Welcoming a new baby is a crazy time – as well as being exciting and wonderful it can be scary, with a mix of hormones flying all over the place for everyone.
Some dads can worry that they won’t feel as connected to their child as the mum, or need help bonding with their new baby especially once they’ve gone back to work and can’t spend as much time with their bundle of joy.
It’s important to recognise that fathers can find it harder to bond with their children and that there’s no shame in that, there are some things they can do to feel more involved.
Why is a dad’s relationship so important?
It’s often assumed that a mum’s bond and relationship with her kids is the most important. But dads are just as crucial for children to grow up healthy and well and according to polls are just as skilled at parenting.
Research from Fathers Institute has shown that around 7 in 10 men and women think that society values a father’s relationship to their child less than a mother’s. This is despite evidence that links an absent father figure to youth crime and poor results at school.
It’s important for a child to have both a female and male balance of influence in their life, and without a strong father figure many children struggle and attempt to fill this role in other ways.
Why do dads find it harder to bond with their children?
Although this isn’t always the case, some fathers and particularly first time dads can find it harder to establish the same deep, emotional bond with their new-born baby as mothers.
Dads to be can get a head start by speaking to their baby in the womb, as this is supposed to help your baby recognise your voice once outside. It’s also important to make sure both parents are there for the birth and hold their little one very shortly after being born for similar feelings of attachment as a mum.
A dad’s lack of attachment is thought to be a result of both nature and nurture, looking at both men’s natural emotional state and the probability that fathers will be away from the home more than mothers.
Dave Bartlett from the Fathers Institute says that really men shouldn’t have any more issues bonding with their children, it’s more down to society norms: ‘Mums aren’t necessarily any better than men at making bonds with their kids, but the longer time they get with them means they quickly become more confident and more engaged.’
David points out that dads still traditionally tend to be the breadwinners of the family, and roles are usually introduced early on for the mum to be the main caregiver to the baby because of aspects like breastfeeding.
‘Mums naturally spend more time with children from the moment they’re born. Dads are rarely left totally in charge of a newborn baby for very long in the way that mums are.’
If a family has chosen for the mum to stay at home and the dad to continue to work, it makes sense that the mum will spend more time with the baby and therefore feel closer to them.
There is also an argument that as men tend to be less emotional than women, they find those bonds harder to form with their children. Helen Barrett says, ‘Men find it more difficult to cope with their emotions and to talk about things, which means they interact with their children, especially as they grow up, differently to women. It’s not quite the same sort of relationship for dads, as it is for mums.’
Rachel Morris adds, ‘Men are very activity-based. They like doing side-by-side things – think drinking at a bar, watching football, playing computer games, or a round of golf. This means they don’t tend to confront each other and talk as much about important issues. This will show itself up in relationships with kids, as well. Dads need to talk and listen to their children and not just “do things” with them.’
What can dads do to bond with their kids?
If you feel that you as a father or your partner isn’t bonding with your children as much as you’d like, there are some conscious steps you can take to try and change this. From supporting each other to committing to bathing them every night, time is the most important part of your relationship with your little one.
Nurture the relationship with the mum: ‘If mum feels happy and good,’ says David Bartlett, ‘then it will rub off on the child and help the development of the child immensely.’
Skin to skin: Skin to skin bonding, also known as kangaroo care, is when you hold your new baby to your chest when they are first born and soon afterwards. It’s well known to work for mums but it’s also good for dads too!
Get stuck in: ‘It’s important that dads get their hands dirty, as it were, early on,’ says David Barrett. ‘Patterns are set very early in a child’s life, so make sure dad has his responsibilities. He may not be able to breastfeed, but he can change nappies or do bathtime.’
Give them time: ‘Think back to your own favourite childhood memories and they won’t be about a present, but of time you spent with someone,’ says Rachel Morris. ‘Presents aren’t important – giving children your full attention is. Try to manage 2 hours a week and remember it’s not about helping them with homework, but actual spending time with them being involved with them.’
It’s what you do, not what you say: ‘Remember you’re a role model to your kids,’ says Rachel Morris. ‘Daughters grow up wanting to find a man like their dad, while boys grow up wanting to be their dad. They’ll pick up on all the behaviour you hate about yourself, so be careful.’
Talk to your partner: ‘Communication isn’t just important for your relationship,’ says David Bartlett. ‘You need to work as a team to help your relationship with your kids. It’s easy for dads to feel jealous, at a loss and left out, so you need to talk about things. Share your fears and expectations – mums are just as likely to be worried and nervous.’
Say sorry and get it wrong: ‘Being humble and vulnerable are great traits,’ says Rachel Morris. ‘Boys will feel less inadequate if they know their dad doesn’t always get it right. And tell your kids you love them and praise them as much as you can.’
Listen to your children: ‘As they get older, allow them to be heard,’ says Rachel Morris. ‘It will make them feel important and boost their own self-confidence.’
Look after yourself: ‘Make sure you’re both mentally and physically happy,’ says David Bartlett. ‘Men can quite easily get isolated and stressed and are prone to post-natal depression as much as women with a new baby. Sadly, it’s less likely to be picked up in men.’