Let’s cut to the chase: Life with a baby is different for moms than it is for dads. And though their roles in the baby’s life are very dissimilar, both must give 100% in the learning process, otherwise the already rough road is going to get even worse for all parties involved.
Mom is usually the first person after the doctor and/or nurse(s) to hold Baby. She quickly snuggles the little one close to her for skin-on-skin contact, and soon thereafter begins to nurse her little charge. Meanwhile, Dad simply looks on in wonder and awe at the being he helped create.
In the recovery room, the nurses come to check on Mom and Baby frequently, asking how Mom is getting along, and if she has any questions or concerns. They check Mom’s and Baby’s vitals on a regular basis, and inquire after how Mom is feeling. Meanwhile, Dad sits in the corner chair watching Mom and Baby get doted on and taken care of and their every beck and call answered within mere moments.
Once home, Mom continues to feed Baby frequently and exclusively – Dad is clearly out on this one. Baby begins to feel loved and accepted by Mom and recognizes her voice and her scent right away. When Dad goes back to work, Mom stays home and cares for Baby, cuddling and snuggling and feeding and changing diapers and soothing and playing with the little one all day long. When Dad comes home it’s evening – fussy time for most newborns and many infants – and whenever he tries to hold Baby all he gets in return is a scrunched up face and constant crying. He may begin to wonder if his own child even likes him.
Then comes nighttime. With Baby finally tucked in, Mom and Dad fall exhausted into their own comfy bed, sometimes skipping the teeth-brushing, and certainly excluding any intimacy before sleep. A couple of hours later, Baby wakes up, hungry and wanting to be held. Mom grudgingly rolls out of bed and stumbles to the nursery to feed the little ball of tears. Dad stretches, gets comfortable, and is snoring again in less than two minutes. An hour later, Mom comes back to bed. This pattern repeats itself several times throughout the night.
At least…this is how it is for Husband and I. I’m with Little Miss all day while he is at work. He comes home and I’m ready for a break, but Husband wants to relax, too. So he takes Little Miss for a while, but she cries a lot because she’s in an “I only want mommy” phase and because evenings are her fussy times. Every 2 1/2 hours during the day and every 2 hours in the evenings I take Little Miss and feed her. This gives Huhsband a break to relax.
Sometimes, though, I get frustrated. I want to relax, too. Which rarely happens during the day since I have to take care of a two-month-old whose only reaction to playthings is staring and smiling…and sometimes crying. She can’t entertain herself for very long, and she’s immobile unless I’m carrying her. It’s exhausting. And as much as I love my beautiful daughter, I need a break from her sometimes! Not a long one – even just an hour would be helpful. It’s hard for this to happen, though, when Little Miss gets fussier when I’m not holding her.
When I’m not feeding her, Husband helps me out as best he can: changing her diaper, playing with her in the Pack N Play, taking her for a walk, or walking and bouncing her around the front yard. On the weekends sometimes I manage a nap while he takes care of her.
While I feed and otherwise take care of Little Miss, Husband often takes care of chores and other useful things. He makes dinner, does the laundry, vacuums, cleans the bathroom, does the dishes, takes the diaper garbage out, or gets yard work done. Or sometimes all of the above. He does a lot to help around the house when he’s not helping take care of Little Miss.
It’s not a perfect situation. I get burnt out every once in a while and need to get out of the house without hauling 15 pounds of baby and baby supplies. Husband is very understanding of this.
For instance, the other day, my sister decided she wanted ice cream after dinner. We were fresh out, so someone had to run to Safeway. Little Miss was napping, so I was going to go with my sister to the store. Just as we were about to leave, Little Miss woke up and started getting fussy. I took my sandals off and headed to the nursery to get her. Husband all but shoved the keys in my hand and pushed me out the door. “She’ll be fine! You’ll be back in 15 minutes. Go!!!”
Though it was quite a short trip, it still felt nice to walk into a store with two free hands, carrying nothing but my credit card and my car keys.
On Sunday afternoon, Husband napped for an hour while I took care of Little Miss, even though I’d had her all week and wanted a nap myself.
This is how it has to be with a baby in the house. Both Mom and Dad need to relax, and both need a break every once in a while. Taking care of an infant is – to understate it – exhausting. Tempers can flare, tears will be shed, and frustration and perhaps even anger will run high at times. But if both parents are willing to give 100% (kind of like in a marriage relationship), things will work out.
Every family is different. Some parents choose to bottle-feed, giving the dad more involvement from day one. Others don’t take maternity leave, so both parents feel deprived of their child (and perhaps a little guilty) due to putting them in childcare while they are at work five days a week.
But no matter what the situation, both parents are in it for the long-haul, and they have to understand that means hard work and sometimes tears and pillow punches. I’m so glad I have a husband who clearly understands that and does an amazing job at contributing 100% to the process of raising our daughter. We’re learning every single day, but things get better by the day, as well. And we’ll make it through the tough times and remember most the gummy smiles and the high-pitched happy squeals. Those are all that matter in the end.