By Bryan G. Nelson, Ed
Eileen Nelson, MA
Early Childhood Specialist
Minnesota Department of Education
Infants need their fathers:
For so many fathers, the birth of their child is an exciting, terrifying, and wonderful new experience. An event that, no matter how much preparation, well-meaning advice, ideas and suggestions people gave you before the birth of you child, you can never fully understand what it is like, until it happens.
And there you are with a new human; smaller than you expected, requiring so much attention. As a new father you may feel overwhelmed by the new responsibilities of taking care of your baby and paying for all the new expenses.
Fortunately, you can learn everything you need to know to be a good father.
Alan Shedlin (1), a researcher, father and grandfather, who has interviewed hundreds of fathers and grandfathers, writes:
Being a dad:
- Reminds them of what is really important, of what needs are fundamental
- Humanizes them by exposing them to a new, deeper kind of love
- Positively diminishes their self-absorption
- Broadens their way of looking at issues, situations, and possibilities
- Teaches them the value of vulnerability
- Demonstrates the value of asking good questions
- Helps them appreciate the responsibilities and obligations of power
- Reminds them of the value of childlike qualities like playfulness, flexibility, and fills their lives with humor, imagination, enthusiasm, willingness to make mistakes, and a sense of wonder
- Makes them laugh, and
- Gives many of them greater appreciation for their parenting partner
Babies need lots of care and your participation in that care can make your baby's life (and your family's life) easier and richer. You and your baby form a strong attachment just through routine tasks and attention and this attachment between you and your baby is critical for your infant's healthy development.
Whether as the main caregiver or as a partner, you can do a lot to support your baby and your family:
- Hold your baby. Your new infant needs lots of physical contact and getting to know your touch is very important.
- Find and develop your own style of caring for your child. We know that fathers often have a different style of caring than mothers. His style is influenced by his enthusiasm for being a father, his own father or other men he's known, expectations of the mother and other family members.
- Participate in feeding and diapering and other care-giving routines. If your baby is being breastfed, you can help with preparing your baby for feeding and with burping afterward. Diapering is a great time to make eye contact with your baby while offering gentle care.
- Support mom by doing household tasks-grocery shopping, laundry, dishes-are also ways to make sure your baby is getting the best care. If you can lessen the household workload-the mom and baby will have a good chance to bond.
- Talk to your baby. You are one of the most important people in your baby's life and the sound of your voice is an important connection with your infant. Talking to your baby has many advantages to your baby's growth, initially by making your baby feel loved and later helping in language development.
- Read to your baby. By holding your baby on your lap and reading simple books you begin a habit that will offer many rewards throughout your life together. Making your baby feel safe, giving baby your undivided attention and introducing your baby to reading as a pleasurable experience will help build a strong relationship with your baby.
- Try to get enough sleep. One of the greatest challenges to new parents is the lack of sleep.
- Pay attention to your feelings and to the others surrounding your baby. The first few months of a baby's life can be demanding and unpredictable and a challenge to the baby's caregivers. If you find yourself getting frustrated or angry, take a break and get help. If you see others feeling the same way, step in and offer to help or bring in other help. Nothing is more important than your baby's safety.
- Have reasonable expectations for your baby. Babies develop differently and some cry and fuss more than others. You, as the new father, can get help in learning those expectations. Ask other fathers about their babies so that you can learn about what to expect. Your baby's doctor and nurse can be a very helpful source of information and support for you.
- You may find yourself working more hours at your job. Many fathers' response to having a new child is to spend more time at their job. Some do it out of necessity but others do it because it's a place that feels comfortable and familiar. If you can afford to, consider using a Family Leave Act. Your child needs you.
- Be aware that if you have more than one child it can prove challenging for that older brother or sister to suddenly have a new person in the house. Be certain to try to spend some special time with your other children to help them adjust.
- Enjoy your baby. Learn your baby's daily rhythm and make sure you spend time with your baby during the alert times. Playing with your infant builds your feeling of competence, reinforces the bond between you and stimulates your baby's development. Have fun!
Your connection with your baby can have a profound, positive effect on his or her future. Sharing in your infant's life will lay the groundwork for a lifetime of involvement.
(1) Sheldin, A. (2007). The Woodruff Child Effect. New York Times/Hearst News Service, 3/13/07.
- Brotherson, S. and White, J. eds. (2006). Why Fathers Count: The Importance of Fathers and Their Involvement with Children. Men's Studies Press, Harriman, TN.
- The Minnesota Fathering Alliance, (1992). Working With Fathers: Methods and Perspectives. www.MenTeach.org.
- Minnesota Fathers & Families Network, (2007). Do We Count Fathers in Minnesota: Searching for Key Indicators of the Well-Being of Fathers & Families. www.MnFathers.org.