When we announced that my wife was pregnant, that opened the floodgates for unsolicited advice. Every parent I knew took it upon themselves to offer their version of childrearing wisdom—most of which I appreciated.
Over time, we began hearing some of the same suggestions over and over again. This is going to change your life. Get used to not having any sleep. Make sure not to let them eat coins. (Okay, so I made up that last one—but it’s still useful.)
Another piece of advice that I heard countless times was how much I was going to love my new daughter. How I never knew was love truly was until I held her for the first time. How I would just understand once I finally became a parent.
Then, the big day came and my little girl was born. I was the first one who got to hold her after she was done being hosed off by the doctors. And I was certainly filled with wonder and amazement at the miracle of life. But I still felt like I was missing something.
I didn’t feel an instant connection with her. I wasn’t overcome with emotion or a sudden infusion of paternal instincts. I didn’t really feel like a dad just yet. This was a struggle that I didn’t expect. But I know I am not alone. Maybe you feel the same way.
Moms spend more than nine months growing the baby inside of them. They’re the ones who go through the traumatic experience of childbirth. And they’re the ones who often breastfeed the infants. So there are many natural opportunities for creating a deep and intimate bond.
Where does that leave new fathers? How do we find connection? I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to bond with my baby girl—in fact, I’m still not sure; I’m still learning. But I wanted to share what I’d discovered so far when it comes to bonding with your child as a new dad.
1. Hold Them
Before I became a father, I didn’t really understand the appeal of holding babies. I didn’t mind holding them. I wasn’t afraid of breaking them (as apparently many people are). But holding babies just wasn’t my idea of a good time.
Now that I’m a dad, holding my newborn daughter is one of the easiest ways that I can spend time with her and form a bond. We’ve had lots of visitors to our house and most people want to have their turn with the baby. But I need to be intentional about carving out my time with her, too.
One thing my wife and I learned from the doctors was the importance of skin to skin contact. This means literally what you think it means—holding your infant to your bare skin. So take off your shirt, show off your dad bod, and wrap your child in your arms.
2. Walk With Them
While you’re holding your new child, it might be a good idea to take a walk. Get outside the house and stretch your legs. Throw them into the stroller (please, not literally) and go for a walk around the neighborhood or the local mall.
Not only does this give you a chance to stay active, it also gives your little one some much needed fresh air and vitamin D. Exercise releases endorphins in your brain, which keeps you positive and happy. Associating your baby with these feelings only makes you two closer.
Be sure to put away the cell phone while your holding and walking your baby. It might be easy to scroll through Facebook while pushing the stroller. But it only creates a distraction that will slow your bonding. And starts your child’s journey towards technology addiction way too soon.
3. Talk To Them
My daughter doesn’t speak English, yet. In fact, she doesn’t speak any language. She mostly just grunts and cries. But she’s constantly listening and gradually picks up on what my wife and I are saying. Even from a young age, babies begin to recognize your voice.
The more you talk to them, the sooner they’ll be able to learn speaking. And the more they’ll recognize your voice. It doesn’t matter what you say (but maybe keep the profanity to a minimum). Take this opportunity to start brainwashing your child to love your favorite sports team or maybe teach them some interesting facts about history or cars.
If you are bilingual, this is also an early change to expose your child to another language. Babies brains are like sponges, absorbing as much as they can. I’m not personally bilingual, but I do remember a few random German phrases from high school I could teach my daughter.
4. Read To Them
Even before we got pregnant, one of the things I most looked forward to doing with my future child was reading to them. Hearing bedtime stories was one of my most cherished childhood memories, and I couldn’t wait to share that same experience, now as a parent.
Believe it or not, my newborn daughter can’t read yet (give her a few months). She can’t even understand when I’m reading to her. Despite that, reading out loud to her still makes a big difference in her cognitive development.
Not only that, but it’s something special that I get to do with her. Reading her a book is a shared experience that will serve to connect us long term. Even if she doesn’t know what green eggs and ham are, she’ll soon learn that her dad loves her.
5. Read About Them
Because I cherished reading as a child, it’s still something that I prioritize as an adult. Which is why one of the first things I did upon finding out that I was going to be a dad was buy a few books on the subject. And they’ve been very helpful in preparing me for parenting.
The more I understand my child, the better connected I will be to her. Taking the time to research infants and becoming a better father even when I’m not with my daughter makes me a better parent. It reminds me of my responsibilities and tells me I’m prepared to handle them.
The fact that you’re reading this blog post is a good sign. But if you’re looking for more, here are the books that I’ve been reading specifically about becoming a father, and I’d recommend them to any new, or soon-to-be, fathers:
6. Change Them
No, I’m not just talking about molding their little minds. I’m referring to diapers here. As a new dad, you have the opportunity to change hundreds of dirty diapers—and that’s just on a daily basis. So pitch in to help with diaper duty. This may be the smelliest way to bond, but it’s nevertheless effective.
All of these methods of bonding with your new baby is about four things—being present, close proximity, having patience, and making it personal. When you keep those three things in mind, bonding with your child starts to become just a little bit easier.
For more blog posts and parenting resources, visit ParentCue.org.