I talk about motherhood a lot on my blog but today I wanted to talk about an equally important topic: fatherhood.
I think it’s super common for new dads to feel a little hesitant and out of their depth with a brand new baby because they aren’t exactly sure what to do, but let’s be honest: moms feel that way too! It seems like there is this belief out there that women just instinctively know everything about motherhood. That thinking is untrue and and does more harm than good. It can make a new mama doubt herself and feel like a failure if she doesn’t know exactly what her baby needs all the time and it can make a new dad feel like he is useless. No one gets a manual and there were many times where I felt like I had no idea what to do. I just learned one day at a time. Each parent needs time to get to know their baby and his or her personality and particular needs – and the only way to do this is by spending time with the baby. I strongly believe it’s important for dads to be involved in the care of babies right from the beginning.
This can be easier said than done. I breastfed both of my babies so regardless of who was holding him or her, once the baby started crying, he or she was handed right back to me. It often was the case that the baby was hungry and that was something only I could do, so it wasn’t really a big deal at first. But then it started to feel like their care was always “on me” because I was the one to had to feed them.
If I didn’t want parenting to always feel like it was “on me” in the little people years, I had to let go of control and let Justin step in. This isn’t always easy for me, as I often want to be the one in control, but it has been a healthy thing for both Justin and I. When one of our babies was fussy (and I knew that he or she wasn’t hungry), I didn’t step in to try to soothe every time. I had to give him a chance too! It’s so hard as a new mama not to step in every time but it’s so important to give dads a chance to find out what works for them too.
Today I thought I’d share a few other things that have been important for me to do in my role as mother in order to help encourage Justin in his role as a father. I think every person is different and every relationship dynamic is different, but this is what has worked for us!
Have a “thing” for dad to claim ownership of
Even when our babies were teeny tiny newborns who relied on me frequently for feedings, there were a few things that they needed that I didn’t have to be the one to provide and Justin could step up and take over. One was diaper changes – obviously not a glamorous job, but I think it can provide a sense of nurturing since it’s something the baby absolutely needs. (This didn’t mean that Justin got stuck with all the diaper changes, but it was definitely a place where he could jump in and help often). Another was awake cuddle time – bonding with the baby and getting lots of face to face time for the babies to see that he is a constant in their lives.
Another big thing was bath time. From the very beginning when we brought LJ home from the hospital, bath time became Justin’s ‘thing.’ It was a task he could completely take care of from start to finish and was an easy way for him to have quality time with each of our children. There are days when he works late or just needs a break and I’ll give the baths but for the most part, this has been his thing for the past two years.
Communicate Ways to Help
Going from one to two kids was a huge transition for me. Tasks that I used to be able to keep up with easily started to slip as I tried to juggle more and more demands. I felt overwhelmed and stressed, and I found myself getting irritated because I felt like I was drowning in all the things on my plate and Justin wasn’t instinctively stepping up and taking over. The truth is, Justin was so willing to help but just needed to know what to do. I had to remind myself that he is not a mind reader. While it would be great if he just *knew* that we needed to restock the diaper bag before leaving the house, it wasn’t something he thought about.
I started to communicate how overwhelmed I was feeling and how I really needed him to step up. I listed some areas I wanted him to notice and help with, such as checking the diaper bag and restocking it before we left the house. After the first few times of us leaving the house and me asking him to check the diaper bag, now he does it instinctively. Even though it’s a small thing, it is so helpful to me and makes me feel like we are a team working together, both working to get our family out the door on time.
Another thing he has started stepping up and doing is getting the kids dressed and ready to go. At first, he would always ask me to pick out their outfits and then he would get them dressed, but I communicated how that still put all the decision fatigue on me so he started picking out outfits for them. Which leads me to…
If I’m being honest, I’ve had to really bite my tongue sometimes when I see the outfit Justin picked out for one of our kids. I usually put dresses on Vi for church, but Justin will dress her in pants. I like for clothing to be cute and coordinated, but Justin will sometimes put mismatched combinations on our kids. I am not always successful, but I try really really really hard not to criticize or correct his efforts.
Because if I ask for help and then criticize how he helps, it works against me in two ways. It makes Justin doubt himself, which leads to him always asking questions to make sure he’s doing something just like I want, which does not help relieve my mental load but in fact, adds to it. It also makes him not want to help. Who wants to do something if they’re just going to get criticized? Not me. And not him.
So when he folds the kids laundry and puts it in the wrong spot in the drawer, I say nothing. When he doesn’t fill the diaper bag the exact same way I do, I say nothing. When Vi’s socks are on the outside of her leggings instead of underneath, I say nothing. When he brings LJ out in blue shoes, brown pants, and a gray sweater, I say nothing. (Although of course, on that day we unexpectedly had our pictures taken at church. Sigh).
I’m not always perfect at this and have slipped and let out some comments about how he did or didn’t do something, but for the most part, I try to focus on saying only one thing: THANK YOU. Because in the end, it doesn’t really matter that Vi isn’t wearing a matching bow in her hair or that we have 17 more snacks than we need in the diaper bag. What matters is that Justin and I are a team and we are working together to raise our children.
Give him opportunities
Justin can’t figure out what works for him as a dad if he doesn’t have the chance. This means stepping back and letting him figure things out for himself. A good example is bedtime routines: I have a routine for putting LJ down for bed. Justin’s routine for putting him down is different. Neither of our routines is the “right” way – they both work! I’m not going to say “well here’s what I do and you need to do the same thing.” He figured out what works for him and LJ and it’s great!
I also make sure to leave Justin alone with the kids when I can. It drives me CRAZY when people call this “babysitting.” He is their DAD. He loves them and is very capable of taking care of them. Giving him some time to figure things out on his own is important for him to feel confident in his abilities as a parent (and it’s important for me to get some time on my own to recharge).
Celebrate his unique personality
I fell in love with Justin because of who is is. He is funny, caring, and energetic. He makes everyone around him feel comfortable and important. He makes me laugh and reminds me not to take everything so seriously. We are not the same, but that is why we make such a good team. We complement each other and each bring different strengths to our relationship. The same is true in parenting. We don’t handle situations the same way, but that is actually a good thing. Justin brings things to the table that I don’t, and vice-versa.
Justin is so fun and always makes time to play with LJ when he gets home no matter how tired he is from work.
He is also nurturing in his own way and always provides a space for our kids to feel safe and loved.
It’s so fun to watch him take obvious joy in watching LJ and Vi grow and develop their own unique personalities. He shows so much pride in them! And now that LJ is getting older, they are starting to go on little father-son dates together. We like to go get donuts as a fun little family outing, and just this past Saturday Justin and LJ went out for donuts and then to get a haircut and when they got back, LJ was grinning from ear to ear! You could tell he had the best time just soaking up all of daddy’s attention.
Justin does a great job in pushing me outside my comfort zone. He’ll try letting our kids sit on their own or try a new food or activity sooner than I would. But many times, it turns out our kids are capable of that skill and I didn’t even realize it. I just needed someone (him) to tell me it’s okay to try it with them. He’s adventurous and helps give our kids the confidence to try new things. He is a calming presence who reminds me to relax and not stress out about little things. The areas he takes a casual approach are generally the ones I’m a little more high strung about, and the areas I’m more lax about are sometimes the things he stresses out about (he does not like food messes haha!) We make a good team and balance each other well.
Our kids need Justin’s parenting just like they need mine. I need him as a partner in parenting. What he brings to the family is important and deserves to be celebrated too. I’ll have the kids write cards for him or make sure to tell him ‘thank you’ often. We need him! And it’s important to remind him of that from time to time. ❤