It’s father’s day across much of the world today. A day to appreciate, give thanks to and celebrate the daddies. Yet one of the questions I’m asked most often is how to actually involve Dad…How to convince little one to LET dad come near them, to do anything instead of mum doing it, especially where sleep and bedtime is involved.
Maybe little one screams when dad goes to them in the night instead of mum.
Maybe Dad finds it hard to find ways to bond with baby amidst the seemingly constant nursing frenzy.
Maybe the toddler’s having a new bout of separation anxiety and is super clingy with mum all over again, not letting dad do anything for them at all.
Maybe the family just want to share the load.
At this point I would like to clarify…this post is inspired by Father’s Day and so I am using the language of father and dad throughout but the advice stands for any parent or carer who neither carried nor nurses the baby. If the terms mum and/or dad don’t fit for you, I hope you will still find something useful in here for your situation.
Whatever the struggle, it’s a common theme…and it’s totally normal and natural. It’s totally normal and natural for babies and young children to prefer to be and be done to by their mother. And so my first advice in this scenario is always to not take it personally. It just is what it is. It won’t always be this way, but for now, mum is where it’s at.
That said, there ARE things we can do to help.
So, here are my 7 Bs of bringing dad into the mix when it feels like only mum will do…
Not Dad. Baby. It’s a common ‘complaint’ or concern for nursing families that dad simply can’t be as involved as mum down to the pure biology of it all…mum’s got the boobs and that’s just that. But, once the nursing session’s over, there’s plenty that Dad or mum’s partner can take over for…burping, bouncing, rocking, singing, swaying…this is a perfect time for dad to take over and mum to get some rest. I know it’s common to want to introduce a bottle purely so dad can have a go feeding the baby, but really there are so many other ways to be involved at this point.
2. Being there
When the mamas I work with are lamenting all the things Dad CAN’T do for the baby and the fact that they HAVE to do all the nursing and night time etc, I ask them to come up with a list of things Dad CAN do…for the baby, AND for mum. and one of the top things they come up with is just being there. Being there while they nurse, maybe brushing her hair, rubbing her shoulders, her feet. Running baths, fetching water and hot drinks. Burping again, holding the sleeping baby…the specifics here aren’t really all that important. The point is the language. Instead of both parents focusing on what Dad can’t do this shifts the perspective onto what he CAN do allowing both to feel a bit more positive about the situation. So many of our struggles during this tricky transition come from our perceptions and if we can shift those, reframe the situation, the struggle itself evaporates.
This one saved our lives. Yes I wore Mouse a lot when he was little. A lot a lot. But so did dad. It’s a really beautiful way for them to bond and a really wonderful way to give mama a little break. One of my favourite memories is of the few blissful minutes I got to myself, after a morning of cluster feeding and trying to help Mouse nap, as Dad snuggled him into the sling and headed off out into town. Within minutes Mouse was asleep, snuggled up softly against Dad’s warm chest. And they returned a while later, all of us refreshed…oh, and they brought me back a coffee as an added bonus! I cannot recommend babywearing enough for SO many reasons.
4. Bonkers Play
As little one gets older I always recommend a good old bout of what I like to call bonkers play between dinner and the start of the bedtime routine. It’s a great way to burn off any excess energy, process bunged up emotions from the day, reconnect after time apart, meet any unmet sensory needs and just have a good laugh frankly. And, so often with the families I work with, this tends to be a great time for Dad to leap in and get going with the rough and tumble. I’m often told that Dad coming home from work tends to hype the littles up into a frenzy just as everyone is trying to calm down…so don’t fight it, build that into the routine and let rip for a bit!
Another one that works well for the families I work with is for Dad to do bathtime. Like bonkers play, bath time is a great opportunity to really tune in and connect at a crucial part of the day and top up those love buckets before bedtime.
Something I’m asked a lot is how to involve dad in bedtime. How to help little one find ways to go to sleep without mum. How to help Dad ‘do’ bedtime. Often when we look into what’s happening so far, it’s that mum is ‘doing’ bedtime totally by herself. So the first step to involving dad, is exactly that…involving dad. Dad being there for as much of the bedtime routine as possible. Dad having a role to play in bedtime…maybe the bedtime story, the massage, the song. Whatever it is, having Dad be there throughout the bedtime routine is the first step to being able to remove mum (eventually).
7. Back off
I’ve saved this until last, but really it’s the absolute most important piece. There are 2 crucial bits about little ones we need to talk about here…Firstly, babies and young children take cues from their primary attachment figure…usually mum. They can read subtle shifts in energy, mood, body language and tone of voice. They also fundamentally need to know that their needs can be and are being met by whoever’s care they’re in. They need to be able to rest and relax in the knowledge that whoever they’re with has got this, has got them and can be trusted to look after them properly and competently. So with these two things in mind, what message does it give if mum is hovering around nervously watching dad’s every move. Correcting the way he fixes the nappy or makes the lunch. Hesitating ever so slightly before leaving the baby or leaving the house. Does it give the message that mum is totally confident and trusts in dad’s abilities to meet their baby’s every need? Does it give the little one confidence to trust the same? Nope. Mamas, we need to show that we love and respect and believe in our partner’s ability to look after our little people just as well as we’d do it ourselves, or our little ones are simply never going to let them try. And that, is nearly always the crux of the matter here.
So breathe, let it go, and back right off. Give them a chance to find their own way. Have faith.
Go on, give it go.
Now tell me, what about you? What other ways have you found to help Dad get involved? I’d love to hear what else you’d add to the list.