New Dads: Forming A Lifelong Bond
New Dads: Forming A Lifelong Bond
"Congratulations! It’s a boy!” “We have a healthy baby girl!” As a new father, these words—and the sights and sounds that go with them—are still fresh in your mind. It was one of the happiest, proudest days of your life.
But truth be told, there was more than just a baby born that day. A father was also born. And whether it’s a biological child or an adopted child, that first meeting birthed an entirely new perspective, and the world will never look the same.
How can we describe it? It’s a drama—and often a comedy—of magnificent proportions. First, you have the baby: a little bundle of humanity who mostly drools, poops, and cries. She’ll grow and change and make you proud in so many wonderful ways.
And then there’s you, the father. Once steady and straight-thinking, you became a bug-eyed, video camera-toting, back-slapping fool. You feel bigger, older, and more powerful—and it’s exhilarating. You’re charged with enthusiasm.
One of the most constructive ways to channel your enthusiasm during these early years is to form your dreams and aspirations into specific goals and commitments. Now is the time to decide: “I will make fathering a priority in life.”
RECONCILE YOUR PAST
“You can’t be a father until you’re first a son.” Your ability to be a good father is directly influenced by your relationship with your father—or by your father’s absence. That fathering inheritance needs to be either embraced or resolved before you can effectively communicate with or sometimes even love your own children.
Reconciling with your father—or, at least, reconciling your feelings toward him—can be a complicated, painful process, but it’s a necessary one. The book The Heart of a Father can help take you through that process.
LEARN TO HANDLE EMOTIONS
Our emotions are close to the surface as new fathers. We men, wrapped up in logic and action, have a chance to experience the emotional side of life and lay the groundwork for a lifetime of intimacy with our children. And now is the best time to start. Too many men, having assumed that babies are a mother’s domain, miss that window of opportunity and never learn to appropriately express to their children what is in their hearts.
There’s lots of pride and enthusiasm during those early years, but there are some negatives that may surprise you:
Jealousy / Feeling Left Out. Through pregnancy and now motherhood, your wife has a deep connection with the child that you can never quite understand. You may feel jealous of the baby, who’s getting your wife’s best energy and attention. You may feel jealous of your wife, who typically knows more about what the child needs and more or less “calls the shots” concerning what you do with the child.
Instead of getting discouraged and withdrawing from fatherhood (as many young dads do), talk to a father who’s been through this. He can share his insights and show you that it’s really a common experience for new dads. Ultimately, it’s best to discuss your feelings with your wife and start healthy habits that will help you through the conflicts down the road.
Frustration. Your wife is out for the evening, and it’s just you and your baby. At some point, he starts crying inconsolably. He keeps screaming for no apparent reason, every logical remedy fails, and your frustration is mounting. Depending on your tolerance level, the tasks you hoped to accomplish, other issues on your mind, and how fatigued you feel after a long day, that frustration could drive you over the edge.
Do whatever it takes to protect your baby from dangers driven by intense emotions. Identify situations or chains of events that make you susceptible to outbursts. Learn to expect your baby’s fussiness, and plan in advance how to handle it calmly. Find ways to express the emotion harmlessly, directed away from the child. Set him in his crib for a minute while he’s screaming and do sit-ups or jumping jacks to let off steam. Call a friend. Pray.
It’s vital that you learn to handle negative emotions. Right now, your baby’s physical safety is at stake, and that’s serious. But unless you learn this soon, you could develop negative patterns that, through the years, will do lifelong damage to his emotional well-being as well as your relationship with him.
BOND WITH YOUR CHILD
In the early years, involvement means changing diapers and other child care tasks; reading books together; and lots of talking, cooing, playing and exploring with your infant. Fathering may seem uncomplicated, but that allows you to focus on your most important task: forming a close bond with your child.
You want to unleash her potential, to nurture that little seed as it sprouts and grows and blossoms. Your child needs to be stimulated intellectually, challenged physically, and guided socially. You’ll probably never feel the responsibility more than now, when your child is small and helpless.
A healthy reaction to this sense of responsibility is to take an active role in learning about your growing child. What is she going through? What are her mental and sensory capacities? What does she need most from you? Too many dads never figure out answers to these questions and never get involved enough to form a close bond with their babies.
Bonding is really something that happens as a wonderful by-product of just spending time together. For many men, it comes naturally—you cherish every chance you have to hold, kiss, rock, coo, touch, and sing to your baby.
Some dads don’t feel that immediate closeness. After all, this is a brand new relationship, and it takes time to get used to each other. Give it time. Your bond with your child can become just as close as any other father and child.
Bonding also comes during everyday child care, where many of us feel out of place. We can stand up to an angry boss or muster the courage to land an important client, but we grow skittish at the sight of a one-year-old in need.
Plain and simple, become comfortable with child care tasks. Committed fathers are willing to brave screams and tears, messy faces and, yes, even “blowout” diapers. Dive right in, make mistakes, learn from experience, and gain confidence for the next time.
A healthy bond will give your baby great security now, but will translate into much more tangible benefits later in life.
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