grace and space to move through these changes as they come. One week the baby will be fussy and not sleeping, the next they’ll let you watch two whole episodes of Stranger Things. Alone time and time with your partner is paramount to a healthy relationship. About three weeks after we had Lucas, my husband and I were having a drink in the bathroom - the only place we knew we wouldn’t wake the baby in our tiny apartment. We laughed about our sleep deprivation, Tom’s mismatched socks (the only time that’s happened in four years) and how little we knew about what we were doing. We went out to meet up with friends together as a family. We met up with friends on our own. Sometimes it was planned and sometimes not. I will say, planned hangouts fair much better with a baby than spontaneous ones. We have had our fair share of arguments about who has more alone time and “free” time. But plans change, be flexible if you can and if you can’t wait an extra hour or two for your partner to get home that day, say so.
Divide and Conquer
In our house, I am not the vomit person, I’m the poop person! Lucky me! Changing poop diapers without getting it on something is like 50/50 with Tom. I have had to clean up a vomit-y kid three times and only the last time did I manage to do it without gloves and being angry. And that was only because I just had to get Lucas into a new outfit and Tom did the rest. Cleaning up vomit mostly makes me angry because they make the carseat with 10,000 crevices, when we know kids get sick! And why does it take forever for the smell to dissipate?! Just why?! Anyway, I can change a poop diaper before the smell ever reaches my nose. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. We know what we’re good at and we play that up. We also know who’s the disciplinarian and who’s the parent you go to when you want something. It’s good to know that now so that you can have one another’s back.
I hate to say teamwork makes the dreamwork but it does. Your baby was created out of love. You want your partner to continue to feel that love. You may have a few less sunset Instagram moments during these changes but your partner will continue to feel appreciated, loved, and needed. The love in those moments is still there, you may have to work a little harder to make sure its shown but it’s worth it. Your baby deserves two parents who feel confident in their abilities to parent and to see the love that created them between those two people.