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Helping Dad be Dad

Our daughter, who had not yet cried after being born, suddenly began squalling in her bassinet. “Well, Daddy, there ya go! Time for the first diaper change!” I grinned at my husband.

Helping Dad be Dad

“Me?” It came out in a squeak. “You want me to change her?”

“I just carried her for nine months and spent the past 25 hours giving birth to her. Yes, I want you to change her!”

He looked at the nurse helplessly and she grinned back at him with a grin as big as mine.

“Here’s the diaper,” she said, handing it to him.

“Um. I’m not sure how to do this,” he said.

“Don’t worry, I’ll teach you!” she replied cheerfully.

“Nothing to it!” I added carelessly as I polished off my long-awaited meal.

All proceeded smoothly until I heard, “Oh! Oh gosh! What is it!? Is that normal? Is she OK? It looks like melted Tootise Roll! Is she OK?”

I almost undid all that beautiful sewing my Dr had done “below,” I was laughing so hard.

The nurse explained that the “melted Tootsie Roll” was a good thing and that it had a name, “meconium.” With additional exclamations and very Tim the Tool Man-like sounds, my husband finished his first ever diaper change. If coaching me through all-natural labor didn’t escort him into fatherhood, that task certainly did.

The funny thing is, he still talks about that diaper change nine months later. “I changed her first diaper,” he tells everyone proudly. “You should have seen it! It was gross. Looked just like melted Tootsie Roll!”

Truth be told, my encouragement for him to change that first diaper was more than just getting him to finally do some baby duty after 38.5 weeks of doing it solo. I had some very wise friends encourage me to let my husband have as much hands-on time with the baby in the first days of her life as he possibly could. “It would help him fully take on that dad role,” they advised me, “something you’re going to want him to wear in coming weeks. Better get him off to a strong start as soon as you can!”

So I did. My motives were ulterior but I don’t think he has minded. In fact, my husband seems to really enjoy this new role of his, called Daddy. A strong, stone-and-brick mason by day, he becomes a soft-hearted, sappy mess by night.

He is our baby daughter’s dad.

When I talked this over with him and asked him what I have done, and what other moms can do, to help a man step into the dad role, he talked.

He talked and I listened. Here is what I got out of the conversation.

Include your husband in the pregnancy. Invite him to the appointments, especially the ultrasounds, and have him be as involved with the doctor as you are. When the baby kicks, grab his hand and let him feel it. Encourage him to talk to the baby.

I will never forget when our baby was not in the right position for birth yet, and I told my husband that he needed to give her a talking to. Next thing I know, he’s leaning down and playing his role to the hilt, saying, “Now baby girl, this is your daddy and you need to listen to me. You put your head down in Mama’s tummy young lady, and come out the proper way. Don’t make me come in there and move you!”

Allow your husband to be a part of your labor as much as you can. Although it was not a part of our plan, my husband ended up getting behind me in the last 2 hours of my labor. I gripped his knees and pushed against him as I pushed our daughter into the world, all while he watched via the mirror they set up for us. He said later, getting behind me like that and feeling me squeeze him and push against him helped him feel like an intricate part of the entire process.

Once your baby is born, encourage your husband to be as hands-on as possible. One of my favorite pictures is of my man rolling our daughter to the hospital nursery for her first bath, this huge grin on his face.

Another favorite picture is of him standing in the nursery, hovering over her as the nurse tended to her. I had encouraged him to not worry about me, but instead be with our daughter at all times. He stepped into this responsibility quickly, and as he did so, the protective father came out in full force.

Here’s a biggie: When your husband does take over the diapers and changing clothes and even the bath times, don’t criticize how he does things.

I know. Insert a big gulp, right? They just can’t take care of our precious babies like we can — or so we think.

Actually, they can, they’ll just take care of them differently.

Our husbands may not have the instincts we do, and they may have to be told, “Check the water with your wrist instead of your finger tips,” or, “Don’t ever leave the baby alone on the changing table,” as mine did, but tell them gently. Don’t tell them in a degrading way and in a way that causes them to feel like incompetent idiots. Start out with a “I’m going to offer a suggestion…” and end with, “Thank you so much for doing this for me. You’re a great Daddy.” Couple the advice with praise every single time.

Other things are going to drive you nuts, but if they aren’t a safety issue, be willing to let them go. OK, so he holds the baby like a football instead of cuddled on his chest. Is the baby crying? If not, let it go. So, he put a sleeper on your little bundle instead of one of those adorable outfits you got at one of your showers. That’s OK — the baby doesn’t care.

Choose your battles when it comes to your husband’s involvement with the baby. If it’s one you have to fight for, do it with respect and always add praise at the end.

Make sure you make time for your man, even with all the demands of motherhood. This can be so hard in the first months. Everything in us screams out, “Take care of the baby. Invest every minute into her!” But our husbands still need our love and friendship.

Even if you can’t spend a ton of time with your husband, even acknowledging to him that you realize he’s not getting the time he once had with you will go a long way with him.

When your husband gets in at night, make it a huge celebration. I learned this from my best friend who is a mother of five. Every time she knows it’s almost time for her husband to come home, she’ll begin saying, “Kids, Daddy will be home soon! Woo hoo!” This gets them excited, and by the time he walks through the door they are so thrilled Daddy is home that he feels very much like a wanted and loved dad.

My best friend also makes her husband out to be the hero of the family. She talks all day long about him, how hard he works to support her and the kids, how much he loves them all, and how strong he is. She encourages the kids to draw him pictures and write him notes, things that they are more than eager to give to him when he walks through the doors at night. This too, makes him feel very much like a father to the children.

My husband mentioned to me, while I was working on this, that one of the best things a mom can do to help dad feel like a dad is to send him to the store with the kids. I cringed at this one. I have this horrible fear my husband will end up talking on his cell phone, or be so focused on what he needs to get that he’ll leave our girl in the car or leave her unattended in the store. And yet, as he pointed out, he needs to know I trust him as her father. I’m working on this one.

Lastly, my husband added, acknowledge how your man is being a dad by working. It’s OK to want help with diapers and baths and bedtimes, but don’t look at that as being the only proof he is a good father. Let him be a good father in his way, which the majority of the time, means working 40 to 60 hours a week.

Also acknowledge that he is being a father by no longer hanging out with the guys like he once did and not buying toys for himself. Instead, he devotes time to you and the kids and his money goes for clothes, diapers, braces, and school supplies. Being a dad has more forms than just spending time reading stories at night. Realize that and thank him for the way he is a dad.

Dads play a huge role in our children’s lives. It’s our jobs as moms to encourage that role and then let our husband fill it in his own unique way.

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