10 Things dads can teach moms about babies:
1. Babies like things topsy-turvy. Whether they’re being tossed in the air, swung between your legs or suspended upside down by the ankles, older babies (not infants who can’t support their heads) will gurgle with delight during energetic acrobatics. Tip: Grasp the baby by the torso, not the arms. Extra tip: Stay away from balconies, or you’ll be in deeper trouble than Michael Jackson.
2. Babies appreciate a good mess. Moms tend to freak out when a baby starts pulling scraps out of the garbage or upends a box of Cheerios. So after you’re done laughing, assure her you’ll do the cleanup. Tip: “Encourage your wife. to roll up her sleeves and make a mess together,” says Christine D’Amico, a life coach and author of The Pregnant Woman’s Companion (Attitude Press, 2002). “It will allow her to break out, too.”
3. It’s OK for babies to cry sometimes. When your wife’s sympathetic sobs rival your baby’s, remind her that crying is just what babies do. It doesn’t mean she’s doing a bad job; diaper boy will still love her in the morning. “Dads are a calm force,” says D’Amico, “particularly at times when a baby can be expected to cry, such as when he’s
getting a shot.” Tip: Stay upbeat and supportive. Take the pressure off her.
4. It’s a baby’s job to try to leave the nest. Fathers are more likely to encourage a child’s first steps toward independence. “Babies can do more than moms think they can,” says Armin Brott, author of The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year (Abbeville Press, 2004). “Dads will allow a tot to try for things in a situation where he might fail, while a mom might rush to stop him. Dads also tend to wait a few seconds when a toddler falls down before running to pick him up.” Tip: Make sure mom sees how much fun your baby’s having when he’s pushing the limits, like crawling up stairs. Of course, beneath your nonchalant exterior you’ll be poised to scoop him up in a second.
5. Babies can be inscrutable. What’s going on inside that brain the size of a pigeon? By the time you figure it out, your 15-pound party is confounding you with a new dilemma. Being in the dark won’t bother you, but it’s probably driving the woman who’s sharing your bed crazy. “Babies are stressful to care for,” D’Amico says. “Men remember this more easily and are able to
distance themselves from the stress.” Tip: Suggest she take time for herself to recharge, and help make it happen.
6. Babies don’t always need a breast to fall asleep. One of your major missions is learning how to wrap, shush and rock your baby to sleep. Eventually, your skill will prove invaluable when mom decides she needs an alternative to nursing at bedtime.
Tip: Make like the Baby Whisperer: Offer to lie down with the little
critter and let your wife get a head start on some sleep of her own.
7. Babies will survive someone else’s care. “A man can leave the baby with someone and know he can come back and the baby will be fine,” D’Amico says. “It’s important for a man to help a new mom realize she won’t scar the child for life if she leaves him for an hour.” Tip: First babysitter? First drop-off at day care? First trip to granny’s? Be there with her.
8. Attention compensates for technique every time. Sometimes doing their best is not enough for new moms; they strive for perfection. Dads, on the other hand, tend to be confident, calm and blithely unaware of their shortcomings. (It’s why we insist on buying the same size pants as when we were 18 even though our waistlines have grown by 10 inches.) Tip: Praise her, then pitch in. “A woman who’s having problems can feel horribly guilty,” Brott says. “That’s when a dad’s help can make a huge difference.”
9. Babies don’t always go by the book. Parenting instruction manuals will start appearing in a huge pile on her night table, and you probably won’t read more than a paragraph. But your reductionist instincts will pay off when she comes across conflicting information on issues like soothing, sleeping and nursing. That’s when you can help her follow her heart. Tip: Be the half of the team that sticks to the basics: Change, feed, burp, soothe. Rinse and repeat.
10. History doesn’t have to repeat itself. Men today are committed to not using the same parenting techniques as their fathers—no more smacks to the back of the head or throwing toddlers into the deep end of the pool to teach them to be fearless. Sometimes new mothers need to be encouraged that they won’t make the same “mistakes” their moms did. Tip: Talk about all the good things you’re both doing that your parents never even knew about.