How can I feel more competent as a new dad?
I’m a new father. I haven’t had much experience with infants and I want to be involved in my daughter’s care, but every time I try to pick her up, she starts to fret. How can I feel more competent?
Armin Brott, parenting expert
First of all, let’s start with what not to do: When your daughter gets fussy, don’t hand her off to your partner. Mom may be able to get her to stop crying a little faster than you can, but the truth is that whatever she knows about handling your little one, she’s learned by doing.
The best way for you to feel more comfortable with your newborn is by jumping in and interacting with her. In fact, research shows that “lack of opportunity” may be one of the biggest obstacles to dads feeling at ease with their babies. In other words, the more time you spend with your baby, the more confident you’ll feel.
One benefit of spending time with your baby is that you’ll quickly learn to understand her language. Although her vocabulary is almost nonexistent right now, if you pay close attention you’ll soon be able to tell the difference between her “I’m tired,” “Feed me now,” “Change my diaper,” and “I want to play” cries.
At first, your baby’s cries may all sound the same, but the better you get to know her, the sooner you’ll be able to tell which is which. Once you’ve got that down, you’ll be better able to take care of her needs, and in return, you’ll become closer.
New fathers often worry about what to do with their babies. After all, they don’t talk, they can’t catch a fly ball, and they don’t seem to do much besides drool. But even if your baby is just a few days old, you can do plenty of (simple) things with her. Carry her around and listen to music together, talk to her, or read out loud.
It doesn’t really matter what you read: Both War and Peace and the ingredient panel from your toothpaste tube will get her used to hearing your voice and make her feel more comfortable around you. And that’s what it’s all about right now.
Note: If your partner offers to take over, don’t give in. Instead, tell her that you’ve got things under control. (A simple line such as “I can handle things” or “That’s okay — I really need the practice” usually does the trick.)
There’s nothing wrong with asking her for advice, of course — you both have ideas of how to do things — but ask her to show you how to diaper or burp your baby instead of doing it for you. And don’t be afraid to make a few decisions (and mistakes) on your own.