The first week with the new baby.
I get to see baby quite a bit in the hospital and then at least once or twice once home to answer questions, make sure everything is going okay. So, I get to see a lot of dads sitting in the exam room chair feeling totally helpless. They want to help- but don’t feel they have a lot to offer.
In my Present and Productive Parents Facebook group, there are nearly a thousand mothers having all sorts of parenting conversations daily. While most of the group IS comprised of women, I have noticed lately that more and more members have began tagging their partners in threads and encouraging them to interact more. I love that participation because the fathers can often contribute helpful and unique perspective to the conversation. So, join if you’d like here!
Last week, we asked in the group about what sort of things the mothers wished their partner would have done in the prenatal stage and in the weeks after delivery….so, I got the inside scoop from the source on how to best take care of your lady and get mega points and be her knight in shining armor.
I feel strongly their suggestions should be heeded because despite being from many different moms in all different stages – first baby, third baby, fifth baby – and despite being geographically scattered around the country (actually around the world) their responses were shockingly similar and I could picture lots of them nodding their heads at each other in agreement at each addition.
In part 1 we discussed the significant role fathers can play in the months leading up to baby’s arrival, and now I want to share that YOU can have a HUGE dramatic impact in the first few weeks and months of your child’s lives. In fact, I would venture to say that often-times dads can act as a game-changer, pushing your family over the edge from simply surviving to actually THRIVING. This transformation, however, requires being intentional, recognizing your strengths, and taking ACTION on what you can help with- without necessarily having to be asked.
Here are some of the suggestions that came up MOST frequently amongst the mothers in my group:
First and foremost – CONNECT.
Connecting is key. Yes, you are tired but I PROMISE you, Mom is more tired. She just went through the pains of delivery or in some cases surgery, so now is not the time to put down the scorebook and step-up to the plate. I promise that she expects you to continue to connect and for good reason. More than anything, I heard from these women that they want to feel they are in it WITH their partner- and they aren’t left to figure-out this new role alone.
Connection is Key (and also what NOT to do!)
A little effort at connection goes a long way. If you’re not sure what I mean, here’s an example: Instead of asking things like “How was your day?” phrase it as “What was the best part of your time with baby?” and pair it with “What was the hardest part of the day?” to show that you don’t just want to hear that everything was rainbows, unicorns, and roses.
Now, if you don’t often ask about the hard parts of the day, I will warn you that she will share with you the rough parts but sharing solutions to your spouse’s hardest parts of the day should only be given if expressly asked (GENTS – this is underlined, bolded, and italicized for a reason!) It took me a long time to learn that just because my wife is sharing a frustration or difficulty doesn’t mean she wants me to solve it. Instead, just show that you hear the frustration, acknowledge WHY that must have been so tough, and then stop.
If you’ve never seen Parks and Recreation, there is an episode that demonstrates this perfectly.
Ann Perkins is having a difficult time in her pregnancy, and her partner Chris finally approaches her frustrations with two magic words….”that sucks”. You can clearly see on her face how helpful that was that he acknowledged that what she’s dealing with sucks, that he can’t necessarily relate to it (please don’t try to compare your football injury with lower-back contractions, just don’t do it) rather than driving her crazy by trying to pose an immediate solution. So….when you hear about a frustration, try just saying (in your own words of course)- “that sucks”- and then leaving it at that.
Give her Time, and make sure it’s the RIGHT Kind of Time
This was- by far- the biggest request from the group regarding what a dad can do to help mom out, so please picture me pleading with you through your screen and you read this. So, if you take ONE piece of advice away from this post, let it be this-
Every two to three days set yourself a reminder on your phone to ask your partner, “Would you like some time to yourself?” And then actually GIVE it if it’s needed. Moms often feel entirely beholden to baby….his schedule, his feeding needs, crying, waking, and so-on. If you can give her these frequent mini-breaks to be “off-the-clock”, and get out of the house, I promise you she will be grateful and will feel lighter. Yes, an occasional trip to the spa would be nice- but even running errands without the little one(s) in tow can be refreshing to whichever partner is home with the baby all day.
One of the group members even recalled an instance where her husband got home from work and almost immediately started cleaning the yard of dog waste and trimming the bushes outside…
She remembered desperately begging to switch places, not because picking up dog waste was a hobby of hers, but because she DESPERATELY needed a second, with both arms free, to step away. Now, I’m not telling you to go ask your postpartum wife to clean up after your pets- but, hopefully you get the point.
If you are a working Dad, it’s easy to sit at your quiet desk eat a hot lunch (with both hands!) while you catch up on the news or watch the highlight reel from last night while you imagine that her days at home are filled with smiles, cuddling and lullabies but, as someone who has now heard from the source- that is just not reality. Having a tiny-person needing constant feedings, burping, and naps- the timing of which she often has no control over in those early days- is both mentally and physically exhausting- so be sure to show compassion during this time AND acknowledgment of what she accomplishes during the day.
If you’re in the early days after delivery…
and baby is feeding all the time, especially if your partner is nursing, you can still give her extra pockets of time to be off-the-clock. As far as dads go, they can still lend a hand with feeding by extending the periods between feedings by just a smidgen. I remember many nights sitting with our first daughter on the couch. She had woken up after just an hour of feeding and I’d say, “Okay, I’m going to hold Jane off for one episode of Breaking Bad then wake up Catherine to nurse her” and I’d swaddle Jane up, stick my pinky finger in her mouth to suck on, and catch up on my Netflix. This won’t sabotage the breastfeeding relationship- in fact, it may help make it successful because Mom’s mind and body will be more rested and therefore healthier.
If you’re worried you won’t get enough sleep being up at 2AM helping out – GO TO BED EARLIER.
I promise if you say to your partner, “Hey can I get to bed a little earlier so I get enough sleep to be up from 2-3:00am to let you get some extra rest” she will shoo you off to bed immediately.
As baby gets older, you can keep him content so mom can get out of the house – suggest she setup a coffee date with a friend, go run an errand….or even just escape to a different part of the house while you take care of things. This will go such a long way. Before writing this post I spent time re-reading the comments from my group (LINK) and I am not exaggerating that EVERY comment mentioned this exact topic- so trust me, please keep this in the FOREFRONT of your mind.
And, what did I mean by “making sure it’s the RIGHT time”? Well, do your best to restrain yourself from texting her (unless requested) while she’s gone. If you are constantly calling and texting about the baby’s crying or what you should be doing- she won’t feel as though she got away at all. When she comes back, do your best to put on a happy face and act as if everything was smooth sailing back at home (and if it wasn’t, I promise, you’ll soon find your groove!). This will further put her mind at ease and allow her “time away” to be productive rather then unnerving.
SHOW her that you’re in this parenting thing with her.
You can do this by showing her that you know what’s coming next in baby’s life- and that you’ve given it thought. Even just asking questions to show you’re anticipating the challenges in the coming weeks will go a long way. Questions like, “when do you think it’s best to introduce a pacifier?” Or, “what do you think about swaddling?” Or, “what solid foods do you think we should start with?” show that you’ve done some research so that the weight of these decisions don’t rest solely on her shoulders.
Don’t be hesitant to take initiative. Saying something like, “Hey I know this is thinking ahead, but I did a little research on high-chairs and think we should get this one or this one, which do you like better?” This will help to further establish that you’re not only helping in the moment in a reactive state but that you’re being proactive and have thought ahead a bit – and that yes, you do think about being a parent when she and baby aren’t looking or reminding you.
If you found this helpful, please share it with another dad or a set of new parents- both they and I would really appreciate it.