Dad and baby bonding
Aged 38 with two daughters I realised I still had so much to learn the moment my son arrived. Sure I could change a nappy, make a bottle and all that stuff but could we bond?
Would he gain comfort, safety and security from my embrace, voice and smell? Not being as young as I was, would I have the patience to support this little chap?
My concern was bourne from recognising my many failures in the past, my desire to improve my relationship with my daughters and my recent burnout. I talk about my quest to improve relationships in this post:
In the post I share how we are adopting a more “attachment” model when seeing to the needs of our baby and here's what has worked well so far for Daddy and son bonding:
Using a sling I wear my boy daily. He loves it and so do I! Our hearts beat together and our breathing forms a rhythm. Being one of his favourite places to fall asleep it's also a space he uses to explore the world with his eyes.
As I go about my duties in the house and the home office I often glance down at him. He takes so much in, either looking up and me and getting used to my smell, voice and face, or by exploring the room and noises around him. As an adult I wish I could regain that feeling of fascination with the world around me and find satisfaction in just chilling taking it all in.
I now refer to my sling as my “magic power”. When he's upset, tired, wants a sleep, frustrated or simply any emotion he can't fully process, I pop him in the sling, and we both cuddle up.
Skin to skin
Within minutes of him being born, the midwife shocked me by encouraging me to take off my top and cuddle him “skin to skin”. Having never heard of this concept for our past children, I figured I would give it a try. I took off my top and held naked newborn son close.
As a family we'd been singing “You are my sunshine” to him inside mums belly, so I began to sing it to him. Emotions bubbled up inside me and my wife and I are sure he recognised the song.
From then, I've continued to practice skin to skin with cuddles before bed. At 5 months old he beams from ear to ear, and he grabs a hold of me. His new (not so fun) hobby is to pull my chest hair.
The first few days were so exhausting for my wife and I too hardly slept as I felt guilty for her. After about a week or so she relented to let me support the feeding process by feeding him expressed milk or formula in rare cases that my wife was unable to express.
What I didn't expect was this amazing maternal feeling that overtook me when I began to feed him his first bottle. Something that has not subsided. It's a privilege to be able to feed him, hold him, cuddle him and watch him as he develops and grows. Every bottle-feed is another opportunity to be together, to recognise and associate smells, to hear softly spoken words and to bond.
Sure skin to skin, baby wearing and feeding are all cuddle opportunities, but there are more beyond that. I've found I want to sit with him for hours doing nothing other than being together. He loves to sit on my lap and lean against my chest, my arms around him.
He will often look around the room from a position of comfort and safety, and will look up to me, offer a smile or seek encouragement. It wasn't so long ago he was safe in the womb, this world is still so new to him. We can be an ongoing place of safety that he knows he can always return to whenever he wants.
The best part is when he falls asleep during cuddles. We will sneak some more snuggle time with him as he falls deeper into sleep then gently pop him in his crib for a well-earned nap. We don't go far and when he awakes he's beaming at us recognising us from across the room knowing we are there for him.
Finally, I talk a lot to him. As if he could understand every word I say, I tell him what I am doing, where I am going, how I am feeling and most importantly how much I love him. Though he cannot understand words as yet, he can sense my tone, and he continues to get used to my voice. My voice, warmth and smell are all important parts of his development and sense of security.
My wife shared also that apparently many children who are exposed to lots of conversation and stimulation will learn to communicate at a faster pace. If his smile is anything to go by, he's already a great communicator!
How am I doing?
Better than I thought.
The concerns I had were based on my previous experiences. When I was younger I didn't have the same patience nor ability to imagine life as a tiny baby. I so often remember how tired and stressed we were and that feeling on inadequacy.
With age has come a calmness, a patience and most importantly an empathy. Instead of being the “impatient and tired old man” I thought I would be, I'm the calmer understanding dad whose life is being radically changed and blessed by my children.
It's a struggle to put into words how everything has changed, but what I do understand is it's working. Instead of training my son to work on our schedule, we've embraced his and bonded on such a deep level.