10 Ways New Dads Can Foster a Relationship with Their Child
- Lori Wildenberg Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2018 12 Nov
So you are a new dad. Congratulations! You feel all the feels. Your emotions bounce from pride in your new role to fear regarding the responsibility attached to it. You may even feel somewhat ambivalent about being a dad. Becoming a father is a profound and sometimes lonely transition. Bringing a baby into your home is perhaps the biggest change in your adult life. So many things shift: your personal time, your relationship with your spouse, your sleep, and even the set up of your home.
Being a parent can be a daunting and seemingly overwhelming job. You hold your babe and realize you and his mom are this tiny person’s whole world. You are totally responsible for a human who can do nothing for himself.
Not only is being a new parent challenging, but just think about how being a baby is hard work too. That new little bundle fully depends on other humans to meet his needs. The only way he knows to communicate his needs or discomfort is to cry. Your previously peaceful home is now filled with hunger wails and wet diaper fussing.
Everything is new for you and your precious bundle. The things you previously took for granted like sleep and a personal time schedule are now unpredictable. You can no longer just grab your wallet and keys and leave your house on a moment’s notice. Now you have to plan even a short outing as if you are camping in the wilderness for a week.
Does this scene sound familiar? You decide to get out the door by 10:15 AM. The diaper bag is at the ready, strategically placed next to the door so it won’t be forgotten. Every possible contingency is anticipated. You have the bottles, diapers, wipes, ointment, thermometer, formula, extra clothing, a couple blankets, and two pacifiers. You confidently make your way to the car, with your babe securely placed in his car seat. Then you inhale an unpleasant odor. Your child has just had a poorly timed bowel movement.
You realize you have now entered The Baby Zone, where time is totally relative— dictated and determined by a human who can’t even walk or talk. Parenthood takes planning and flexibility to a new level of proficiency.
Babies don’t just affect schedules—they also impact relationships. It is somewhat of a surprise to most dads that the new baby takes almost all of the new mom’s attention and time. She is fully preoccupied with caring for the baby. A dad may discover a side benefit to this party of three. Even though the marital relationship shifts a bit, his wife’s love and appreciation for him deepens as she watches him take on his daddy role and lovingly care for their child. Parents who act as a team by supporting and encouraging each other will be better able to handle the stress of less sleep and will be more equipped to adjust an altered spousal relationship.
The enormity of the parental responsibility and other stressors like a difficult job or a move have the potential to affect attachment. Bonding to your child may take time. Rather than feel guilt over a belated attachment, attempt to give yourself and your baby grace. Neither one of you has ever been a dad or baby before. Push that shame aside and rise to the occasion. Take the challenge your new baby presents and discover how to be a family of three. Do it whether or not you feel like it. Your little one and spouse are counting on you.
To be a family requires relationship, commitment, and connection. This can be a tall order especially in the beginning. There is little positive interaction in the first few months: no baby smiling or laughing. Hang in there, Daddy. Be confident that the bonding will come. The only way to grow attachment is to spend time with and care for your baby. Resist the urge to pull back when your baby cries while you are caring for him. The crying isn’t a reflection of how he feels about you but rather an indication of the little one’s comfort level. He could have a belly ache, he’s too hot or too cold, hungry, over stimulated, wet, any number of things. It’s up to the parent to be the detective and attempt to solve the mystery of the wailing. If the parent pulls back, he communicates rejection to the child. Over time, the baby will pick up on this and respond to it.
Lack of sleep, crying, schedule interruptions, and relationship changes could interfere with bonding unless Dad chooses to be proactive and not take this behavior personally. When parents are intentional with their interaction with their baby, being a dad or mom is much more satisfying. Parents must lead the way in creating a strong and enjoyable relationship between themselves and their child. Bonding typically happens sooner for the mama. The pregnancy, the birth, and the nursing all physically help her emotionally bond to the new little one.
So here are 10 ways a new daddy can proactively create a strong positive bond with his child:
- Babies love being outside. Rather than use the stroller put your little in in a carrier or sling. Keep your bundle of joy close to you. When doing chores around the home, wear your child on your chest so you can bond and clean at the same time!
- Infants respond to touch. Do the skin-to-skin contact or infant massage. Stroke his head to soothe him. This reduces stress in both baby and parent while improving relationship. When he’s settled and content massage his arms, legs, and tummy. (Don’t use the massage technique with a little one who is fussing.)
- Hold your baby close so he feels safe and secure. Rock him, dance with him, do the baby sway, or bounce him on your knee. Babies need to be held, cuddled, and bounced. They crave it. Movement like gently jostling or jiggling develops balance and the feeling of security.
- Change his diapers and dress him. Do your best to make this time fun and pleasant. Many infants don’t initially enjoy diaper changing. Show your child how it can be fun. Hand him a toy to distract him. Kiss those little toes, talk, or sing to him while doing this. The more you change him, the faster you will be at this task. (Studies have even shown that dads who regularly change diapers have stronger and more satisfying marriages.)
- Bottle feed him and give Mommy a little break. Gaze into his eyes. Babies can see 8-15 inches, just the perfect distance when holding your infant while feeding. In God’s great wisdom He designed babies to see just the right distance when being fed and to have a preference to look at faces rather than objects. Look into your little guy’s eyes to connect.
- Play with your child and make repetitive sounds. These activities develop language skills. Make sounds like: “Mama, Dada, Nana, and Papa.” Engage in some fun and simple games like peek-a-boo and this little piggy went to market. Go ahead and make silly faces to help with parent-child connection. Enjoyable moments draw humans together. Include playtime as a part of your daily routine. This way the child will come to expect and anticipate fun time with dad.
- Participate in the bath and bedtime routine. Dads are often more fun than moms when it comes to bath time. Daddies don’t seem to mind a little extra water mess. After your little is all dried off and is in his jammies, snuggle your baby while reading to him. This is a good bedtime routine.
- Take a sick day if your little one is under the weather. Be the one to take him to the doctor. A nurturing and protective spirit is fostered within the adult who cares for a sick child. One-on-one bonding between daddy and baby is important. This is more easily done when mommy is not around, otherwise the little one will most likely prefer to have momma be the one in charge.
- Speak blessings and God’s promises over your babe each day. “You are a child of God.” “You are precious in God’s sight.” “Jesus loves you.” “You are a son or daughter of the King.” “You are perfectly and wonderfully made.” “God is with you.” “You are strong and courageous.” “God has given you gifts and talents. Use them to His glory.’” “You are completely loved and fully known by God.” “I love you.” “You are my child.”
- Pray prayers of thankfulness over your child. “Lord God thank You for the baby You have blessed us with. He is precious to me. Thank You that You made a way for him to communicate his needs. Thank You for his toothless grin and his sparkling eyes. Thank you that he teaches me to be a better man.”
Don’t give into the desire to give up. Parenting isn’t always a fun job. Be responsive to your child’s look, cry, and reach. He is attempting to connect with you! When parents respond to their baby’s efforts it helps with attachment, social-emotional development, and language skills. By persistently hanging in there through the tougher moments you communicate to your baby you will always be there for him. Attachment doesn’t mean you feel great happiness all the time. Instead, it is a choice to be a committed parent who will protect his child with his life; on some level the child senses this. Security builds a strong bond of trust between father and child. Kids need a solid and unshakeable commitment from their parents. Our Heavenly Father promises He will never leave nor forsake us. This is the parental plumb line.
God hard-wires us for connection. Humans have a basic need need to be loved and cared for. It may not be instinctual to love and care for a child, but this can be developed. When a parent and child interact, the emotional part of each one’s brain bonds to the other.
Connection is a process. Don’t be shocked or surprised if it takes some time. Be patient and persevere. Attachment grows more quickly through constant, consistent, and intentional contact. Give yourself some time to develop this bond. It is not unusual for a new dad to feel unsure of his role and experience a lack of confidence in that role. What is certain is that God specifically chose each father to be his little one’s dad. God didn’t pick a perfect person, He chose the right person!
Then … when you least expect it, that day will come when you are interacting with your baby and you get that sideways toothless grin or a big ol’ baby belly laugh and you will know in your heart of hearts connection has occurred and your family ties are strengthening.
As a final thought, if you have a history of depression or mental illness, didn’t have a positive parental figure in your childhood, or have experienced past loss like a miscarriage, still birth, or the death of a child and feel concerned you are not bonding with your baby, talk with your child’s pediatrician or another health care professional. It’s possible there could be some psychological or physical issues to address.
Again, congratulations on your new role, Dad! You have what it takes to build a strong connection with your new little one. No doubt there will be days you will have conflicting feelings about being a parent. This is OK, even normal. Remember, God chose you to be your child’s dad. Now go create that bond that will last a lifetime!
Lori Wildenberg, a licensed family and parent educator and parent coach, is passionate about helping families build connections that last a lifetime. She is the author or co-author of five books. Lori’s most recent book The Messy Life of Parenting: Powerful and Practical Ways to Strengthen Family Connection was just released! She loves working with moms and dads to assist them in their quest to be the best parent they can be. Lori and her husband Tom have four young adult children. You can find Lori on Facebook and on Instagram. For more information or to sign up for Lori’s weekly Eternal Moments blog go to loriwildenberg.com.
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