“Heeeey Kirsten and Cheryl…. Give me a call when you have a chance! I want to tell you what I’m hearing from all the dads.”
That’s an abridged version of the voice mail we get every few weeks from Brian the Birth Guy. Brian gets to hang out with hundreds of dads and parenting partners every month through his Rocking Dads Childbirth Classes and the doula work he provides to couples. If he hears consistent themes and messages coming from these new parents, he gives us a ring. How cool is that? We have our own anecdotal field-research source, wrapped up in Brian’s contagious enthusiasm.
The last time we spoke to the Birth Guy, he filled us in on two concerns he was hearing from many of his new dads:
Concern #1: “I can’t get baby away from mom long enough to bond with her/him.” Brian explained that many dads feel like they don’t get the opportunity to connect with or learn how to soothe their newborn because their partners spend so much time getting the hang of breastfeeding and connecting with baby. Then, when mom is ready to go get a haircut or go out for a quick coffee or GNO, Dad feels helpless and unprepared to watch or calm their infant.
Concern #2: “I’m worried that co-sleeping with our baby is going to impact our relationship.” Brian said that some couples choose to try co-sleeping, some couples are against it, and some accidentally start doing it and never stop. He said that the problem occurs when one parent is in favor of co-sleeping and one is not. Suddenly there is a literal wedge, in the shape of a sweet little infant, inserted between the pair.
After digesting these new-daddy-woes, I realized that they were both connected to the same challenge: How do you maintain the intimacy and closeness you had pre-baby while simultaneously bonding with and caring for this new little creature? It’s tricky, for sure. Introducing a baby into a relationship changes up everything. As the quirky monster diagram below illustrates, life is fairly simple before starting a family. Bill Withers sang it perfectly, “Just the two of us, building castles in the sky. Just the two of us, you and I.”
When you add an infant to the picture, it mixes up the flow of things. The baby requires a ton of time and attention, especially from mom if she is trying to breastfeed. The non-breastfeeding partner might feel neglected or left out. Figuring out how to get sleep at night can present more difficulties for the partnership. Mom might find herself sleeping upright with the baby, or bringing the newborn to bed so she can get some rest. Instead of a happy family of three, it can feel like a disjointed partnership with an odd man out at times.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible for mom to bond with baby, for dad to bond with baby AND for mom and dad to stay just as connected and close as they were before their parenting adventure began. Here’s how:
- Brainstorm baby-related tasks and routines that dad/parenting partner can be in charge of during the early weeks and months. Some couples start the routine very early of dad giving baby a daily bottle. In her essay, Yes Trespassing, Cheryl wrote about how her kids’ dad, J, did a lovely job of finding ways to be a supportive co-parent and bond with their newborn. He changed the baby’s diaper and swaddled her before feedings, he soothed the baby when Cheryl needed a break and he cared for Cheryl and ran errands when needed. When Cheryl was ready to get out of the house for a few hours, J was ready and able to step in with their little girl.
- Make parenting decisions as partners. Parenting is a tough job and you need your right hand man (or woman) to be on your team for the next 18 years. Discuss every decision — what kind of baby carrier to use, whether or not to co-sleep, when to transition to bottles — with your partner so that the buy-in is mutual. Thinks about how these decisions will not only impact your infant but your relationship as well. And remember, you can always adjust and adapt as you go.
- Make the relationship a priority. When you’re making the joint decisions listed in #2, keep your relationship at the forefront of your mind. Your partner was in your life before your baby arrived, and hopefully they will be there for a long time afterward. At some point your little one will be a big one and off to preschool, then high school and then suddenly college. Nurturing your relationship and keeping it strong will help you to be a better, happier parent. When you eventually have more freedom to go out on dates or weekend getaways, you won’t find yourself hanging out with a stranger.
- Be patient with each other. Give it time. For the first few months and years, your relationship will look and feel different. It’s unavoidable. So hang in there and give each other grace as you figure things out. Remind each other that you are in this together and that neither of you are experts. Give each other encouragement and breaks when needed. Turn to your partner, and in your best Bill Withers croon, reassure them: “We can make it if we try.”
Because you really can make it. We promise.
Here’s to Sanity & Building Castles in the Sky,