Not long after the birth of my second child, I took him to visit his great grandparents. When he got fussy, as newborns inevitably do, my grandmother said, wait for it, “Oh, he needs his mom!” Did you hear that? That tone? It may not come across here, but I sure did, and I don’t think it was just a lack of sleep and general touchiness.
What she was implying was that I was at fault for taking him away from his mom for the day. The feeling is that there are maternal bonds, mysterious perhaps, but they are there, and that anyone who gets in the way of those bonds, like the hunter between the cub and the mama bear, watch out; chins will wag.
Certainly there are many who believe the basic principle to be true, that there is something different about moms and babies, and that moms have more naturally assigned bonds with the baby, right out of the hopper, than men do. For one thing, they have breastfeeding and, frankly, that alone can go a long way in fomenting a relationship.
It’s a lot like the CEO and the mailroom clerk who come in after a smoke break slapping each other’s backs. That’s what frequent breaks can do. Us non-smokers simply look on, wishing we could share in that level of collegiality with the executive suite.
So it is with moms and babies. They have their milk breaks throughout the day, just to toss it around. They’re buds. First comes bonding But, there is more to the story, of course, such as this:
“About half of all parents, male and female, don’t have any particular fond feelings for their babies when they’re born,” says Dr. Armin Brock.
“We’re constantly fed the idea that we fall in love with our babies immediately, and most people don’t.” Good to know? I think it really is, because it’s that initial hump that knocks a lot of new dads out of their stance and it carries on from there. Dr. Nancy Cohen is a specialist in child development, director of research at the Hincks-Dellcrest Institute and a professor in the Department of Psychiatry
at the University of Toronto.
She says “men often aren’t interested in children until they can be talking and be active. All of a sudden the baby may turn away, which can feel like a snub, when in actual fact, they probably just need a break.” All of this against a backdrop of mom and baby getting on like BFFs.
Use what you have What are dads to do? “Just try to relax,” says Dr. Cohen. “You don’t have to work so hard.” Certainly, part of this is the need to realize that it’s not a competition. No, dads can’t breastfeed as effectively as moms, but we’ve got other charms, to be sure.
Remember Harry Harlow’s monkey mother experiments from psychology class? He showed that baby monkeys, when given an impossible choice within a heart-wrenching set of experiments, will choose the warm furry “mom” over food. And, really, lots of guys have warm and furry pretty well wrapped up. Just saying. It’s quantity not quality
“What I recommend is just hanging around,” says Dr. Cohen. “You know, having the baby in your lap or in a baby seat, and just observing the baby and responding. Babies coo, and you coo back. Babies imitate you even hours after birth, such as sticking out your tongue.”
The old saw that says it’s about quality not quantity isn’t true, at least not in any mutually exclusive way. The more time you spend together, the better – it’s that simple.
KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE
“Like any relationship it needs to build over time,” says Dr. Cohen. Babies grow into kids, who grow into teens, who grow into adults. And, actually, while I don’t have studies to show any of this, it seems to me that the idea of “daddy’s girl” is indicative of how well we do attachment over the long term.
My father-in-law once saw me hand my crying baby daughter, unable to console her, to my wife, whereupon the babe calmed immediately. He turned to me and said, “Well, Mom has her now, but you’ll have her in the end.”
“Different people have different ways of relating,” says Dr. Cohen, and that’s a good point, too. Some people sing, others not so much. Mom will have her way, and you should feel free to have yours. Parents are different and they’re supposed to be. It’s one of the reasons, I suppose, that your partner was attracted to you: you’re a guy, you’re different, you do things differently. I don’t really need to say this, of course, but once the baby is out, some moms
seem to lapse a bit on this point. They get their nose into things and keep it there. Are there times when we’d like to say, “Ok, back off.” Yes.
Should we say it in those terms? Probably not. But you should find a gentle way to say it. You’re your child’s dad, and that’s a person your child really wants to get to know.