Modern Family

9 things dads can teach moms about babies.


When it comes to the fears and expectations about new parenthood, men and women aren't always on the same page. And it doesn't help that much of what divides them often goes unspoken. Here, a few brave couples talk about the issues at stake. Plus, 9 things dads can teach moms about babies.

You've got issues. Agreeing to get married, agreeing to have a baby, agreeing to have one appetizer instead of two: Your life up until this point has been nothing but childless child's play! Most first-time parents become fixated on the challenges of childbirth. But you'll be faced with equally demanding challenges as soon as you get home from the hospital, and they won't end as quickly. So the next time you're going back and forth about whether to order the guacamole, try verbalizing your thoughts on the more hot-button topics.

To help you out, we asked psychologist Pamela Brill, Ed.D., author of The Winner's Way: A Proven Method for Achieving Your Personal Best (McGraw-Hill), to offer workable solutions to some of the often-unspoken dilemmas that bedevil expecting parents.

HE THINKS: "I'm afraid of what having a baby is going to do to our relationship."

SHE THINKS: "It's going to be the best thing in the world!"

Some men dread the third-wheel syndrome. Others dads fear they'll be turned into baby-wearing wimps. In any case, the days of fun and games are over, right? "We've had eight great years together," says Chris Gentile, a professor of English literature in the Midwest. "But we don't know what will happen when the baby is born." His wife, Susan, thinks she'll have no problem finding a balance between being wife and mother.

"Maybe our needs as a couple won't be met when they need to be met, but we'll get it together," she says. Or will they?

THE THERAPIST SUGGESTS: "Your ability to talk about things other than a child is what brought you together in the first place—you need to keep it going," Brill says. Try to maintain some independence and interest in one or two of the hobbies or activities you enjoyed before the baby arrived, Brill adds; that's particularly important for new moms.

HE THINKS: "We won't have enough money."

SHE THINKS: "We made a budget—what's the problem?"

New stroller, new car, new house, child care ... college! The list of future purchases overwhelmed John O'Connor, an actor in Chicago. "I know I need to make as much money as I can, so I have a number of projects going," John says. At 36 weeks pregnant, his wife, Jan, can't see what all the fuss is about. She doesn't want John to turn into a workaholic, absentee father and thinks the money they once spent on meals out and vacations will take care of the baby's needs. "I know it will all work—we figured it out on paper," she says. "John just needs to see our new budget in practice."

THE THERAPIST SUGGESTS: Such money issues may have a silver—even gold—lining. In other words, it's great to look at pregnancy as a time for each of you to reassess your career paths. "Either recommit to becoming more successful in your present line of work or pursue other options," Brill says. But you have to work as a team. "If Jan's serious about wanting John to spend time at home, she has to stick to the new budget," Brill adds.

HE THINKS: "I'm afraid I'll never have sex again."

SHE THINKS: "I'm afraid I'll never want to have sex again."

"I'm definitely worried about sex," says Frank Declerq, an editor in New York. "I know that when the baby comes, I won't have time to address Jennie's needs. She isn't just going to bend over a couch—she'll need to be seduced." In her second trimester, Jennie has concerns of her own— different ones. "I'm fine feeling all wrapped up in being pregnant," she says. "And I'm more concerned with how I'm going to handle being a mother than I am with sex. However, I do hope my libido comes back."

THE THERAPIST SUGGESTS: Focus on intimacy, not sex. Frank can help his wife adjust to her physical changes by allowing her to enjoy lots of rest, long baths and cuddling. The time to reconnect sexually is when she feels as interested in receiving pleasure as she does in giving it. "Start by acknowledging that things have changed," Brill says. "Frequency, times, places and ways to have sex will be restricted, but together you can find new ways of being intimate."

HE THINKS: "I won't have time for myself."

SHE THINKS: "He'll have to forget about 'me time.' "

For Frank, lack of time ranks up there with lack of sex. "I wake up early in the morning to do things for me, whether it's working on business plans or taking a run," he says. "That will be history with a new baby. I'm not worried about going to bars with friends; I'm worried about not being able to do the extra things I need to do to get ahead." Jennie wants him to change his priorities. "I don't want him disappearing," she says. "Having a baby is going to be a lot of work, particularly in the beginning. He'll just have to learn how to be more efficient."

THE THERAPIST SUGGESTS: Can you say multitask? It is possible to be more productive in less time. "So maybe when Frank has baby-induced insomnia at 3 a.m., he can run on the treadmill and think about ideas for work," Brill says. All kidding aside, Jennie should help her husband think of new parenthood as a precious, once-in-a-lifetime experience that goes quickly. "She needs to share with him the peaceful, loving moments with the baby, not just hand off a screeching infant when Frank walks in the door," Brill says.

HE THINKS: "I don't see how I can help with a newborn."

SHE THINKS: "Oh, there will be plenty he can do."

Chris fears he'll be useless when it comes to caring for a tiny baby. He thinks mom and baby will bond, and he'll be stuck on the sidelines. "I have no idea how much I'll be able to take the load off Susan," he says. Susan wants Chris' input—and future help—on everything from breastfeeding to sleep issues. "But he doesn't see the point of reading about these things," she says.

THERAPIST SUGGESTS: Be prepared, Chris. "Women don't innately understand how to do many things required of mothers, including breastfeeding," Brill says. "So plan now for how you'll handle problems that may come up." That might mean dialing up a lactation consultant in the early innings. Throw in some hands-on baby care and let mom sleep in. "And Susan must encourage Chris' efforts," Brill says, "not criticize him if she thinks he doesn't wrap the baby correctly or finds a diaper is on backward."

9 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 your baby by his torso, not his arms.

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). "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. "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.

4. It's a baby's job to to 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). TIP: Make sure mom sees how much fun your baby's having when he's pushing the limits, like crawling up stairs.

5. Babies can be inscrutable. What's going on inside that brain the size of a pigeon's? 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 drives moms 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: 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? 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. 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.