Ask a Therapist: "How Can I Prepare to be a Father?" (Part 2 of 2)
First the bad news. You are likely not losing your diaper duties. Joy. Aside from this, you might appreciate the new and unique roles you can fill (or create) once you begin to think outside the box. For instance, it might be natural to assume that mealtimes are for moms because they often possess baby's food source. However, as your child continues to grow from early infancy, it might be reasonable for baby to take a bottle with pumped breastmilk or infant formula once your pediatrician recommends this is appropriate. This means that dad can have a turn with this incredibly tender and important bonding time.
As you bottle feed, you can interact with baby by making "funny faces" that could perhaps gain you a smile or at least draw your child's attention to you. Or you could softly hum the tunes from your favorite music artists to create a soothing atmosphere (Even Led Zeppelin can be baby friendly when hummed the right way). Just a few feedings per week can significantly improve your level of intimacy with baby as well as your confidence that you can do a necessary activity that doesn't involve diapers.
Another idea is to spend time holding baby as both your and baby's skin exposed. You might have heard of "skin to skin" time and there is evidence that skin to skin is very important to developing healthy bonds and also baby's sense of security. Hold your sparsely clothed child close to your chest with your shirt removed and feel the warmth between your bodies. As good as this might feel for you, it is like paradise for a young infant. A paradise you are helping to create without much effort at all.
And the more you experience moments like this, the more confidence you are building while fostering an intimate connection with your child.
There will be difficult moments as well. As I mentioned, babies are not typically content for very long and they will certainly let you know of their discontent. The hardest times can be when you and your partner have tried everything to soothe baby without success. I have talked with many fathers who essentially "panic" when they simply can't find a way to calm their child, and end up passing baby to Mom for comfort.
Fathers then have their behavior reinforced when they see baby respond more readily to Mom, thus forming the belief "I can't do this without Mom around."
I would like to suggest that you will never feel completely competent to take care of your baby's needs until you learn to push through difficult, challenging periods. What I am referring to is "hanging in there" when your child is upset by persisting in soothing efforts (talking to baby in a soft voice, gently patting or rubbing their back, or simply holding baby close while gently swaying side to side, etc). As you do so, begin the seemingly haphazard task of trying new ways to calm them. This could be changing how you are holding baby (e.g. Instead of holding baby cradled in your arms while they lay on their back, carefully shift so you are securely holding your child's torso with your arms as their frontside faces downward. They will resemble Superman flying). Slowly walk amidst various objects (couches, grass, toys on floor, etc.) to see if the visual stimulation decreases baby's cries. Remember that babies can only see a few inches to a few feet ahead when they are very young, but even blurred shapes and colors can distract. Try a car ride with soft, soothing music if you are having trouble getting baby to sleep. Ask others you trust what sorts of tricks they might have used for infants and even consider asking your parents what helped you stop crying when you were young.
But above all, don't give up on yourself when trying to soothe your child. When you give up too quickly, you only reinforce the message to yourself that you are an incompetent parent.
I can tell you with complete certainty that as upsetting as it can be to be with an inconsolable child, they will not cry forever. A few minutes can feel like days when you are stressed and overwhelmed in such circumstances. But the moments of crying always end. Always. And when you finally strike upon a technique that works, you have essentially equipped yourself with a tool that you can use over and over to calm future crying. The more options for tools you have, the better off you will be across a variety of situations. The key is to endure the distress, experiment with techniques, get new ideas from inquiring others you trust, and practice practice practice.
You will feel like an absolute stud when Mom is out shopping, baby begins to wail, and you (with some effort) adeptly soothe your child without active help from others.
You are on your way to "Father of the Year!" You will also be setting yourself up to not only know ways to handle challenging situations, but also to BELIEVE you can handle these situations.
Belief is a powerful contributor to self-confidence and believing you can help a situation automatically improves your chances of actually being able to help. Moreover, this belief can continue to strengthen as you continue to refine your parenting styles to become the father you really want to be. As your children grow you will be far better equipped to guide, support, love, and comfort them in all circumstances because you will know you can, and also how you should do so.
Sounds a lot better than feeling you're only qualified to be a Diaper Hygiene Coordinator!
What have you experienced as a father?
When was the first moment you felt like: "I can do this!"?