After earning a bachelor’s degree in Family and Consumer Sciences Education (with a minor in Child Development and Family Studies) from Purdue University and five years of teaching Child Development & Parenting and Human Development & Family Wellness, one would think you'd have parenting down, right? I did have a lot more knowledge and experience than many men, and my training did prepare me for a wide variety of challenges but professors weren't around to answer questions years later when my first child was born.
Three kids later, I've found it essential to have a good base of friends and mentors (with or without kids) to support, challenge, and love me… and my kids. It is an amazing experience to have men in my life to dialogue about what midwife to use, bedtime routines, supporting mom through nursing, education options, media use, and everything else that gets thrown your way. They are the same guys that you can call over to say, “I need help building a garden bed, do you know how?” (it is good that kids see the men in their lives ask for help and problem-solve with others), or “Can you come over and teach us how you _____(take pictures, hike, knit, change oil…)”, but they are also the guys that say, “you're working too much,” “GET OFF YOUR PHONE!” or “I'll hang with the kids so you can take your wife on a date.”
The changing roles and images of what it means to be a dad can send many into isolation or overload. You simply can't be the hero of all things work, family, and community related. A daily 2 hour commute left me about 2 hours or less a day to be with my first born, so dad-guilt really set in and I never wanted to spend time with my friends. I'm down to a 5 minute commute now, but having 3 kids now spiked my desire to be home so I could be dad. It is incredibly important that I am with my kids, but it is also valuable to spend time giving and receiving with friends, because it doesn't only help me, but it continues to add to the richness of my family.
Ready to be that friend?
So, the time of life when your friends start having babies may seem like your time to take your leave of absence, but they may need you now more than ever. Things will change but it doesn’t mean your friendship is over, it is just a new level of commitment, usually because of time constraints. Pregnancy and childbirth can be a little lonely for dads at times because Mom gets gifts, new clothes, parties, and will spare no expense fluffing the nest. This can send the message to dads that they really aren’t part of the excitement. Even after the baby is born, the focus is usually, “How are mom and baby doing?”
There is nothing wrong with pampering and the acknowledgement that life has just been brought into the world via mom… but dad was part of it, too. I remember when my son was born and friends brought a gift for me (an incredible French-press travel mug that had a compartment in the bottom for more coffee) and asked me how I was doing, as opposed to just asking about mom and baby. I’m pretty sure I talked for an hour without breathing after they asked.
So be there, your friend needs you.
The young family might take some time to adjust to having an addition to the family. It isn’t as traumatic as what you might see in movies, but it does take time to get used to nursing and crying from time to time. A lot of young families have a grandma or doula stay a few days to help with laundry and other chores, but that time is usually limited so the family will be on their own sooner than later. Having healthy meals during this time can be a challenge (many well intentioned people bring a lot of pasta or casserole dishes – that reheat well but are not so good for weight gain). If you can cook, make something healthy for them, if you don’t cook, order something and bring it over. Walk their dog, cut their grass, take their car for an oil change, or just pick up a few groceries. These are all very supportive ways to be there for your friend, but their baby needs you, too.
After a few weeks things will get into a pretty good rhythm but you’re not done, yet. Your friend still needs you, but so does their baby. Men tend to back off when it comes to babies because they've almost been trained to believe they won't know what to do with them. This is so far from reality! Every time I had babies come visit my Child Development and Parenting class, it was the boys who wanted to hold the babies first. They had no inhibitions when it came to playing, reading books, making funny faces and noises, holding, and rocking. (The girls always joined in, too but these boys blew the lid off the stereotypes of men). Men do have a nurturing instinct; it looks different but is equally as important.
A child's development (physical, intellectual, social and emotional) revolves around interactions with people. The first few weeks they just kind of sit in your arms and sleep but you'll notice people talking to babies, smiling, and touching them. The touch and talking builds synapses in the brain setting the stage for physical and intellectual growth while the smiling is influencing social and emotional development and prepares them for healthy relationships.
Always remember that any child will prefer loving human interaction over TV or toys… and human interaction is far superior to any video or toy ever produced. Read, read, and read some more. Even though you think they aren't listening, they are. When I get home from work, I am greeted by my kids with books in hand; it is a beautiful thing (of course we then go on bike rides or play all sorts of things). My kids associate two things with a good friend of mine; they know that when Uncle Kyle visits, a lot of food will be eaten and many books will be read.
Even though my male students had no inhibitions with interacting with babies, they still had to be taught a few basics on how to hold a newborn.
- Always hold the head
- Be careful of the fontanelles on top. These are the parts of the skull that haven't solidified yet which allow for some squishing during birth. These go away around 5 months… but still be gentle.
Common Ways to Hold & Carry a Baby
The Football Hold
Hold the babies head in the palm of your hand and have the legs go between your arm and body as if you were holding a football.
The Outward Hold
Once they can hold their heads up, you'll see many men holding the baby with one arm kind of propped up on their hip facing outward.
The Cradle Hold
The is the most traditional way of holding a baby where their head rests in your elbow. They can face you or out.
Over the Shoulder
Baby’s head rests on your shoulder or chest and usually sits nicely on your forearm.
Gently hold the baby’s head under their chin between your thumb and pointer finger. Support the baby with this hand and sit them on your leg. Use the other hand to gently pat their back to burp. Save this one for at least a 1 month old.
You can support dad with feeding the baby, too. Nursing is one of the most amazing and cost effective nurturing practices, but don't make jokes. Be sensitive to the mom's comfort level as it can be very unnerving to continue to sustain life with her body. The myriad of benefits are too numerous to list (but include impeccable nutrition, antibodies, calming hormones in mom and baby, and increased healing time for mom…), but you too can nurture by creating space and supporting the parents. Once in a while dad might need a reminder about the masterpiece that the mom's body is, so while he can enjoy this masterpiece, he can also appreciate that it is still sustaining life. Unfortunately our culture has over sexualized breasts but do not forget their larger purpose.
It can sometimes be discouraging to men, as it was for me, when they try to comfort their crying baby and all mom has to do is hold them and they are fine. A mentor of mine had to remind me to not take it personally as it had nothing to do with my ability to care for them and more mom’s ability to nurse.
You won't find a book, journal article, or person in the world that could say, “My child has enough positive male influences in their life so we don't really need you.” In fact, you'll find quite the opposite! Our children are lacking these positive influences for a variety of reasons (absentee father, death, divorce, working too much, jerk, etc.) so even if you don't have kids, you're part of the solution.
Not only can you help encourage development, but these kids will also get to see what positive healthy relationships look like among men (versus womanizing drunks). I am fortunate to have two of my closest friends live on my block, and I see the great benefit my kids have from others speaking positively into their lives, but also drawing boundaries for them by helping correct their behaviors. They bring a variety of experiences and talents to the relationship that I don't have that my kids and I benefit from and vice versa.
Our kids see us work through conflict, love our wives, serve our neighborhood, and be a good friend to each other (Do a search on “friendless man” and you'll see what I mean).
See the new level of commitment? You are needed!
- Great way to bond with a baby and let them see everything you see.
- Safe and keeps them from running off
- Promotes intellectual development as baby is constantly able to observe communication and view the world from your perspective.
- Keeps babies germ free – many times babies get passed around, keeping a baby in the carrier prevents and most normal people will keep their distance as they would have to get very close to your personal space to see or touch the baby.
- If you're currently single, wear a baby to the park. If you have a dog, take that, too. You will not be single much longer.
*For safety, consult the directions with the carrier.
|Buckle the waist, follow the directions for back, side, or front carry.||Amazing for anything. You're holding the baby so bonding and all sorts of developmental things are happening, but they can't run off or touch things. This is my go-to carrier as it is the easiest to put on and the most comfortable. Baby can nap, enjoy conversation, see everything, and enjoy closeness with you. Great for hiking or anything with a walk.|
|Becco||Similar to the ergo.|
|Moby / Sleepywrap||Tie a bunch of knots around you.||Not really knots but it feels like it. My first born practically lived in a SleepyWrap. They are cozy but a little cumbersome to put on. A Katan is the same concept and much easier to use. Baby K'tan|
|Sling Carrier||Drapes over one shoulder the other part goes by your waist.||Baby can lay down and you have two free arms. As they get older, you can do the side carry where they are sitting on your hip, but you've still got two free arms|
*I prefer any wrap to a stroller any day. You don't have to worry about stairs, bumps, or the entire thing flipping over… and you get to keep your trunk empty! Now that I have three kids, I finally caved and got a dual stroller to help my wife when she is out alone with all three, but other than that, babywearing all the way!