When Melanie, a happy new mom, and her baby, Jason, recently came into my office for his two-week checkup, she had more worries about her husband than questions about the baby. "I feel so close to Jason, but I'm afraid Nick doesn't," she said. "How can I help them to bond?"It's a concern I've heard many times before from new moms, and one that my wife, Martha, and I had when we were just starting out as parents. Almost every dad I've met wants to feel close to his child, but it's not always easy for a father to carve out a role in his baby's life.
What can you do to help nurture a deeper connection between your baby and husband? Here, five moves that will go a long way:
Give them their space
After you've spent nine months carrying your child, and then almost all day (and night) taking care of her, it's natural to think Mother Knows Best. About everything. But when a mom like Melanie comes into my office, the first thing I do is remind her that her husband isn't just a pinch hitter. Dads have a delightfully different way of relating to their babies -- and their babies enjoy this difference.
There's no need for you to hover around your husband at all times, ready to rescue your baby if she gets fussy in his arms. It may be tempting, especially if he isn't up to speed (or doesn't think he is). But if you fall into this pattern, you're likely to erode his self-confidence, and your baby won't get used to being comforted by him -- which will leave you without a moment's peace. So let them work things out on their own. You might be surprised at the fuss busters your partner musters up with absolutely no help from Mother.
When given freedom, he may start to develop his own rituals with your baby, like soothing car rides or a special song. The mom of one of my patients shared this scene with me: "One night I woke up to find my husband sitting at his computer listening to rock music, with the baby bouncing along to the beat." Another mom told me: "My husband was famous for the Daddy Dance. He'd take our twins downstairs and dance to his favorite CD in the living room. Years later these songs continue to calm them immediately. We call them 'Daddy's songs.'"