Anyone who spends any time with new parents will often hear two sides of the same story. One parent feels like the other isn’t pulling their fair share of the workload while the other, often a breastfeeding mum, feels like she’s a 24-7 milk machine with little support.
Other times one partner feels useless, helpless, uninvolved, or like they can’t do anything right, even when they want to be a big part of their child’s life. These conversations often happen at the same time, with the same couples, with neither knowing how the other feels, and with most of these sentiments being shared under their breath.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news here, but a lot of the time the mismatch of work and expectations is both of their faults.
It’s important to keep in mind when getting parents on board to help out with child care that this isn’t simply another “chore” to be checked off a list like cleaning the attic or picking up the dry cleaning. No, one parent watching the baby for a few hours is not babysitting or doing the other parent a favor – it’s just parenting, because mom and dad are both parents.
When a couple maintains a score-keeping dynamic surrounding parenting it’s not good for them or the family they’ve created. The good news is that couples stuck i this epic battle can change this whether they’re expecting, have an infant, a toddler, or even a little kid. Here are 15 ways to get dad more involved with baby, right from the moment those blue lines appear on the stick.
15Make Decisions About Baby Together, The Earlier The Better
By dividing up decisions about child-rearing so that mom isn’t always in the driver’s seat, dad is certain to feel like his voice is being heard, which is beneficial to the family dynamic. Planning for the arrival of your little bundle of joy together just makes sense.
Work together to create a theme that you both like for the nursery by registering at baby stores as a team and putting in little touches that are meaningful to you both. Be sure to let him pick out a baby bag that’s in his style so when he’s out with baby he’s carrying a bag that he likes and is comfortable with.
Have discussions about important decisions you’ll face surrounding baby together as opposed to making a unilateral decision on your own. Find out how he feels about finding out gender ahead of time, co-sleeping, circumcision, and all of the other important decisions you’ll face in the early days of parenthood together in regular discussions, and make your decisions as a unified team.
14Include Him In The Appointments
While many dads won’t be able to attend all of the prenatal appointments with mom, make sure you let him know what’s happening at each appointment so he can get involved. Many dads want to be there the first time the doctor uses the Doppler to hear the heartbeat, and when it’s likely that the ultrasound will reveal whether a baby girl or boy is on their way!
If there are particular appointments where you feel you’ll need extra support, let him know so he can make the time to be there. He’s not a mind reader, so it’s best to tell him so he knows your expectations. Once baby arrives it’s also important to bring dad along to well child checkups. This way dad can learn how baby is growing, ask any questions he has, and act as an extra set of hands to comfort during the first set of shots.
13Encourage Him To Be Connected Early On, Even When Things Seem To Be Focused On “Mom”
One of the reasons why men may have difficulty connecting with their newborn baby is because in the early days there is very little for them to do. Breastfeeding moms spend many hours feeding the baby, leaving dad with the tasks of trying to calm or soothe a crying baby or literally holding the diaper bag.
This is one of the many reasons some men can find infants intimidating, boring, or associate them with high work and little reward. It is very normal for a dad to be less involved with a baby until they are a toddler, or until the next child comes along when they provide extra attention to the older child while mom cares for the newborn.
There are many ways to get him more involved, but understand that there are certain tasks that he physically can’t do, especially if you’re exclusively breastfeeding, and that doesn’t make him a bad father.
12Ask Him To Take On Specific Baby Tasks
Before baby arrives, and you’re both absolutely exhausted, talk to him about how he envisions the first year or so of parenthood going, including his role. A lot of fathers will base their perception of parenthood on what they saw in their own home, as he may have an idea of how he wants to be a “dad” based on fond memories from his own childhood.
It’s important to make sure that dad doesn’t end up with all of the colic-ridden, screaming, garbage shifts with the baby. Maybe he wants to be in charge of bath and bedtime routine, maybe he’s a morning person or night owl and pictures himself taking on that feeding with his child. Talk it out together to figure out what will work for both of you and don’t be afraid to adjust it based on both your needs and baby’s needs.
11Get Baby And Dad An Activity To Do Together
Most dads love to play with their children, it’s something fun that often comes naturally to many fathers. Signing dad up for a weekly song class, swimming class or other fun activity will get him involved, increase his confidence in solo time with baby, and will get everyone out of the house so mom can enjoy a little peace and quiet.
If an organized activity isn’t a preference consider looking into dad going grocery shopping each week with baby, taking baby out for some bike rides, or something else that they can enjoy together that will become their ritual. A lot of dads like being out solo in public with a baby because they get to show off their child to the world.
If dad doesn’t want to go out, consider signing up for something yourself, without baby, so you can enjoy a weekly yoga class, coffee with a friend, or whatever else to get you out and having some separation from your new gig as a mom.
10Let Him Practice Skin-T0-Skin
There’s a fair share of “dirty work” in parenting to go around, but remember this isn’t always quality time. Moms will often enjoy a lot of bonding time with baby while they feed them, which makes it a little more challenging for dad to log the same number of quality hours with the little one.
By encouraging dad to practice some skin-to-skin time with baby (getting dad to take off his shirt while he’s holding or “wearing” baby) they’ll both enjoy some increased bonding. This will also get baby better used to the smells of dad, sound of his heartbeat and voice, which baby has had from mom the entire time in the womb.
Dad can talk to or even sing to the baby during these rare hours when baby is awake. This is also a great opportunity to take some father/daughter/father/son pictures that they can both cherish.
9Appreciate The Effort He Puts In
Little things we do for each other in a relationship add up. The kindness and gratitude for these efforts can go a really long way, and will set the right example for your child as they get older. If one person is able to stop in at the store on the way home, send a text to your partner to see if they need anything.
Make each other lunch without being asked, and be sure to thank your partner when they do this for you! When you show your partner that you noticed that he cleaned the kitchen, even if he didn’t do it the exact same way you would, odds are he’s going to be more likely to pick up the broom again next time!
Positive reinforcement doesn’t just work on kids, it works on all of us. Remember to say please and thank you, and be vocal about how happy these small gestures make you.
Have you ever had a boss who stood over your shoulder criticizing what you’re doing? It’s the worst. Don’t be that “boss” to your husband. Don’t cringe, gasp or offer “helpful hints” every time he holds, feeds, changes a diaper, or is parenting. It’s not fair.
Set him up for success by ensuring he has all of the supplies he needs when he’s “on shift” but then walk away, even if it isn’t easy. Different isn’t bad, and as long as he isn’t doing anything that will harm baby keep your mouth shut. How will he ever get a chance to find his parenting groove if you’re sitting in the peanut gallery critiquing his swaddling skills?
Stepping back will be valuable practice for when you have a toddler who wants to do something by themselves, so leave him the space he needs to learn and thrive. You didn’t need a parenting coach and neither does he.
7Keep His Viewpoint In Mind
Someone recently recounted advice they received from a marriage counsellor to me: things aren’t often going to be 50-50 in your marriage, or in parenting, but it should balance one way or another over the course of your marriage. After all, this isn’t a sprint measured in one day.
Sometimes one parent will have a big deadline at work and the other will be relied upon for more daycare pick-ups, laundry, and dinner preparation, and that’s okay. Research has determined that most women measure how their husbands contribute to what they do around the home to what they do.
On this type of comparison the majority of husbands fall short, but a lot of dads compare what they do to how their own fathers contributed to their home, and how their peers and co-workers contribute. Based on the male assessment most dads feel like they’re doing a fantastic job contributing surrounding household and family related responsibilities.
6Have Book Family Time
It’s easy to get sucked up into the monotony and routine of parenthood, particularly in the early days. Take some time to enjoy fun, family activities together. Little things like scheduling family photographs, going for a walk together every Sunday, and creating your own rituals will help you connect as a family unit.
Even something as simple and silly as reading a story together or singing a lullaby as a family each night will become something that you’ll begin to look forward to. There is nothing better in my house than hearing my husband read our nightly bedtime story to our five-year old twins.
The stories are different now that they’re older, but nothing beats hearing their giggles as I cuddle with them while dad reads the new story of choice (right now it’s the Captain Underpants series). Something as simple as this family routine has become one of my favorite moments each day.
5Make The Relationship A Priority
If dad is feeling ditched for baby, odds are he’s going to resent the time and attention baby is getting, even if he doesn’t realize it. You were a team of two before baby arrived, so why put your relationship on the back burner just because baby makes three?
A regular date night, even if it’s an ordered in dinner once baby is in bed is an excellent way to reconnect as a couple. It can enhance your communication, have novelty to try new things (like check out that movie you want to see, catch a sporting event, or try that cool new arcade pub that just opened up), can rekindle the spark over the long term, and can relieve some of the stress of parenting since it is a break you can enjoy together.
Couples who want to get out but can’t afford a sitter can sometimes “trade” babysitting nights with other couples or family members to ensure that costs are lessened and everyone still gets a night out.
4Get Out Once In A While
Get out and do things separately. By getting time to yourselves to focus on your hobbies you’ll both come back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. This will give you more to talk about when you reconnect that doesn’t involve the day to day with baby, and will allow you both to enjoy some independent time with baby.
By both getting some downtime you’ll each have a chance to focus on other passions and you won’t end up resenting the other person when they go out for their weekly softball game. By getting out there with other grownups you can strengthen your friendships and other relationships that often also take a backseat when children arrive.
Just because you have less free time doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy quality free time. A couple of hours out a week is much better for both of you than mindless time spent playing on your smartphone as a “break” from baby.
3Use Appropriate Language When Asking For More Help!
Absolute phrasing is not a constructive way to get what you want, particularly if you want dad to get more involved. When you use words like “never” or “always” it’s going to put your partner on the defence, naturally, because wouldn’t that upset you too?
If you wait to talk to him about your expectations until the point you’re frustrated, odds are you’ll be more likely to say that, “He’s always playing video games” or “never helping to make dinner”.
Look at the areas where he’s been successfully contributing to your family life and look at building on that, rather than tearing down what he is or isn’t doing. Yet again, score keeping doesn’t help solve any problems, it will just make both parents annoyed instead of just one.
If you feel like you’re doing more disciplining while he gets to be “fun dad” talk to him about it, when you are both calm and you aren’t face on with a series of timeouts for your terrible twos prone toddler.
2 Give Up Some Control
As a pretty stereotypical Virgo I understand the appeal of control. I loved being needed by my children, and hate to admit it, but it felt really good that I could supply things like milk for my children that no one else could. No matter how good this felt, it was important to understand that I needed to make room for my husband to participate in parenting as well.
It’s unfair for us to assume that our partners are not interested or incompetent. Odds are they knew just as much as you did when you brought baby home. If you’re putting out a “back off dad this is my job” vibe, odds are most men will feel this and step back, because it’s easier than an uphill battle surrounding who baby needs more.
Again, this isn’t a competition. Your child will love both of you, even if dad bottle feeds baby sometimes.
1Be Role Models Together
This generation of men is the first that is expected to take an active role in the home, and this takes a little bit of adjustment. One of the many reasons I feel lucky that I had twins is because I didn’t have time to second guess routines and roles, we both just dove in.
Someone once told me that the best part of being a parent of multiples is that it gives you the permission to be the parent you want to be, not the one you think you should be. For us this meant both of us very involved with feeding, diapers, doctor’s appointments and you name it, because we are a team.
By both of us training for parenthood together we both became confident in our abilities as parents. Let both of your parenting styles act as examples to your children helping you both make the journey into parenthood. My heart swells with pride when my husband corrects people who ask him if he’s babysitting and he responds, “No. I’m parenting.”
Sources: Today's Parent, The Bump, Parenting
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