Moms and dads have spoken and unspoken expectations of each other, but it’s important for each parent to be allowed the space to interact uniquely with their child. Experts offer ways to give dad and baby space, while real fathers chime in about how they relate to their kids.
Let baby fall in love with dad
“Women — 66 percent — tend to take more of a leadership role in the care of their children,” says Julie Emmer, director of clinical education for Seminole Behavioral Healthcare, referencing a study by the Families and Work Institute.
While mom is often the primary caregiver, that doesn’t mean she always knows best. How a father interacts with his child may differ from a mother’s techniques, but he has plenty to offer. In fact, dad has many attributes mom might never be able to provide.
“A mom must trust that the characteristics that drew her to the child’s father are what she wants to impart to that child,” says Robin May, L.P.C. “Was she attracted to his humor? Calming presence? Gentle strength? Those are the same qualities mom must be intentional about allowing baby to experience.”
For instance, “In all seriousness, my wife is a compassionate caretaker and I’m just a human cartoon,” says Andy Herald of How to Be a Dad.
There is no “vs” in parenting
Moms chat, sing and interact almost non-stop with their child to teach and nurture. Dad’s idea of play may be rough-housing or sitting quietly with baby and enjoying each other’s company. “As long as the child is safe, neither method is wrong,” says May.
“I’m more prone to less structured activities than my wife,” says Parker Smith, dad to twin girls. “She keeps them engaged through playgroups, birthday parties and other activities. I take them on bike rides or nature walks, just finding what we find.”
Try to avoid commenting or interrupting unless dad asks for help. “Step away and allow dad to grow and learn how to navigate parenthood,” adds May. There is more than one way to dress a baby… feed a baby… pack a diaper bag… you get the idea.
Adds Paul Liadis about a unique way he connects with his two kids: “I let them taste the batter when I make cupcakes and eat the dough when I make biscuits.” A dad who bakes, and bakes with the kids? Keeper!
Both mom and dad are neophytes
No one can truly teach you how to be a parent. It’s a get-educated-on-the-job kind of gig. Allow dad the room to make mistakes, explains May. Avoid putting on your superwoman cape and swooping in to do it all, complaining all the way. “That’s not fair to dad or child.”
“What we see in counseling is a tendency for men to feel criticized and undervalued and for women to feel unsupported,” adds Emmer. “Moms need to be able to give up control every now and then, and dads need to be proactive and volunteer to help. There is a perception that men are not as able as women to care for their children. This is simply not true.”