Let Dad Be Dad, Not The Babysitter
Who has ever been out at a girls night, dinner party, afternoon shopping or just running an errand and been asked if their spouse/partner is babysitting?
This has happened to me plenty of times and Im sure I have even asked it as well. Its an easy use of a word that actually has a lot of meaning behind it. As a doula and in my personal life, I have witnessed family dynamics make a turn that nobody was really prepared for. Once the baby arrives and everyone is settled and the first week or two are over a pattern gets laid that usually looks something like this:
-Mom is either nursing or bottle feeding during the night because their partner doesnt have paternity leave and has to be able to function the next day.
-Dad gets up to go to work and is gone a long chunk of the day, Mom is feeding, changing, caring for and learning all of babies behaviors and needs. They develope a rhythm of eating, sleeping and pooping.
-Dad arrives home and somehow dinner gets made and eaten and while he spends some time holding or helping with baby, if things get a little tough Mom takes the baby and handles it because she has been practicing all day and can get the baby settled quickly.
-Mom handles the rough evening time because again its quicker and usually involves less crying if she just feeds etc.
-Nighttime comes and everyone is worn out and crashes only to start it all over again.
In this scenario, the partner is a wanting and willing participant but due to the exhaustion and motivation to keep crying at a minimum mom takes on a large chunk of the nurturing. It logistically makes sense and she has been with baby every moment to learn and perfect her skills. Once this pattern gets set in it can be very hard to turn over the reins to a less proficient participant. Inevitably his diaper skills will be lacking and poop will leak, he wont know just the right temperature and bath water will be either too hot or too cold, he certainly can't manage to find a matching outfit and once that child gets big enough he is likely to pick it up by its head in the death dangle that makes moms across the nation cringe.
HOW CAN WE LET THIS HAPPEN?!?
The answer is we MUST let it happen. If we don't we will end up worn out with a partner who in the beginning wanted to help but eventually gave up offering. There will be pent up resentment and discord in their relationship and that, plus exhaustion, never ends well.
So, what do we do? We must from the beginning prepare for Dads to take an active role. Seek out a newborn class (like this one in our area). Once baby arrives you have to make it a priority to allow him to try and make mistakes: learning how to change a diaper without getting peed/pooped on, how to use the little snaps on the onsies, figuring out the swaddle, and my favorite baby wearing!!! All of these have to be learned and its on the job training for new parents. Moms have to sometimes bite our lips and encourage that help in the very early days to create a pattern of help and joint responsibility for the care and raising of the children. It has been shown that when new dads spend 15 minutes alone with their newborn they will spend more time alone with them over the next month. It also sets the stage for when you need to run to the grocery store, get the flu, or want to have a girl's night. He is the confident partner who can manage dinner, clothing, lunches, homework or whatever else he should encounter. I know I have been there and rolled my eyes at my husbands dinner choices or his heavy metal head banging sessions but ANYTIME I need it he can handle our 4 kids. I have gone to births for 30+ hours and he ran things and usually manages to get the house clean too! I have put my trust in him as my parter and co-parent, not just the guy who babysits once in a blue moon. I highly encourage you to give your partner that freedom and chance to learn for them, for you and for your children.