David Gee, a father of two, says that when his son, Jackson, arrived almost five years ago, his main thought was, “I hope I don’t mess this up.”
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Gee, who works full-time, devoted all the hours he could to Jackson (and later to his sister, Zelda) in mornings and evenings, becoming “the bath and bedtime guy.” As his confidence grew, he came to feel like he was truly on Jackson’s radar. “It’s when your baby stops looking at you and starts looking to you,” says Gee.
James di Properzio, a father of four and co-author of The Baby Bonding Book for Dads, says that members of today’s “transitional generation” of men are much more eager to be involved in their kids’ lives than their fathers ever were. Here are some tips to help new dads connecting with their newborns.
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Get up close and personal: Any chance to get snuggly is a good one, says di Properzio, even if it’s just a quick cuddle after a change. “That face-to-face contact is so crucial,” he says. “Their mirror neurons are going like crazy, trying to pick up cues and learning to mimic you and understand your reactions.” The feeling of security that closeness provides is just as important.
Make nighttime your time: Allowing your partner to get more sleep is good for the whole household, so hop out of bed if there’s an opportunity to bottle-feed or do some soothing. It may be hard to appreciate this when you’re groggy, but try to savour this time. “In the middle of the night when nobody’s looking, you can relax one on one with the baby,” says di Properzio.
Learn your way around bottles and diapers: If mom is able to pump breastmilk, or it you’re formula-feeding, get dad to help with bottle-feeding. He may be the best one for the job, since breastfed babies sometimes smell the scent of milk on mom and may think they need to eat, when really they just need to be rocked back to sleep. Mastering every messy detail of the change table will also make you the MVP.
Be there for the bad times, too: Bonding with your baby when he’s happy and sweet is nice in theory, but it’s not reality. “Bonding is also about when the baby cries,” says Hogan Hilling, author of Rattled: What He’s Thinking When You’re Pregnant. Your ability to contend with challenging moments is crucial to becoming a confident parent, so learn to be fearless in the face of fussiness.
Originally posted in May 2012.