Resources for professionals
Fathers and Infants
infant time is dad time
how dads bond with baby
dads' most important opportunity
being aware of the dad's own unbringing
Listen to this section
Infant Time Is Dad Time
A father may believe that his time will come when his child is old enough to kick a ball or hold a fishing pole. But infants and toddlers miss out if his father doesn’t care and play with him – and the father misses out, too.
The early years have the potential to create an important emotional bond between a father and his child (just as it does with the mother). Trying to create this once the child is older puts the father and child relationship on the back foot. This is verbatim from an email sent to Great Fathers:
“My husband, [name], and I have three beautiful boys, soon to welcome number four (gender unknown, but likely a boy!) to the family. We had our first two boys, ten and eight years ago, and left a big gap of almost 7 years before our youngest was born 20 months ago. Our lives are completely different now from when we had the first two, less financial and social pressures. [My partner] now wishes he had been around more all those years ago. He has been struck by the strong bond that kicked in straight away with our youngest child, and this is all because he had the time (or took the time) to spend with him as a baby. With the first two it was all about providing, working every hour of the day and being stoic about not sacrificing his sports! He now reflects on how selfish this was, and also what he has missed out on by making those conscious choices. He was parenting like his father had done, and he’d turned out alright…right?!
Our wee boy adores his father, and is often drawn to him before me, which is the exact opposite of the older two. [My partner] still struggles to connect with our eldest son in particular, and has to make a conscious effort to engage with him, where this all comes without any effort with the youngest. He can’t believe the power of the small investment of time made early on and can’t wait to get involved with baby number 4.
For me, after suffering with PND [postnatal depression] after baby number 2, probably from being completely overwhelmed with little support, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed mothering again myself. This time I feel like I really have a parenting partner, and this has done our marriage the world of good!” – Mother of two60
Falling love with a baby may take time. Fathers need to know that not all fathers instantaneous fall in love for their wrinkly, red newborns. Many mothers don’t fall in love with their babies immediately, either. We may think the loving connection between mother and child is automatic, but it is common for new mothers to feel many things (including shock, grief, relief, disgust, amazement, joy and exhilaration) rather than immediate gushing love for the baby after giving birth. A study of mothers in a London hospital found that 40% of the women said their first emotional reaction to holding their child was indifference!61 Fathers may have similar experiences.
“With our first, Annie, I just fell head over heels for her instantly. There she was just so small and perfect. I wanted to do everything for her and I stayed home as much as I could, which was a lot. It was wonderful – I was totally besotted. Two years later we were pregnant again and I got excited because we were doing this all again and I was really, really looking forward to it. And then when Jack was born – I felt nothing. Nothing! I was really disappointed. I was there through the birth, just like with Annie, but I didn’t get the buzz, not at the beginning. I’ve got no idea why that part was so different. It’s made no real difference in the long run, I don’t love Annie any more than Jack, but with Annie it started with a bang.” – Father of two
Fathers need to know that the more active a father is with the baby, the stronger his love and connection becomes.
Being an Involved Father
We develop all our relationships through what we do with people. We are friends with our friends because we ring them up and arrange to have lunch or go for coffee, a jog, a walk, a bike ride, a beer, play cards, throw a frisbee, throw a ball, watch a movie, go to the river or the beach. We talk to our friends, ask how they are, we tell them how we are. Our relationships are built on the interactions we have with each other. The more experiences we share, the closer we feel and the stronger the relationship becomes. We are also respectful with our friends: we pay attention to them, listen to them, share their joy and sympathise when they have problems. It may sound ridiculous to say it, but fathers need to know that their baby is a person. Forging a relationship requires showing the same attention, attitudes and respect we show to our friends.
Babies develop their relationships in the same ways that older people do: by doing things we them. Talking to a baby and listening and responding to them, playing with, changing the nappy, bathing, soothing, dressing the baby and going out for walks, reading to them, putting to bed – all of these are how our baby gets to know us. The baby’s role in this is to respond, which they will often does brilliantly. These early interactions – and doing them regularly and consistently – is what creates the father/child bond. The more a father does with his baby, the stronger that bond becomes. It doesn't take long that their bond becomes unbreakable.
The Father’s Main Responsibility … and Opportunity
As a parent, the most important work is to make sure that the newborn feels safe, loved and respected.
Being aware of our own upbringing
A father needs to know that what kind of father he become is inevitably influenced by his own up-bringing. When fathers are asked in antenatal classes if they are going to be a father like their own father, the answers range from “I’d be chuffed if I’m as good a dad as he was, he was awesome” to “He was hardly ever there, and when he did turn up he was a bad b***, I wouldn’t do a single thing like him.”
Whether we had a positive upbringing or not, how we were parented is often the strongest model we have. It’s important for a new father to reflect on his experience growing up with his parents because if he doesn’t, he will probably follow the same parenting style he was raised by – whether that was good, bad or in between. This is just human nature.
Men who decide that they will (or will not) be a father like their father are making a conscious decision – and that’s important. If a father considers the models he’s had, he will be more thoughtful about what kind of father he will be to his children.
When expecting fathers are asked what they would do different from what their fathers did – even for those who had positive memories of their dad – the most common answer is “If I can, I’d like to spend more time with my kid than my dad spent with me.”
Men who are asked to take a moment to reflect on what kind of father they want to be may realise that they are not captives of their past. Deep-seated hurt can last a lifetime, but that doesn’t mean they have to take it to their children. When people are aware of their past, they are more able to be the father they wanted their own father to be.
Having a second childhood
Having a child can be an opportunity for the father to have the childhood they would have liked for themselves. Few boys or girls got the total package of fathering or mothering that they wanted. Having a baby of their own is an opportunity to re-live childhood through their child.62 It gives the man an excuse to be silly and to play. Being a parent is undoubtedly a lot of work and added responsibility, but it is also the opportunity to live another childhood.
Being a great dad is good for you
Men who say that parenting takes up a greater proportion of their time also rate higher in terms of their own self-esteem.63 Perhaps this means that being an active, engaged father – not just having children – makes a man’s life more meaningful.