Like any other skill, learning to look after a baby takes time and practice.
One of the differences between mothers and fathers is that moms get a “head start” at parenting, partly because of biology — pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding — but also because they get more experience in baby care early in babyhood. So they learn the skills quickly.
You can learn too and the best way to learn is by doing. The challenge is that, compared to women, guys have to make more of a conscious decision (and effort) to become involved. It’s important to work with your partner on this too. Let her know that you need some time handling the baby so you can develop your skills.
Here’s the catch.
Some mothers find it surprisingly hard to ‘let’ their male partners look after the baby. Moms feel a lot of pressure (more than we do) to become good at looking after babies quickly. And they also have a strong drive to make sure their baby is OK. So some mothers want to do everything – or almost everything — themselves at first.
The trouble is that sometimes when the mother seems to want to do everything herself, the father backs off. He might think she doesn’t need or want his help or that his efforts aren’t appreciated. But then the Mom might start thinking her partner is not interested in looking after the baby. That can lead to a situation where Mom starts feeling resentful because the whole load is on her shoulders, Meanwhile, Dad feels out of the loop.
This doesn’t always happen. But, when it does, the father needs to take some initiative. Start by talking if over with your partner. Make sure she knows you want to be involved and that you want to get to know your baby.
Back Seat Driving
Let’s say you’ve started doing your share of baby care. Here’s another thing that can happen.
Sometimes, when you’re looking after the baby, changing a diaper or whatever, you might notice that ‘somebody,’ often seems to be looking over your shoulder. She might say you’re not dressing the baby quite right or that you didn’t get him clean enough. It might seem like she wants you do the job exactly the way she does it. Sometimes she might even whisk the baby away.
This is totally normal, at least one kind of normal. Some mothers just can’t help back seat driving. They are wired to make sure their baby is well cared for, so much so, that, at time, what it boils down to is, ‘If my baby’s not happy. I’m not happy.’
That’s a good thing. It helps them be good moms (although it puts pressure on new moms too). But some of the things mothers do as a result can feel like interference to fathers.
How to respond to back seat driving.
- Don’t take it personally. It’s at least as much about her as it is about you.
- Pay attention to what she says. She could be right. Fathers often learn a lot about baby care from their partners.
- Politely say something like. “You know, I’d really like to figure out my own way of doing this. I’ll be careful and I think the baby can handle me doing things a little differently.”
- If she takes the baby away, suck it up, and wait for your next chance.
- Be quietly persistent in your efforts to show her that you want to get hands-on experience.
The most important piece of advice. Don’t give up. Keep working at developing your Dad skills. Once your partner develops confidence in your skills, it will be easier for her to back off when you are looking after the baby.
And she will be very happy to have a partner who knows what he’s doing.
Looking after your baby is not just work that needs to be done, it’s also how you get to know her. The more time you spend caring for your baby, the more your skills will develop. The more skilled you are, the more confident you’ll be. The more confident you are the more you’ll enjoy your baby.
So get in there and become involved in caregiving. But don’t compete with your partner, work with her. An essential part of being a good father is good teamwork with your partner.
Master of your domain
One thing that helps some fathers develop confidence is finding one part of the maintenance routine that can be Dad’s thing — something he does regularly and become really confident in doing. For some fathers bath time becomes Dad’s domain. But it can be something else – burping, a walk with the baby in the baby carrier after dinner or even just sitting with the baby on your chest as you watch TV. Or maybe you want to be involved in everything. The point is, put some time and effort into finding at least one part of the maintenance routine that is comfortable for you.
Special Dad Hold.
This a great dad hold. Moms can do it to but it seems to work particularly well with a man’s meaty forearm.
Hold the baby along your arm with your hand under his crotch (to keep him secure) and his head turned away from you. It’s a little like a football hold except you’re holding him across your body rather than against your side. His cheek is nestled against the fleshy part of your arm beside the elbow. This gives him a bit of skin-to-skin contact (which is good for infants). This way of holding also puts gentle pressure on the baby’s tummy, which might help if he’s gassy. Your free hand can rub or pat his back. Lastly, it lets him look out at the world, and other people, and still be secure in your arms.