We moms carry the weight of the world, don’t we? From the moment pregnancy begins, we’re responsible for growing and sustaining life. Once the baby is born, moms often tend to take on the majority of the newborn-related responsibilities — partially because we’re the ones on maternity leave, the ones who are breastfeeding, the ones who are instinctively wired to attach securely to our babies.
Add in some control-freak tendencies (I’m talking about myself here), and the newborn phase can quickly become a dad-free zone. It’s really hard to give up our control and even to see how we can include our husbands during those days that feel like they’re all about mom and baby. But when we take steps in to include our husbands in the parenting from the very beginning, it’s empowers them and eases our burdens. It creates a true co-parent relationship, rather than a mom-centric one.
(And it’s just really, really nice to let Dad do his thing while we sneak away for a few quiet moments.)Empower #Dad by finding ways to include him in the newborn phase. #parenthood Click To Tweet
Here’s what worked for Dan and me.
1. Tell him what you need.
It’s hard to know what you need when your hormones are out of whack, you’re sleep deprived, and your whole body hurts. And if you’re a first-time mom, it’s hard to know what you need when you’ve never done any of this before. But the more you can communicate what you need and how your partner can help, the better.
Sometimes I felt self-imposed pressure to tell Dan a big need that would take care of lots of pain points and challenges at once — but I often found that asking for simple things made a big difference. Ask him to run to grab you some fresh nursing pads so you don’t have to drag your healing body up the stairs again. Ask him to fill your water bottle or grab you a snack. Ask him to hold the baby for five minutes while you brush your teeth.
It’s tempting to want him to notice these things and offer, but the more you ask for what you need, the more he’ll be able to anticipate those needs later on.
2. Decide what being a team looks like for you.
It was particularly hard to figure out how to be a team during the overnight hours. Dan couldn’t breastfeed Selah, obviously, and for the first couple of months she did not take a bottle. Especially if you’re breastfeeding, it can feel like those overnight feedings and rocking the baby back to sleep (which can take forever before they figure out days and nights) are your responsibility as the mom and the source of food.
Breastfeeding was very difficult and extremely painful for me for the first two weeks, and I needed a lot of encouragement and a lot of snacks (seriously, your body is recovering like crazy and burning up tons of calories to make milk — between crazy hormones and low blood sugar, this brings a whole new meaning to the term hangry).
For us, being a team meant that we did overnight feedings together at first — I needed Dan’s company and encouragement as I cried through the pain. Once the pain subsided, I did night feedings on my own, but Dan would rock Selah to sleep so I could get a head start on my sleep shift before the next feeding.
It obviously doesn’t need to look the same for you, but finding ways to be a team during the toughest parts of newborn life will help him to feel involved and you to feel supported.
3. Let him figure it out.
I constantly feel the need to control and explain how things are to be done (which is my nonconfrontational way of bossing people around). I had to let go of every instinct to “just do it myself” and let Dan figure out how to be his own version of Daddy.
No one can comfort a new baby like Mom can, so even in the moments when Selah would cry, Dan would press on and learn to comfort her — and she learned to be comforted by him. If I had swooped in to try to save the day every time, it would have left me exhausted, and Dan undermined and wounded. We would have started modeling a pattern for Selah that Daddy isn’t as good or equipped as Mommy, and I never want her to believe that.
So give yourself a real break and let your husband figure it out, whether that’s the diapers, the snaps on the jammies, bottle feeding, or playtime.
4. Don’t criticize.
When he does figure it out — whatever “it” is — do not criticize his decisions (unless they’re unsafe, obviously). You don’t like the way he did the diaper tabs and you think it’s going to cause a leak? Let it leak, and he’ll try something different next time! He rocked the baby to sleep while singing a song that is most definitely not her lullaby song? Be excited that the baby is asleep!
Each time you criticize the way your husband does something for the baby, it undermines his confidence as a parent, and I’d guess it makes him reluctant to help in the future — not necessarily out of malice but out of lack of belief that he can do the job correctly. Thank him and affirm him for changing the diaper . . . and maybe ask him to change it again if it springs that leak.
5. Ask his opinion and consider it seriously.
There are endless amount of things to figure out and decisions to make before a baby comes and especially once that baby has arrived. When making decisions, I do tons of research, form my opinion, then ask Dan what he thinks, even though I secretly just want him to validate the choice I already made. When he says something to the contrary, I have a tendency to shut him down and make my own decision anyway. I’m really working on being clear with him when I want an opinion versus when I need to run a decision by him just to make sure he’s on board. And, I’m trying to do less of the latter and a lot more opinion asking and thoughtful listening so we make more decisions as a team.
When you ask for your husband’s help, really listen to what he has to say and consider his perspective. The best parenting decisions come as a joint effort from the two people who love that baby most. He may not have a mother’s intuition, but his perspective matters. And if you go with his idea for relieving the baby’s constipation and it totally works, affirm him. He needs that encouragement as much as you do.
6. Give up some of the snuggle time.
Skin to skin and other types of newborn bonding are so important for dads too — plus it’s just wonderful and fun. Let him enjoy some special snuggle time while you escape to take a bath or snag a nap. Or do what I did and snap a thousand pictures and then just stare at them until your heart is fit to burst.
7. Let go of your guilt.
We were made to care for our babies. It’s primal, really, to want to be everything for them: their caretakers, their protectors, their sources of love and sustenance. Asking for help from anyone, even your co-parent, can bring on the feelings of failure and shame.
But here’s the thing: we cannot be everything for our babies. We are humans who get irritated, grow tired, and need a break. You do not have to feel guilty for leaning in to your spouse and taking him up on his offers to help or asking for help when he doesn’t notice. Parenting is not meant to be a solo sport (and I have crazy amounts of respect for single parents — you have the hardest job in the world).
So tag in your teammate, pat him on the butt, and tell him you’re grateful for his insert-good-dad-quality-here (wisdom, hard work, patience, loving gestures, gentle nature). Dads need to hear they’re doing a good job just as much as moms do, so let him know. He will be grateful to know how to help, and he’ll feel valued for his contributions — and it will strengthen you both as parents and partners.Ask his opinion + 6 more ways to include dads during the newborn phase. #fatherhood #motherhood Click To Tweet