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Staying Home

Easing Into Fatherhood

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 5, September-October 2005, pp. 222-225

"Staying Home" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents who choose to stay at home with their children. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

My husband is very reluctant to spend time alone with our nine-month-old. He adores the baby and does his share of diaper changing and housework, so I hate to complain. In the early months, we both assumed that I was the one who could best meet her needs, but I must admit that being her "only one" is tiring. How do other mothers encourage their babies' fathers to be more involved?

Mother's Response

Everyone needs baby-free time, even the most attached breastfeeding mother. My husband, Marcus, was reluctant to stay alone with our first child, too. Because I had the baby's only food source, he worried about what would happen if Aidan got hungry while I was out. What worked for my family was to gradually ease Marcus into time alone with the baby. I would nurse Aidan, tell Marcus the baby was fed and that I really needed to get out by myself, then go out for just 10 or 15 minutes. Later, I'd get quick errands done while Marcus stayed with Aidan. I always assured him that Aidan had just nursed. After Aidan was six months old, I reminded him which foods he could offer if he seemed hungry. This gradual approach got my husband used to time alone with the baby, and got them both used to the idea that daddy could comfort and care for Aidan as well as mommy.

Andrea Kelly
Brookeville MD USA

Mother's Response

Being the sole caregiver for a baby can be exhausting. A mother needs some time to herself in order to have a healthier, more balanced life. Perhaps you could ask your husband to care for your nine-month-old for small periods of time—half an hour to take a walk, a relaxing bath, or make an uninterrupted personal phone call. You should not feel guilty about asking for help; you are both this child's parents. Also, being a more relaxed and rested mother will help you enjoy your time with your husband more.

By nine months, most babies are sitting up unassisted and can be played with in ways that daddies enjoy. They are also usually eating some solids, so you won't have to worry about her being hungry if you nurse her before you leave and let your husband give her some solid food while you're gone.

As your baby grows older, you can increase the time your husband is alone with her. Perhaps you can go grocery shopping alone or meet with a friend for coffee. Your husband and child will be building a relationship of trust that is important in your child's development and your husband's role as a father.

Isabel Caldera
Germantown MD USA

Mother's Response

When I felt like the "only one" for my daughter, here are some things I did. One was to be sure I was getting enough rest. After my daughter was a few months old, I somehow thought that "sleep when the baby sleeps" no longer applied to me. I found myself getting more and more tired. That turned into feeling more and more resentful that I was the "only one." When I was rested, I was better able to meet her needs and better able to ask my partner for help. I was less likely to want him to read my mind and "know" how tired I was. I could be more reasonable about my expectations of myself, my baby, and my partner.

Another thing I did was find ways my partner could care for her and feel confident about it. One thing he was very good at was wearing her in a sling during walks around the neighborhood. While that didn't give me hours on end, it gave me at least a 30-minute break. As he took more walks, he became more confident in his ability to care for our daughter.

At the risk of telling you what you've already heard, La Leche League meetings are a great place to talk with other women. I can't imagine a meeting just about anywhere in the world where you won't find at least one other woman who has experienced this same situation! The support of other women is extremely important when you have a baby (and a toddler and a teenager, too).

It often helps to sit down with your partner and talk about how you're feeling. Be as clear and specific as you can be. Some folks say, "If mommy ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." That's often true at my house and maybe at your house, too. By taking a few minutes to talk, the two of you can come up with a plan to take care of the baby and you.

Mary Wagner-Davis
Roseville CA USA

Mother's Response

My husband feels most comfortable when he is engaged in a concrete activity. To this end, I like to encourage him to spend structured time with our daughter. One of the most successful activities for them was a weekly parent-child infant swim class. It gave them time alone together, allowed him to take responsibility for her well-being and preparedness, and provided a special and exciting bonding experience. It also gave me a few hours to myself on Saturdays because, although the class was only 30 minutes, afterwards, my daughter usually fell asleep for a couple of hours. If you're unable to arrange for a class, perhaps your husband and daughter would enjoy going to the park or out for walks or play dates. Whatever he chooses to do, I suggest that he finds at least one regular weekly block of time so that you can count on getting a break.

Kelly Stupple
Ann Arbor MI USA

Mother's Response

Being "all" to a baby is at times overwhelming. It's helpful to have willing arms to share the job. However, they do not need to be daddy's if he is reluctant. If your family is near, you can visit with them and enjoy watching them have baby time. You and baby can have lunch with friends to get some adult time for you. You can join a few friends for a playgroup and enjoy chatting with other mothers. Taking the pressure off yourself in this way also takes pressure off your baby's father.

Many people enjoy older children more than babies, and this may be true for your baby's father. Once your daughter is old enough to enjoy the activities her daddy enjoys, whether it is fishing or golf or football, they may spend more time together. In the meantime, be sure that they have the opportunity to enjoy time together even when you are home. For example, ask him to entertain her while you make dinner or take a relaxing bath. Ask him to do short-term specific things with her, such as read a book or give her a bath. He may grow more comfortable during these short exposures so that, as she is ready to leave you for longer periods of time, he may be ready to take her on adventures with him. These times spent together doing "nothing special" can build many good memories for both parent and child.

Beverly Morgan
Georgetown TX USA

Mother's Response

It is such a delicate balance between encouraging more participation and criticizing what your husband is currently contributing. The first few months are so critical for mother and baby, and so many of baby's needs seem to be met by mother. Dads can feel disconnected from the routine or just unsure of how to interact with newborns. They also tend to be physical in their play. Getting them to gently wrestle or "horse around" with a child outside or to play games with a ball can connect him to your baby's changing abilities.

Some dads are uncomfortable with a hovering mother nearby. Try leaving him and your daughter alone during non-napping hours. Being on his own will force him to decide how he wants to interact and what works best for them as parent and child.

Now that your baby is older, you may want to get out of the house regularly so they can bond and play, creating their own rituals and memories. Many fathers are great at bath time. If your baby is an early riser, dad can get up with her after she has nursed. You'll have some time to yourself and they'll be able to spend time together. Complimenting him on what a good job he is doing and refraining from managing their time together can go a long way to encourage him to enjoy and look forward to time spent with your child.

Cole Shacochis-Edwards
Baltimore MD USA

Mother's Response

Dads are great at playing! Think of the towers he can build for her to knock down. Encourage him to get down on the floor at your baby's level. He can talk to her, make animal noises or silly faces, or roll a ball back and forth. Even crawling after one another is great, active fun. It also helps baby release some energy in a healthy way.

Natalie Rasha
Simpsonville SC USA

Mother's Response

The best suggestion I can give is to plan their time together when they will both be happy. As tempting as it is to pass the baby to daddy as soon as he is home, this is usually baby's worst hour. She is often over stimulated at that time of day, which makes her want to nurse. Instead, plan for a time when she is usually happy. Then set the stage for success. Start playing a fun game with them and then quietly leave them alone to continue as long as it is fun. By setting the stage, you are planting the seed that daddy is fun. You can also try to make certain activities, such as bath time or swing time, "daddy activities."

If your baby gets upset during their play you can comfort her at the breast. As she gets older, a hug and kiss from daddy will be comforting, too!

Ann Bennett
Austin TX USA

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