Do you worry that your husband won’t bond with the baby? Does your husband seem to ignore the kids? It’s a common complaint.
Here’s the scenario: He works outside the home all day. You’re home with the kids (including, let’s say, a baby or two). When he gets home, he thinks that his job is now done. He lies on the couch and watches TV, or gets on the computer, and feels like it’s her job to put the babies in bed, make dinner, and care for the children.
I’m a little concerned, though, that some people’s attitude was this:
He works hard all day. He really is exhausted. You’ve split the labor and decided you’ll do the childcare; now live with it.
I understand that sometimes we have to say that in regards to housework. Sure, we’d like him to help out more around the house, but if he won’t, the best thing to do is to get more organized yourself and figure out ways to make the housework easier on you, even if he never pitches in. In fact, I wrote a whole book about that (To Love, Honor and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother).
I know you can’t change your husband, and I do think that sometimes you have to let things go.
However, I’m very uneasy with people’s rush to that conclusion in this case, for one simple reason: A baby is not housework. A baby is a person who needs two parents. It is not right for the mother to do all of the childcare and for the father to have very little interaction with the kids, because this is not good for the father or for the children. This is not just a matter of her workload, although that is definitely a consideration. More than anything, I believe, this is about the health of the family.
It is not right if both parents work outside the home; but it is also not right even if the mom is home full time. A child is not a task to be checked off a list during the day; a child is someone who needs a relationship with his or her parents–both of them. I get women emailing me, saying: “My husband thinks if he’s takes the kids he’s “baby-sitting”, like he’s doing me a favor. He forgets they’re his kids, too!” That is not a good dynamic in the family, and if that is your dynamic, I encourage you to do something to change it.
So with that in mind, I thought I would tackle the topic of how to help your husband develop a relationship with your children. I don’t have 5 ways to “make” him, but I do have 5 ways to change the dynamic so that he is more likely to be involved:
1. Allow Him to Set the Tone and Have a Say
When a baby is born we women become different people. Our focus changes. Our hearts change. Even our hormones change! And because we have such a strong bond from the very beginning, especially if we are breastfeeding, it’s easy to give the impression “I know what I’m doing and you don’t, so let me show you the right way to do everything.”
When my oldest daughter was born I hugged her close, and held her gently, and sang to her. My husband picked up this newborn baby and started bouncing her vigorously. My heart rate went up. I wanted to grab my baby from him and tell him he was hurting her.
There was only one problem: he was a pediatrician. He knew more about baby wellness than I did. And so I bit my tongue. And sure enough, the first time Becca ever smiled or giggled was when Keith was bouncing her. He knew what he was doing.
Had he not been a pediatrician, I likely would have told him to stop.
We need to resist the temptation to say, “I have the right to call the shots with how we raise the babies.” Don’t squeeze your husband out. If you want them sleeping in your bed but he doesn’t, listen to him. If he wants to implement an earlier bedtime so you can have some couple time, listen to him. If he wants to get the kids on a schedule (or if he doesn’t want the kids on as much of a schedule), discuss it. Do you want him involved with the kids or don’t you?
If your babies are no longer babies, but are toddlers or even older, this still applies. Talk to him about what he wants your family life to be like. If he’s withdrawing, say to him, “what do you envision for our family? How would you like to organize the kids and the parenting?” Have that conversation! Honor him, and you’ll find his relationship with the kids is much better.
2. Allow Him Room in the Baby Days
Many men have trouble bonding with the baby because there’s very little for them to do. The mom feeds them; all the dad can do is rock them or change a diaper. Thus, many men find babies intimidating. If that’s the case, give him grace. In many families the husband really steps up to the plate around the time baby #2 arrives, and baby #1 is now a toddler and can actually talk and do things. Don’t start berating him for being a bad dad in the baby’s early days; involve him, but understand that the early days often are mom’s time.
3. Ask Him to Do Specific Tasks
Now it’s time to understand some basic differences between men and women:
Women’s basic motivator is relationship. Men’s basic motivator is competence and accomplishment.
It’s like the Men are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti thing: for women, everything has to do with everything else. If we have kids, and we’re working, or we’re at church, we’re still thinking about those kids and how all of this relates to those kids. A guy, on the other hand, is going to tend to ask, “what am I supposed to do next?” He wants to focus on one thing. That doesn’t mean that women can’t operate on tasks; many of us want to get more organized, and making lists can help (here’s a great resource for that). But on the whole, most of us think in terms of “looking after the kids”, not in terms of “getting a whole bunch of things done”.
So for us, if a friend says, “can you take the baby for me for a few hours while I run to a doctor’s appointment?”, we know what that involves. To a guy, on the other hand, if you say, “can you take the baby for me for a few hours”, he doesn’t really know what that means. I don’t mean that guys are idiots, either; I just mean that’s not how they operate. They operate in terms of tasks; if there is no task before him, then it’s okay if he sits on a couch or gets on the computer. And “a baby” is not a task. We incorporate the baby into our lives, but he doesn’t in the same way. He’s not wrong; he’s just wired differently.
And so I think many of us approach our husbands in the wrong way when we need help. We expect him to know what “take the baby” means, and to be able to do it well, maybe while still getting some housework done (that’s what we do, after all). He has trouble visualizing what it means.
If you were to say, on the hand, “would you mind reading Amy three board books while I make dinner?”, he can do that. If you were to say, “Would you mind taking Johnny to the hardware store with you on your errands so that I can get some vacuuming done,” he can do that. If you were to say, “Would you mind giving Becky her bath while I clean up the kitchen,” he can do that. Those are tasks.
In fact, it will be easier for your husband to jump in if your day is not just “carrying baby around while I try to get everything done”, but is instead divided into tasks. We read to the baby from 4-4:30. We have a bath at 7:00 and read at 7:15 and bed at 7:30. We have snack at 10:30. Etc. Etc.
If you want him to “take the baby” at other times, make it easier for him to do. Get a baby carrier so he can walk around with the baby. Stick to a schedule so he knows what to expect. Have lots of things on hand to do with the baby or the toddler.
It may also be a good idea to give him one specific task that he owns. Perhaps he always gives the kids their bath every night. That way he has some special time with them and they can bond. Be aware that if you start this the baby may resist. Babies often play favorites, and mommy is often the favorite. Push past it. Do it with your husband for a time, and slowly ease out. Give the baby the time to adjust. But don’t give in, saying, “oh, well, I don’t think this will work.” After a week or so babies often change their preferences anyway. Wait it out.
Other dads enjoy more active things. My daughters both teach swimming lessons at the Y, and my oldest daughter’s favorite class is the parent & tot class. She sings songs and they do actions and lots of fun in the water. And over half the parents are dads. Perhaps your husband could have a specific activity he does with the baby every week–like swimming or gymnastics–to help give him some dad & baby time, and to free up some time for you.
Having him “own” an activity, rather than expecting him to just “help with the baby”, is often easier for him to get his head around.
4. Stress Family Activities
If your husband is unwilling to do even that, don’t give up. Remember: your kids need their dad. Often dads get closer to kids the older the kids grow, but you can start being part of the solution rather than the problem when they’re young. How about just planning more family activities? Instead of getting on your computers at night, start taking walks as a family after dinner every night. Get a gym membership and go swimming together. Go camping as a family in the summer. Encourage activities where you are all together. Time with dad will happen then, and the more relaxed down time he has with the kids, the better his relationship with them will be.
5. Keep Your Husband as Your Main Relationship Priority
Finally, let’s not forget that one of the best ways you can help your husband bond with the kids is to make sure you are also bonding with your husband. When babies first come, men often get jealous. Mom bonds with baby and forgets about dad. We may think that’s immature–the baby needs us now! Stop focusing on yourself! But actually I think he has the proper perspective. What children need, more than anything, is for their parents to have a stable, close relationship. When the marriage is strong, the children will thrive. When the marriage is at risk, children sense it. So never, ever sacrifice your relationship with your husband for the sake of the kids. There are seasons where the kids must come first (I have two readers right now who are in hospital in another state with their children undergoing medical treatment. They’re separated from their husbands for months on end. Please pray for them). But these seasons are rare. On the whole, your marriage comes before the kids.
If you institute a strict bedtime with kids so you have time with your hubby, and keep your sex life active, your hubby will feel more a part of the family. If you don’t, he may retreat. Is that right? No. He should fight through it anyway. But it is human nature. He will tend to go to places where he is appreciated and affirmed.
It’s really quite simple: if you want your husband to spend more time with the kids, make sure that you are also spending more time with him. Prioritize sex. Prioritize getting the kids on a schedule so you do have some alone time. Consider his feelings. And you may find that he becomes a more active dad!
Let me know your thoughts: how have you encouraged a relationship between your husband and your young kids? Is there a particular area your husband has taken over? Let me know in the comments!
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