Bonding Even When You're Busy
Hanging out with your baby for hours every day isn't always practical, especially if you haven't won the $345 million state lottery. So if you're worried because your parent-child dynamic can only be created in snatches of time instead of stretches, make those minutes count. "Establishing a routine or ritual is a good way to maximize your child's understanding that you fit into her life," says Jonathan Pochyly, Ph.D., a child psychologist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "By the time they're 5 or 6 months old, babies are old enough to start responding to a schedule. It's comforting to them, and they understand that the parent plays a role in their life."
Think about incorporating one or more rituals into your life with your baby. Keep in mind that the trick to these tricks is to use them daily -- the special time you share with your baby every day will do just as much for you as it does for her:
* Read to your baby. What's great about reading is that you can start well before the baby is born. I read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" aloud one night when my wife was pregnant. As my voice rose, so did Isabelle's feet inside Susan's tummy. I was in awe. Ever since our baby came home from the hospital, I've read to her almost every evening before bedtime. Never mind that your baby will eventually want to chew on the book (which reading experts encourage). And never mind that she can't follow the plot. Your baby gets it. You're there every evening, or every morning, and your baby will know that this is your time.
* Give your baby a massage. "Touch is one of the most essential elements of bonding, and the way you touch communicates love and comfort to your child," says Michelle Kluck, a certified infant massage instructor. In a 1986 study from the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Florida, premature babies were massaged three times a day for 10 days. The massaged babies gained 47 percent more weight and were released six days earlier than the babies who weren't.
"I know fathers are afraid of massaging a baby," says Kluck. "They'll tell me, 'We have big hands, and we don't want to break the baby's arm.' But babies are resilient. As long as you're gentle and careful, and keep the pressure light, you can give an amazing massage to the baby. And the great thing about baby massage is, they react right away (with smiles or by calming down), so it's immediate gratification." Call the International Association of Infant Massage at 805-644-8524 to find a massage class near you.
*Play with your baby. "Play is critical to the bonding process," says Laguna. Get down on your hands and knees, at eye level with your child, so you can really interact and your baby can respond to your facial expressions and see that you are responding to his. Not only will you be having fun, but there's been some research that supports the importance of play in the development of babies' brains. "I think that fathers tend to engage in rough-and-tumble play with their boys," adds Laguna, "but it's just as important for girls to play with their fathers."
* Bring your baby on errands. If you feel pressed for time, "give Mom a break, and take your baby when you're going out. Take him to Home Depot," says Bridgett Blackburn, a psychologist who teaches a class called "Just for Dads: Before and After Pregnancy" at Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue, Washington. So -- from a distance -- show your baby the drill-saw, the power tools, and the lumber. Or books, CDs, garden supplies, or whatever your thing is. Basically, show your baby your world. Let him stare at the shop clerk or babble endlessly in Aisle Seven. Moms -- especially stay-at-home moms -- are frequently the ones who are teaching babies to talk, listen, and touch, from almost sunrise to sundown, which is why Blackburn observes: "Moms often give babies the skills. Dads give them a chance to use them."
Geoff Williams is a full-time freelance journalist based in Loveland, Ohio.