One of my very favorite things about being a parent is watching my husband play with and bond with our kids. They love him to pieces, ask for him constantly when he’s not home, and climb all over him when he is.
But, when they were babies, it was so tricky for him to bond with them. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. He is one of the most engaged dads I’ve ever met and worked so hard to bond with them from the day they were born. But I cannot tell you how many times they would cry for mommy when daddy was trying to hold them or play with them. He was so defeated. He was putting everything into bonding with them, and he felt like they were rejecting him.
I’m a numbers girl, so when my son was about 3 months old, I calculated it out . . . I had nursed him about 8 times a day since the day he was born, which meant at only 3 months old, I had already nursed him over 700 times. Wow! That is 700 times that he expressed a need, and I was the only one who could meet it. He had already learned in his little 3 months of life that mommy was the jam!
But of course, we knew that Daddy was also just as awesome – we just had to convince baby of it. Thus began our quest to find ways to nurture the Daddy-Baby bond. Here’s what worked for us.
1. Find ways for Dad to meet baby’s physical needs.
We found that it really helped our babies to bond with Daddy when he helped to meet their physical needs, in addition to snuggling with them or playing with them. He started helping with one feeding each day while I pumped a bottle for the next day, rocking them to sleep, giving baths, changing diapers, and helping to feed them solid foods once they got big enough.
2. Leave Dad and baby alone together.
When Daddy is taking care of baby, give them some space. This doesn’t mean I necessarily leave the house (although it can be an excellent chance to take a little break). I’ve found it helps though to leave the room so that baby isn’t scrambling to be as close to me (and milk) as possible. Sometimes baby cries when I leave the room, but within a few minutes, Daddy has distracted him, and they have a special time to play and strengthen that daddy-baby bond.
3. Let Daddy be the one to “save the day.”
Our babies HATED the car seat when they were infants. After hearing them scream and cry for an entire drive, you know my momma heart wanted to jump out of the car and rescue them the second we parked the car. But, when Daddy was in the car with us too, I refrained from jumping out of my seat and let Daddy be the one to save the day. He would get them out of their car seat and soothe them until all was right with the world again. To this day, Daddy is the designated boo-boo kisser in our house. If one of our kids gets hurt and Daddy is home, they do not want mommy to comfort them. They scream, “I want Daddy” until he comes to kiss the boo-boo . . . and again, all is right with the world.
4. Recognize and celebrate the things that are unique about your child’s relationship with Dad.
As your baby grows, there will be things that are unique about their daddy-baby bond. Sometimes these things may not be super obvious, but keep your eye out for them, and you’ll see them. For my daughter, I’ve learned that she is always much more secure when Daddy is home. My son is calmer and listens better when Daddy is home. Our baby loves when Daddy starts singing to her. When you find the thing that is special about your baby’s relationship with Daddy, look for opportunities to point it out to him. It will mean the world to him to know the special ways that baby responds when he is around.
5. Remind Dad to keep at it.
Even if baby makes Daddy put in extra work to bond in these early months, the time and effort are so very worth it. As baby gets bigger, their needs will change, and their bond with Daddy will grow. Our 5-year-old and 3-year-old cannot get enough of their dad now, and I know their daddy-baby bond will only continue to deepen as they get older.