One of the important things about dad is that he is not mum. The bigger world – the one that is beyond mum – really begins with dad. Children who have had an involved dad can take a bigger slice of the world and not be scared by it. – Dr Kyle Pruett
Dads parent different to mums
Dads play differently with young children than mums do. Social researchers observing parents interacting with young children have found that …
Mums tend to be:
Dads tend towards:
Being more animated
Letting the child struggle longer before helping
Using more active language
We should welcome this because these differences are good for the baby. The variation supports their brain development.
How dads bond with their baby
Mums carry the baby through pregnancy and have much more one-to-one time with their babies than dads do. All of this closeness is how mums get good at reading their baby’s signals and learning how to respond to their needs. While she might also read-up or ask people questions, a lot of how to be and understand her baby she learns by trial and error.
If dads don’t care for the baby themselves (that is doing it himself, not just assisting his partner) then he won’t feel that closeness to the baby that mums feel. And if he doesn’t do baby care, he won’t get good at it. The dad spending time with the baby is part of how the baby learns to trust him – and how the dad becomes bonded to the baby.
If a mum wants her partner to be more involved and engaged with the baby, she might try arranging time for them to be together, without her stepping in.
How men become the kind of dads they become
The two strongest influences on what kind of dad a man will be are; his own upbringing, family, mates and culture; and the other is his partner and their relationship.
How his upbringing comes into it
His experience of his own father and mother is very influential. Dads often behave with their children similar to how their parents behaved towards them. Quite often, people are not even aware they are acting like their own parents because it just feels normal.
Other dads are very aware of how they were brought up and decide to do it very different to how their dad did it. These men are making a conscious decision about what kind of dad they will be because they have thought about it. That’s great.
If you think your partner hasn’t really considered this, it might help if he knows that there isn’t one way to be a dad and that he can be the dad he wants to be.
His partner's influence
His partner is the other big influencer on what kind of dad he will be. If she expects him to be highly involved with the baby, he is more likely to be highly involved. Research suggests that what his partner expects of him as a dad overrides what he had expected of himself as a dad. If she has high expectations, he is more likely to step up.
How much she trusts him plays a big part in how much she allows him to be with the baby. He might be truly untrustworthy, on the other hand her protectiveness may cloud her vision. If a mum doesn’t feel she can trust her partner with the baby, it might be good for her to examine why she feels like that and if there is anything they can do about it. Simply knowing that dads parent different to mums – may help.
Leaving him to it
As the dad looks after the baby, in can be hard for a mum not to intervene or immediately take over when the baby starts fussing. But it’s good if they can get through that. This is how a parent figures the baby out– and how the baby gets to know him. Caring for the baby is how they get comfortable with each other. There is really no other way.
Try to leave them to it, go into another room and enjoy a cup of tea. Just being with the baby will teach him how to be a dad. He may even find things about the baby that the couple can talk about and add to the parenting kete.
The down-sides of dad being on the side lines
Some of the reasons why a new dad either gets engaged with fatherhood or not, his partner has little influence over. But some of them she does. One thing that is clear is that if he doesn’t have opportunities to develop his skills and confidence to handle the baby and read the baby’s cues, then he is less likely to feel a strong emotional connection to the baby. Working as a genuine team as parents is better for the baby and better for the couple‘s relationship. If a mum and try not to sweat the small stuff and allowing dad space with the baby can take the family a long way – Enjoy!