by Chris Thomas
When my wife and I had our son Jackson, I was a nervous wreck. Prior to Jackson, I had about as much experience with children as I had climbing Mt. Everest. My wife, who spent years working in child care, was cool and collected as she took the bulk of Jackson’s care on her shoulders. After all, she was the one with all the experience, right?
When you have your first child, and possibly your second or tenth, you’ll find that almost everything you thought you knew about caring for a child goes right out with the bathwater; every child is different and needs slightly different care. So, both parents start every childrearing experience in virtually the same boat. As scary as parenting can be, the ray of light at the end of the tunnel is often your partner, so it’s important to stick together during this trying time. Parenting is a team effort—no gender roles here.
We decided that breastfeeding Jackson would be best, as long as it worked for him. Naturally, breastfeeding, as an experience, is centered on the mother, but dads should not be excluded. I began using feedings as a time to connect with my baby right alongside mommy. We talked to him, rubbed his hair, read books to him. Even something as simple as staring into your infant’s eyes can develop a strong bond early on. I was also the designated burper after my son’s meals. Not only was I giving my son the physical comfort of expelling gas from a full tummy, but my wife was given time to clean up and relax for a moment while I took over.
After my son was a couple of weeks old, my wife began pumping her breast milk into bottles for me to give to him. This allowed me to fully take over feeding Jackson some of the time, and while I’m grateful that my wife had more time to relax, I’m even more grateful for the time to connect with Jackson so early on.
Naps and Nighttime
When it comes to sleep, it can be easy to favor the parent who’s working. My mother, for example, got up through the night when I was a baby so my father could rest for work the next day. What some parents can forget, however, is caring for a baby all night and day is extremely hard work, and can be just as stressful and tiresome as a 9-to-5. Trust me, I’ve done both.
My wife and I decided to play to our personal strengths when developing sleeping routines. My wife has always been a morning person; I’ve always been a night person. During the first ten weeks when we were teaching our son to sleep at night, we decided to divide caring for Jackson based on our own sleeping preferences. This meant I would stay up till midnight or 1 a.m. every night, as I normally would, and my wife and Jackson would go to sleep around 7 p.m. From 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., I would be on “Jackson duty” and would care for him if he happened to wake up during those hours. This would allow my wife quality rest in the hours she’d normally be sleeping. From 1 a.m. to 7 a.m., my wife would take over if Jackson woke up, but she’d only get up if Jackson awoke. If Jackson slept through the night, usually my wife would too. But if he woke up in the morning hours she’d be rested enough to tend to him. Meanwhile, I’d be able to rest in the morning after staying up late as I normally would. This system worked well for us, because our sleep patterns continued as they did before Jackons was born.
Prior to Jackson, I’d spend my nights playing video games or watching movies till the wee hours of the morning. After we had Jackson, I still did these things. As my wife slept at night or rested during the day, I’d use my opportunities with Jackson to include him in things I like to do. He’d often lie swaddled on my chest, arms, or lap as I sang to him, fed him, or talked about the day…while also playing video games or watching movies. (I’m a pretty skilled multi-tasker.) Having Jackson so close, even while I played video games, was important for him developmentally because it allowed him to learn my voice, breathing patterns, and scent, which is critical in developing bonds with caregivers.
Having Jackson was a unique experience for me as a dad. I realized that just because my wife had more experience with children at first, I didn’t have to rely on her to care for Jackson all the time. By taking the time to learn how to care for Jackson in my own way, I could provide my wife the breaks she deserved and strengthen the bond between my son and me.