Previous generations of fathers worked tirelessly to provide for their families but played a negligible role when it came to baby care. Today’s more involved dad faces a unique challenge: He needs to work just as hard as his predecessor but at the same time is expected to help take care of the adorable creature who has just entered the family fold.
Maintaining progress in one’s life and career while being a modern dad can be tricky, but, with a little planning and a lot of effort, it can be done. Here are 7 tips to help you make time for Baby without losing momentum in other areas.
1. Quality Doesn’t Mean Length
Many fathers mistakenly think they need to spend long periods with their babies to forge a bond. This couldn’t be more false. Even brief interactions serve as building blocks in your relationship. Five minutes of singing, three minutes of making funny faces and even 30 seconds of just staring into the baby’s eyes makes a difference. And there’s no reason you can’t integrate the baby into your normal routine. If you don’t want to give up reading the stock quotes in the morning paper, why not read them to your newborn?
“Infants couldn’t care less whether you’re reading an exciting novel or the yellow pages,” says Armin Brott, author of The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year . “They just like hearing your voice.” Instead of poring over the financial section while downing your bowl of cereal, make up a funny poem about the baby instead. Your stocks won’t change over breakfast, but you might miss an unforgettable smile.
2. Reserve Daddy Time
Making time for Baby can be complicated when Mom is in full swing, as you may feel like you’re throwing a wrench into her carefully planned routine. That’s why it’s important to establish times when you take the baby alone for a walk around the neighborhood, a ride in the car or even to mail a letter or pick up a few items from the grocery store.
“During each of my kids’ first year, I tried to take him or her out for a weekly breakfast to bond a little,” says David Fabian, father of 4-year-old Matthew and 2-year-old Jillian from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “It didn’t matter that they couldn’t hold a conversation yet. It was time just for us, and that benefited our relationship later.”
3. Stick to It
When you do schedule time to be with Baby, treat that time as sacred. If you have a Monday morning deadline, commit to getting it done but not during the special time with your son or daughter. If Tuesdays and Thursdays are your nights to give the baby his bottle, don’t try to get out of it because you feel tired. (Your partner is twice as tired.) If you say you’ll bathe the baby when you get home from work, don’t walk through the door announcing that you need to keep plowing ahead on the Peterson file.
During your reserved baby time, make it all about him and you. Shut down the laptop, power off the cell phone and place aside the Palm Pilot. Instead, savor this private time. Relish the way the wondrous little creature gazes into your eyes with unconditional love and appreciation. Show him some comical expressions or sing a song in an exaggerated manner. It’s a good bet one little grin is going to make you forget your e-mail even exists.
4. Don’t Define Quality Time Narrowly
When it’s 4 a.m. and you’re changing a diaper so Mommy can catch an extra 10 minutes of sleep, you might think Baby barely notices. Wrong.
“Infants appreciate the differences in scent, skin texture [and] resonance of voice as well as the handling differences between moms and dads,” says Dr. Lillian Beard, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. In other words, your baby not only recognizes but loves your hairy knuckles and clumsy diapering technique. So appreciate those special middle-of-the-night minutes you put in: They represent time during which you both give a critical break to your partner and grow closer together.
“Never pass up an opportunity to do the mundane stuff,” says Brott. “It’s not particularly glamorous to change diapers, but even those few minutes are great opportunities for Dad to get to know Baby and for Baby to get to know Dad.”
5. Seek Creative Ways to Manipulate Your Schedule
Employers today are nearly as sensitive to new dads as they are to new moms. Maybe you can come in earlier and leave earlier a few days per week, allowing you some precious afternoon hours with the baby. Maybe you can work from home every Friday, turning your usual commuting hour into a Dr. Seuss or Curious George reading hour (which is way more fun).
Finally, taking some paternity leave – unless you feel it will seriously hinder your career and thus prove damaging to your family – is a great way to bond with your newborn, says Dr. Beard. Even a week of getting to know your baby at the beginning of her life will make a significant difference in the long run.
6. Take It a Step at a Time
The job of caring for a baby is more difficult than any other in part because it involves so many different aspects. No one can be expected to master them all at once (OK, mothers can, but no one else), so try to use your time with Baby to get the hang of one element at a time, ultimately making yourself a more effective father.
Force yourself to change as many diapers as possible during the course of a weekend. After that, practice boiling and preparing bottles every evening from Monday to Friday. Then commit to learning at least three new baby songs by the first of the following month. The more you throw yourself into these separate tasks, the more you’ll learn about your baby’s preferences, tendencies and cues. You’ll be surprised how far a little self-imposed immersion goes.
7. Don’t Wait until the Baby Arrives to Start Bonding
Your easiest, and least disruptive, opportunity to bond with Baby may be the period when he or she is still in your partner’s tummy. Even if you have to work late on a given day and don’t come to bed until after midnight, you can still sing the baby a little tune, give it a gentle rub or just tell it about your day before you drift off, too.Even if there’s a belly between you and Baby, don’t think the interaction isn’t meaningful. Research shows that unborn babies recognize and respond to different sounds in the womb and can distinguish between light and dark. Making time for Baby before he arrives also can mean blocking out time in your work schedule to attend ultrasounds, join your partner for prenatal checkups or help with stroller or crib shopping. And watch out – you just might enjoy it.