Dear MrDad. I'm a new father. I haven't had
much experience with infants and I want to be
involved in my daughter's care, but every time I
try to pick her up, she starts to fret. How can I
feel more competent?
A: Few things can make a man feel less
like a man than feeling incompetent. And nothing
can make a man feel more incompetent than a baby.
Fortunately, it's pretty easy to overcome these
First of all, let's start with what NOT to do:
Do not hand your daughter off to your wife. She may
be able to get her to stop crying a little quicker
than you do, but the truth is that whatever your
wife knows about children, she learned by
doing--just like anything else. And the way you're
going to get better is by doing things, too.
Research shows that lack of opportunity may be one
of the biggest obstacles to fathers' feeling more
comfortable with their children. In other words,
the more time you spend with your child, the more
competent you'll feel.
And don't give in if your wife offers to take
over, either. Instead, try a few lines like, "I
think I can handle things," or "That's okay--I
really need the practice." There's nothing wrong
with asking her for advice, of course--you both
have insights that the other could benefit from.
But have her tell you instead of doing it for you.
Don't be afraid to make a few decisions--and a few
mistakes--on your own.
Another way to start building confidence is to
get to know your baby. And the place to begin is
with learning her language. Although her vocabulary
is pretty limited right now, if you pay close
attention you'll soon be able to tell the
difference between her "I'm tired," "Feed me now,"
"Change my diaper," and "I want to play" cries.
Once you've got that down, you'll be better able to
take care of her needs and the two of you will feel
a lot better about each other.
New fathers are often quite concerned about what
to do with their infants. After all, they don't
talk, they can't catch a fly ball, and they don't
seem to do much else besides drool. But even if
your baby is just a few days old, you can do
plenty. Carrying her around and listening to music
together are great at this age, and just talking to
her is wonderful, but my favorite has always been
reading. It doesn't really matter whether you read
War and Peace or the ingredient panel from your
toothpaste tube--she won't understand you yet
anyway. The point here is to get her used to
hearing your voice, which will make her feel
comfortable and secure with you. And that's what
close relationships are built on.
Finally, don't ever devalue the things you like
doing with your child. Men and women have different
ways of interacting with their children--men tend
to stress the physical and high-energy, women the
social and emotional. But don't let anyone tell you
that wrestling, bouncing on the bed, and all the
other "guy things" you're going to do when your
daughter is a little older are somehow less
important than the "girl things" your partner may
do (or want you to do).
©2008, Armin Brott
* * *
It's clear that most American children suffer
too much mother and too little father. - Gloria
nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott
is the author of Blueprint
for Men's Health: A guide to a health
Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for
New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First
Dad's Guide to the Toddler
Single Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting without a
Partner and Father for
Life. He has written on parenting and fatherhood
for the New York Times Magazine, The
Washington Post, Newsweek and dozens of
other periodicals. He also hosts Positive
Parenting, a nationally distributed, weekly
talk show, and lives with his family in Oakland,
California. Visit Armin at www.mrdad.com
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