André and I have been together for many years. In 2013, we had the great joy of welcoming our little boy. Ever since Samuel was born, André has had a really strong connection with him, and has always been involved in his education.
Without going into our whole life story (for the moment at least!), I’d just like to say that my husband is a loving man who is there for us and involved in every sense of the word. I have to say: the connection that developed between the two men in my life has surprised me. We could never have imagined the strength of the bond we both have with our child.
I want to look into the ways in which fathers can get involved with their baby. Although this was never an issue for us, I know this isn’t always the case for every couple out there, unfortunately.
Here are a few things we’ve heard or read, here and there, from frustrated mothers:
“I feel as though I’m a single parent. And yet I have a spouse…”
“My dear husband prefers to play golf than spend time with his little boy.”
“After ten minutes, he gives our baby girl back to me and goes watching TV.”
Have you heard comments like those? Or maybe you have already experienced these situations? Are you going through this right now? What could explain this lack of interest among so many fathers?
Men are perfectly capable of getting involved with their children, so why this indifference to their own flesh and blood – THEIR own offspring?
The important contribution of the father
This is a complex topic and answers to this thorny question may vary a lot from one family to another.
Psychologists say that fathers play a role in opening up the world to their children (Camus, 2000). A father’s involvement is therefore very important to a very young child’s development.
So, how can “resistant” fathers be convinced to get more engaged with their baby? Let’s do a little tour of the masculine psyche.
Men need clear, concrete interactions
We women hear this all the time: “Be clear when you express your needs! Men won’t guess what they are! This isn’t due to a lack of love, effort or intelligence. It’s the way their brains are made. Tell them: “I feel sad and I need your affection tonight.” They will be more inclined to offer you a cuddle than if you had waited for them to guess what you want.
Ways to promote interaction between fathers and baby
Here are some concrete ways to stimulate the interactions between dad and his baby. Explore, test, dare!
1- Learn how to read the signs
Here’s the first issue when it comes to preverbal babies. They can’t talk yet! So you have to “read” them, which is a challenge for men who are not predisposed to this kind of guessing game.
Here’s one possible solution: patiently teach Dad how to interpret your baby’s cries, his facial expressions and his gestures to that he can understand the baby’s way of communicating. Be as clear as possible when you offer your observations and instructions. Encourage him to persevere.
2- Dads need to feel trusted
Having a new baby is stressful, particularly when it’s your first. New moms, if you feel a compelling need to oversee and control everything, it’s only normal – but RESIST that urge!
Your maternal instinct needs to include the ability to let Dad take care of your little one, even if he doesn’t do it the same way you do. Believe me, in my experience, it pays off to let your man have his own role in parenting your children!
To remain engaged, fathers need to feel trusted and allowed to take care of the baby their own way. Dads are dads – it’s normal that they hold their child and take care of him or her differently than a mother would!
Studies have shown that fathers have a greater tendency to engage in physical games with their infants in their first year (Lamb, 1996), while moms take care of calming them down.
Other studies have shown that the confidence that spouses have in their child’s father is directly related to how motivated they are to being involved with their babies.
(Biller, 1993; Coverman, 1985; Cowan & Cowan, 1987; DeLuccie, 1995, 1996; McBride & Rane, 1998; Pasley, Futris & Skinner, 2002; Simons, Whitbek, Conger, & Melby, 1990)
3- Positive reinforcement
Here’s an approach you could try. Let your husband know that you appreciate the way he takes care of your little one while doing it. Tell him that you trust him, that you have no doubt that your baby is safe with him. Thank him for the important part he is playing in your child’s care. Tell him that you appreciate that his approach is different from yours, since he is the dad. Tell him that your child has only one father, that you can’t take on that role, only he can – and that he’s doing a good job at it.
Some men might have to deal with an extreme lack of confidence in themselves, and will insist that they aren’t qualified to take care of their child. I’ve known women who left for a few hours on purpose, leaving the man to take care of the baby on his own just to break the ice and make him realize that he was perfectly capable of changing a diaper, rocking the baby to sleep, feeding him, etc.
4- Fathers like to be heroes
You want to get a man interested in a situation? Make him the hero. Even if, in your eyes, it’s just “normal” he changes the baby’s diaper at least once a day, tell him something like: “Darling, I really need to make a phone call right now and the baby has a dirty diaper. You would save my life if you changed it now. Can you do that for me?” And if he does it, when you’re off the phone, thank him. Next time, he will probably do it without you asking him to.
5- Collaboration and communication between mom and dad
It’s important to take care of your relationship. Many studies have shown that the quality of the parents’ collaboration and a healthy communication encourage fathers to be involved with their children. (Bouchard & Lee, 2000; Harris & Morgan, 1991; McBride & Mills, 1993)
6- Baby sign language to the rescue
From the age of six months, children aren’t speaking yet, but they can communicate through gestures with their little hands. These hand signs are concrete, clear, and can be taught to babies from the age of three months. At the age of six months, they have developed enough motor control to answer and participate in conversations.
Baby sign language let the little ones express themselves clearly without crying fits. This helps parents better understand their needs and respond to them more easily.
For the two of us, baby sign language has played an important part in our relationship with our son. For André, the idea of being able to communicate with him and knowing exactly what his needs were had motivated him to play and spend time with him. A father’s connection with his little boy or little girl can be developed easily with simple games and conversations initiated with baby signs. For me, it’s a real treat to see Samuel develop and learn while playing with us.
It was actually this experience that encouraged the two of us to invest in developing our mobile app Samuel Signs.
I encourage all mothers who would like to get their children’s fathers more involved with them to use baby signs as a family activity. If it was beneficial for us, it could work its magic for you, too!
Bibliography and references
Biller, H. B. (1993). Fathers and families: Paternal factors in child development. Westport, CT: Auborn House.
Bouchard, G., & Lee, C. M. (2000). The marital context for fathers’ involvement with their preschool children: The role of partner support. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community, 20 (1⁄2), 37–53.
Le Camus, J. (2000). Le vrai rôle du père. Paris: Éditions Odile Jacob.
Coverman, S. (1985). Explaining husbands’ participation in domestic labor. Sociological Quarterly, 26, 81–97.
Cowan, C. P., & Cowan, P. A. (1987). Men’s involvement in parenthood: Identifying the antecedents and understanding the barriers. In P. Bernman & F. Pedersen (Eds.), Men’s transitions to parenthood (pp.145-174). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
DeLuccie, M. F. (1995). Mothers as gatekeepers: A model of maternal mediators of father involvement. The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 156, 115–131.
DeLuccie, M. F. (1996b). Mothers: Influential agents in father-child relations. Genetic, Social and General Psychology Monographs, 122 (3), 285–307.
Harris, K. M., & Morgan, S. P. (1991). Fathers, sons, and daughters: Differential paternal involvement in parenting. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53, 531–544.
Lamb, M. E. (Ed.) (1996). The role of the fathers in child development (3e ed.). New York, Wiley.
McBride, B. A., & Mills, G. (1993). A comparison of mothers’ and fathers’ involvement with their preschool age children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 8, 457–477.
McBride, B. A., & Rane, T. R. (1998). Parenting alliance as a predictor of father involvement: An exploratory study. Family Relations, 47, 229–236.
Pasley, K., Futris, T. G., & Skinner, M. L. (2002). Effects of commitment and psychological centrality on fathering. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64 (1), 130–138.
Simons, R., Whitbek, L., Conger, R., & Melby, J. (1990). Husband and wife differences in determinants of parenting: A social learning and exchange model of parental behavior. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52, 375–392.