When that little one arrives it's easy to feel on the sidelines, but here's the vital role you play.
The infancy stage is especially confusing for a lot of new dads, particularly if it’s your first baby. You imagine playing catch with your toddler, shoulder rides, making her laugh — and you’ll get there, but for now, this new baby of yours can’t even hold up her head, much less recognize your face. She still has to get to know you. She’s been inside mom for nine months, and mom’s is the only body that feels familiar right now. She has to form that bond first.
Add to this the fact that your wife is focusing so hard on the baby — navigating the breastfeeding relationship, healing from the birth, and coping with postpartum hormones — and you might feel like you’re on the sidelines. Your wife is in survival mode and the baby’s taking up all her extra energy. As for the baby, she doesn’t do much besides eat and sleep.
But while it may feel like you don’t have much of a role right now, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. You need to know that now more than ever, you are central to your family.
It’s true, you can’t fix a lot of what’s going on. You can’t make the mastitis disappear or the baby sleep longer, or you can’t talk your wife out of the baby blues or speed up her healing process. But your job as a father at this time can be summed up in three main ways.
1This too shall pass
Remind yourself that although this stage feels like forever, it’s temporary. Your relationship with your new baby is going to grow every day until she laughs when she hears your voice. You’ll get there, I promise. Lean deep into the practice of patience right now, and hang in there. This isn’t what your life will look like forever.
As for feeling like you’re on the outside, there’s a huge body of scientific evidence to suggest that your presence in your family right now is crucial.
2Solving problems...before they even begin
One of the known causes of postpartum depression is “a lack of strong emotional support from spouse, partner, family, or friends.” As the husband, your are closest to your wife — your support is going to make the most difference in her mental health. And supportive, encouraging dads are actually a key factor in helping moms breastfeed successfully. It all has a huge ripple effect. Moms with good postpartum mental health form strong and early bonds with their babies, leading to better mental and physical health for the baby — a stronger start is a big deal.
Think about it another way: Newborns whose mothers do get postpartum depression have a much harder time forming a secure attachment, a bond that will go on to affect them for years. Your presence and support might not look like it’s doing much, but it might be changing the trajectory of your whole family, in the direction of closeness and peace.
3Hidden, but crucial
Your job right now is to make quiet, patient sacrifices, to uncomplainingly change diapers and do dishes, to support your wife emotionally through this transition, to remind her that she’s doing a great job with a steep learning curve. It doesn’t feel like much, but really, good parenting doesn’t feel like much either, a lot of the time. The gifts that you give to your children won’t usually be flashy and dramatic. They’ll be things like your time, your attention, your nightly bedtime stories, your dad jokes. Your family probably won’t be flashy and dramatic, either. But your family will still change the world if it’s a community of love, and willing to sacrifice.
All the most powerful things in life are behind-the-scenes. When Christ was born, he was born hidden, and largely unknown. When the Holy Spirit moves in our hearts, He does so silently, invisibly, but he is no less powerful for being hidden. Your love, and your role as a father, is the same — a lot of the most heroic things you do will be hidden, probably even unrecognized. They are still powerful. They are still necessary. And even though the world may not realize it, your work nourishing and supporting your family is the most valuable thing that you have to give.
Infancy is a tough phase for a new dad, but trust me — this is your time to shine. Everybody needs you right now so much more than you know.