Q Dear WholeFamily Counselor,
My husband doesn't like to spend a lot of time with our two-month-old son. I try to get him to, but he says he will when he gets old enough to play a little. I think they are both missing out now. What can I do about this?
You should know that your husband's reaction is actually quite common. Since a newborn cannot yet "do" anything, many fathers feel that the infant does not yet need fatherly interaction, just basic care.
In addition, many first-time fathers have little experience caring for infants and prefer not to be involved rather than admit not knowing what to do. You didn't mention other children so I am assuming your son is probably your first.
Of course, you are correct that your husband is missing out. Here are some suggestions:
1. Consider that your husband may feel uncertain about how to care for your newborn son. Don't change your son and feed him on the side or in a separate room from his father. Let your husband see the basics of daily care whenever possible. This may make him more confident of his ability to take care of his son.
2. Let your husband see that playing with an infant can be fun and meaningful. Sing to your son and use some simple baby toys with him while your husband is around. While right now, your son's reaction might still be limited, within the next few weeks you will already start to see changes, including that first "smile."
3. Come up with "excuses" to leave your husband alone with the baby, even for a short time. When you go to the bathroom, don't strap your son into the baby seat. Instead quickly slide him into your husband's hands and assure him it's only for a minute. If you find this suggestion is successful, try to forget something essential at the store and run out just for a short time. In fact, I'm sure it would not hurt you to have a reason to go out for the night and leave your husband babysitting. Maybe you could plan a "night on the town" with some friends. Of course if you are nursing, the amount of time you can leave your son may be limited, but even an infant can and should be able to go two hours without being fed.
Your husband may find that he enjoys this time and the more time he spends alone with his son, the more his confidence will grow.
A father's initial reluctance to interact with an infant usually diminishes considerably and disappears as the child grows and starts to develop the ability to interact with his parents and acquires exciting skills such as sitting, crawling, walking and talking. Even if in the end your husband does not choose to be the most involved father during his son's first stage of life, keep in mind that each person does have a right to individual preferences. As long as your husband is committed to his son and to developing a good relationship with him as he grows (which it sounds like he is) allow your husband the space to grow into that relationship. Keep up the encouragement, but don't push it.
Good luck. During the first year of a child's life, you will see more changes than in any other year in the future. Enjoy this special time. It sounds to me like you are off to a great start!
Esther Wolfson, MA
Director, Early Childhood Development Center