Make Room for Daddy
When Baby Makes Three… Make Room for Daddy
By Elizabeth Heubeck
Although much of the first year of my children’s lives remains a blur, I can recall vividly some things—like how I would shoot, rocket-style, out of bed in the middle of the night at the first hint of a hungry cry.
After doing this several times a night for weeks on end, I got rather efficient at it. But by the time morning arrived, I would drag myself into the nursery and wonder where I’d find the energy to get myself dressed.
During these early days of motherhood, my husband would sometimes call me from work during the day and say well-intentioned things such as, “Did the baby wake up last night?”
My response would vary, ranging from stunned silence to sarcastic retorts better left unrepeated.
Moms as Primary Caregivers
Because of the myriad advantages it offers infants and their mothers, women today are strongly encouraged to breastfeed. I was fortunate enough to be able to provide this wonderful form of nourishment and bonding for my two children, and wouldn’t change it for the world.
It did, however, mean that Dad was left out of the loop a bit. You see, my children loved nursing so much that they refused to take a bottle until they were almost walking. Needless to say, when my children were infants I didn’t leave them for very long stretches.
I suppose I could have attempted to withhold all forms of nutrition until they were so famished that they had no choice but to accept a bottle from their father. But I wasn’t prepared to go to such lengths to change what seemed a pretty good thing, save for the exhaustion those night feedings caused me.
But breastfeeding is not the only thing that bonds mothers to their infants and can leave dads feeling like the third wheel.
There’s also the simple truth that most mothers spend more time with their infants than new dads do. Many more women than men choose to reduce their working hours or delay their return to work for several months, or even years, after childbirth so they can spend more time with their child.
While countless moms-to-be lie awake at night weighing the pros and cons of cutting back or quitting their job to stay home with their baby, soon-to-be dads are more likely to be crunching numbers on their calculators to figure out how they’re going to be able to afford Junior, especially with a dip in the family income.
Signs of Change
Are these differences in behavior inherent to the roles of men and women, or are they simply the result of engrained societal norms and expectations?
There’s proof that the traditional attitudes driving these behaviors are, in many instances, changing. For instance, in a recent survey that asked fathers about work-family issues, two-thirds of respondents said they’d be willing to trade a percentage of their paycheck for more time to bond with baby.
And the legal system is taking notice of fathers’ increasing willingness and ability to care for their young children.
“Judges are more willing to accept the fact that fathers are competent caregivers,” says Natasha Cabrera, Ph.D., assistant professor of Human Development at the University of Maryland College Park.
As a result, more and more fathers are getting sole custody of children in divorce cases, she explains.
The business world, however, has been slower to recognize the needs of fathers, believes Cabrera, noting that most businesses have done little beyond perhaps adding on-site child care to ease the burden of child care for working parents.
According to Cabrera, many businesses have not come near the plate. In fact, they are often very unforgiving of fathers who want to take time off or reduce hours to be with their children.
“They think of [these fathers] as being on the ‘daddy track,’” warns Cabrera.
Ways to Include Dad
Whether you simply want the dad in your family to be competent enough to change a diaper or you are looking for a completely equal partnership in child care duties, there are ways to help make it happen.
First of all, encourage your partner to get involved from the start. Allow him to assist in making important decisions about your child as early as in the delivery room.
Also, suggest that Dad takes advantage of employment policies such as the Family Medical Leave Act when the baby is born.
Consider flexible work schedules. Perhaps the both of you yearn for a balanced schedule that includes child care and employment. In this case, you may consider having both parents work 75 percent of their original schedules. While this may not be an attractive or feasible solution for all parents, it exemplifies just one way that some moms and dads are choosing to partner in family responsibilities.
Even if you are nursing, hand the baby to Dad afterwards to let him change, rock or just admire the baby. Also, invite him to accompany you to the pediatrician for the baby’s well-infant or acute-illness visits.
Finally, above all, openly discuss with your partner how you can best support each other as parents. BC