FAMILY ALMANAC

How to prepare a father-to-be

Posted Aug. 22, 2011, at 11:38 a.m.

Q: My husband and I have been together for six years and married for two; we have a strong relationship and we’re expecting our first child in about 12 weeks.

We’re very excited about the baby but I’m a bit concerned about my husband — a good, kind and loving man. He’s not keen about baby classes or the touchy-feely side of fatherhood; he’s somewhat dismissive when I play music for our unborn child and he thinks that I’m being rather silly when I ask him to talk to the baby. Instead he makes flip comments like, “He’ll know who his daddy is when he gets here!” This may be true, but I want him to know that these things are important to a child, even before she is born.

His reactions, however, make me wonder how confident he will be as a father and how well he will bond with the baby.

I guess that my husband acts the way he does because his parents married when they were quite young, split when he was 5 years old, and he and his two brothers grew up as latchkey kids without much nurturing along the way. While my parents made my siblings and me feel wanted, treasured and loved, the bedtime stories that I adored as a child simply weren’t part of his childhood.

I won’t really care if my husband and I have different parenting styles, but I’ll be bothered if he doesn’t bond with our child. And yet I don’t want to be a bossy, know-it-all wife who tells her husband what to do, because that wouldn’t help him, and I don’t want to give him a parenting book because he probably wouldn’t read it.

So how can I help him connect with our child right from the start? Does he need a coach to become truly involved?

A: No, your husband doesn’t need a coach but he does need you to let him be the kind of father he wants to be, rather than the kind of father you want him to be.

The results, however, may surprise you.

Just as no two people have exactly the same values or spend their money in exactly the same way, neither do two parents rear their children in exactly the same way. And that’s just fine. The differences between parents teach a baby far more than their similarities because they expose her to twice as many new ideas.

You may be the one who tickles your baby’s toes, blows raspberries on her belly and imitates every face she makes, but if your husband is more reserved, he may only pick her up and dance with her if he thinks no one is looking.

And when she’s a toddler, you’ll probably discipline differently too. Most parents slip into good cop-bad cop roles without even knowing it and they have different nag levels too, which cause the child to respond differently simply because she knows how many nags each parent gives before there is an explosion.

While this evolution is found in most families, one parent is often stronger than the other, which is unfortunate. To build up your husband’s role, you might pump some milk every day so he can give the baby a bottle at night, let him burp her his way rather than yours and ask him to give the baby her first bath. And her second and third baths too, because parenthood is as exhausting as it is exhilarating and you’ll need all the help you can get.

You might also ask him to decide if the bathwater is too hot or the baby has a fever by giving him the magical VeraTemp thermometer (KidzMed; $40), which will let him take the temperature of the bathwater or the baby without touching either one and to do it in less than a second.

The best lessons of parenthood, however, should be learned before the baby is born. And nothing teaches them better than “Early Moments Matter” (Vulcan; $10), a 65-page handbook and a 30-minute DVD — in English and in Spanish — which were used in the three-part documentary called This Emotional Life that ran on PBS last year.

Here you’ll learn that parents bond with their children within the first few weeks; that it takes a couple of years for children to attach completely to their parents and that this attachment gives children the psychological bedrock they need to be emotionally healthy as well as the activities that strengthen their attachment the most.

If you order this kit at earlymomentsmatter.org, the company will send another kit free to someone in an under-served community somewhere in the U.S.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com

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