By John Shertzer
It’s a fact of life guys. In a home with both a father and mother, the kids seem to build a much more natural bond with Mom. I suppose that has something to do with her carrying them for 9 months before they even meet us. Also, children will most likely spend more of their young minutes with Mom, especially if she is nursing. What this means is that we, as fathers, probably need to work a little harder at building those bonds. It’s hard work. But, it’s probably the most important work any of us will do.
Through reading and personal experience, I’ve learned some simple but interesting ideas about how to strengthen the bonds between baby and Dad. A recent article in the February issue of Parenting magazine served as inspiration for this topic. Feel free to add your own ideas in the feedback section.
Nighttime May be the Right Time
A typical rite of passage for parenthood is the rock-papers-scissors games we play with our spouses over who has to take care of junior in the middle of the night. Take one for the team and volunteer for late-night duty. Not only will this give a signal to your child that you are a comforter and protector, but it will also score you bonus points with the wife. And seriously, some of the most enchanting moments of parenthood are the minutes that pass as you rock the little one to sleep. If the late-night thing is just not workable, then perhaps volunteer to be the one who puts the young one to bed each night. Or, do the duties on weekend nights.
Take Off the “Cool Cap”
When I work with college students, I often use a term invented by a colleague – “cool caps.” These are the figurative caps we wear that say we’re too cool for something. We always ask the students to take these off so that they can truly immerse themselves in the activities we do. Perhaps we, as fathers, need to heed this advice as well. Even the manliest little boys like cooing, funny voices, games like peek-a-boo, and singing. Let’s drop the guard gentlemen and all start singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with as much gusto as Luciano Pavaratti. I’m consistently surprised at how fun and relaxing it is to let out my goofy side with my child.
In addition, since mom may find it easier to sing high-pitched songs, use the depth of your voice to sound soothing and interesting to your child. For example, my son loves a deep-sounding version of Fly Me to the Moon. The point is to be unique, so that the child gets something new from each parent.
If you were like me, you were as accustomed to holding a baby as you were to holding an albino iguana. And you probably would hold both the same way – arms outstretched with a facial expression that says “what should I do with this thing?” Well, after that initial awkwardness passed by, I learned that the best bonding I could do with my son was up close and personal. I’m not typically the cuddling kind, but I found it nearly impossible to not want to hug and squeeze the little guy. Physical contact can bring people closer together, and fathers and their children are no different. You can’t be too macho for a hug!
Sticking to a routine makes our lives easier, and simple rituals can also build small but meaningful moments with our children. Feed your child the same meal each day (it’s dinnertime with Daddy)! Read a book with the kids every night. Listen to a different CD every day with your children (dancing can be included). Find things to do each day that can be your special time with the kids.
Moms seem to build easier bonds simply because they do a lot of the mundane, but significant tasks associated with raising a child. Changing diapers, feeding, rocking, comforting, etc. are not glamorous, but are tremendously important for the parent/child relationship. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and pitch in with these chores. We should get into it, since I’m pretty sure there will come a day when we miss these things and lament how quickly our little ones grew up.
The simple point is to be involved, and find ways to be unique. It takes a little work, but it also will come naturally if you let it. Have the courage to be the father you are capable of being. The bonding will come easily after that.