When we had our first baby, my husband floundered. I didn’t realize it at the time—that he was trying and learning. I felt like he was giving up. But in reality, he just didn’t know what to do. Things that came instinctually for me weren’t easy for him. And when I had all day during my maternity leave to figure things out, like how to make her stop crying, he would just hand her back to me when it was too much, something I couldn’t do if I wanted to.
At first, he didn’t seem to be able to do anything right.
He was changing her diaper when we first got home from the hospital, and he came back into the room with a look on his face. I should have recognized right then he was in over his head. “Umm . . . so how thorough do we need to be with the wiping?” he asked. He was literally asking if he needed to clean her bottom after a poop.
Things didn’t get too much better. Middle-of-the-night feedings always resulted in him waking me up because he couldn’t get her back down to sleep. And when I’d ask him to get her dressed, she’d end up in the worst, mismatched outfits that were the wrong size and wrong season. I felt like he was doing it on purpose.
But as I came to see as the kids got older, he was doing the best he could. He just really did not get babies. He wasn’t trying to be lazy when he left her in her pajamas all day, he was actually afraid of taking the pajamas off her fragile head. Give him our 5-year-old and he’s jamming on shin guards and soccer shoes without a qualm.
But that tiny, fragile, 8-pound baby . . . he was afraid he’d break her.
My husband is a strong, masculine man. He works in finance and deals with hundreds of people every day. He put together all the furniture in her nursery without blinking. He can whip up a gourmet meal on a whim. He is surprisingly sensitive to my monthly rollercoaster of emotions. But he had never been around babies before. Never. While I’d been babysitting since I was 12, his first encounter with a newborn was ours. I should have realized it then. I should have cut him some slack. But I didn’t realize the why at the time, all I saw was the inaction.
I complained about it to a friend, and she gave me a new way to approach it. “Just because he doesn’t do things your way, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong way. Give him a chance.” I thought about that. And I realized by constantly correcting what he was doing, I was also contributing to the problem. By micromanaging their interactions, I wasn’t giving him the opportunity to figure it out.
So I checked my own behavior. Instead of telling him how her outfit was all wrong, I tried, “Thank you for getting her dressed.” And when he mixed the fruit into the oatmeal instead of keeping them separate while feeding her I said, “She likes that! Great! I’ll try that next time.” Little things turned into big things, and he started to get it. As she grew, he grew. And as he got more confident, he didn’t need me as much.
And I left them alone together. He wasn’t comfortable with it, but it had to be done. At first, I got the frantic call five minutes after I left the house to go to the grocery store, but things steadily improved. And eventually, when I’d come home, he let me unpack the bags instead of thrusting her immediately into my arms.
Three kids later, he has really hit his stride, taking all three anywhere and everywhere whenever—busting out pacis, bottles, toys, and baby food from the diaper bag over his shoulder as quick as can be.
You’d never know it now he’s the same man who once asked me how to change a diaper.
New babies don’t come with instruction manuals, and even if they did, you’d probably be too tired to read them. So have faith and trust each other. You’ve got this.