The following is a post from Hugh O. Smith. Hugh is a proud dad, freelance writer and executive at a New York City consulting firm. You can find his blog at hughosmith.com and on Twitter @hughosmith. Interested in blogging a father-son bonding article for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.
At about 10:00pm on a cold February night I found out I was going to be a father. At 10:01pm, I was a wreck. My biggest concern wasn’t about bringing a baby into our small apartment, or how to pay for the endless procession of stuff a baby needs. It was that I might be a bad father. Every movie or talk show I’d seen with an out-of-control child came back to me in HD.
My fears intensified a few months later when an ultrasound revealed we were expecting a healthy girl. I was happy she was healthy but the news brought with it a new dimension of worry. What did I know about girls?
“Perhaps the father’s most difficult challenge today lies in being able to bond with his daughter,” says author Michael Gurian, in The Wonder of Girls.
I knew this all too well. As “only” a dad, could I compete with a mother’s natural bonding mechanisms? Built during pregnancy, this bond would intensify after birth, especially during breastfeeding. According to the New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding, 2002 American Academy of Pediatrics, “This emotional bond is as vital as the nutritional benefit. Breastfeeding promotes a growing attachment that will continue to play an important role in your baby’s development for years to come.”
One night as I lay awake my wife stirred as the baby moved and kicked. Instinctively, I placed my hand on her stomach and spoke to my daughter. Amazingly, her restless kicking and moving stopped. That night marked a turning point. I realized that I was far from being “only” the dad. There were things I could do, even at this early stage, to ensure there would be a bond between my daughter and I. It was a huge relief to realize I had only to be myself, love my daughter and the bond would take care of itself.
Bonding myth #1: You’re “only” the dad.
The reality: “A father’s love can make or break a girl,” says Mr. Gurian. A daunting statement made less so when you examine the research. According to Dr. Meg Meeker, author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters;
- Girls who are close to their fathers exhibit less anxiety.
- Girls with doting fathers are more assertive.
- Girls with good fathers are less likely to flaunt themselves to seek male attention.
Myth busting strategy: Spend time with her. The proof of how important dads are is on your daughter’s ecstatic face when you return home after a long day and in her hugs when you tell her you love her.
Bonding myth #2: You have to be perfect.
The reality: You don’t have to be a perfect parent in order to bond. There’ll be times when your child drives you crazy and it seems like you can’t do anything right. Step back and give yourself some breathing room. Realize this is a small blip in the vast radar screen of your lives together. After all, your parents weren’t perfect and you turned out fine.
Myth busting strategy: The intimidating job of parenting becomes easier once you realize mistakes are inevitable. Once I realized that it freed me to be the best father possible and not be so hard on myself.
Bonding myth #3: I don’t have enough bonding time. Mom gets to stay home with the baby for months and I only get a couple of weeks. I can’t compete.
The reality: Moms and dads often bond on different timetables. While it’s true that the mother-child bond may be facilitated by breastfeeding and a greater amount of time together, the fact is the father-child bond is no less strong or relevant. Bonding takes effort and time, there’s no magic that speeds the process.
Myth busting strategy: Don’t try to recreate the relationship your daughter has with mom. Dads bring a particular set of skills to the relationship. By creating daddy time early on, your daughter will recognize your unique gifts and come to love them. Walks and errands are great ways to get time alone and serve the dual purpose of giving mom a much-deserved break. Mundane tasks may seem, well, mundane but changing diapers or wiping her face (and yours) when the food goes flying is invaluable in the bonding process.
As dads, we don’t have mom’s soft touch or graceful finesse. We might not know how to make waffles just so, or soothe a boo-boo in mom’s magical way. Often, when we’re out with our daughters, socks are mismatched, colors clash and the hair…well let’s just say it’s good that afros are back in style. Still, a father’s love is no less beautiful. As a dad, I know that I am the most important man in my daughter’s life, her first love, guide, and protector. Our daughters need our strength and wisdom to help navigate the long-winding road from the little girl who squeals with delight when you throw her in the air, to the poised, confident woman she will become. If we support and love them unflinchingly, there is nothing our amazing girls cannot accomplish.