A just-released study shows that three-month old infants who have a strong connection with their father have fewer behavior problems at 12 months. Of course, the phrase “behavior problem” is a bit fuzzy when applied to 12-month olds. So to be more specific, the infants whose dads were actively engaged cried less, were less demanding, and were more social with others than infants whose dads were less engaged. The effect was strongest with sons—but girls benefitted from dad’s engagement too.
I’m in the military and I’m going to be sent overseas for at least a year. The problem is that my wife is pregnant and due to deliver right about the time I’m supposed to ship out. I can probably finagle things so that I’ll be here for the birth of our child, but the year abroad is unavoidable. What kinds of things can I do to try and bond with our infant early on, before I am deployed overseas? Equally important, are there things I can do to try and maintain a bond with such a young baby while I’m away?
What terrible timing. Try to spend every second you can with your baby as you possibly can before you have to ship out. You don’t need to plan any special activities with newborns-holding, changing, bottle-feeding (either formula or breast milk), reading to her, taking her out for walks, etc–the most mundane and basic stuff but that’s what relationships are based on.
Dear Mr. Dad: My spouse and I adopted a 14-month-old baby boy. What can I do as a working father to build and cement a strong bond, since we have missed the early stages?
A: The best thing you can do now is read everything you can about child development. You need to know what’s been going on so far, what’s reasonable to expect from a 14-month old, and what’s not. (My book, Fathering Your Toddler, is a good place to start.) Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to “make up for lost time.” You can’t. But you can—and should—focus on the future.
It’s also very important that you not set your expectations too high. It’s tempting to get the baby’s room all set up, and to imagine that you and your spouse will be able to start providing your child with a wonderful life (especially if he came from a less-than-wonderful environment). And, of course, it’s natural to imagine that you’ll fall immediately in love with the baby and that he’ll fall in love with you. It’s extremely unlikely that will happen. So give yourselves plenty of time to get used to each other and your new situation.
Don’t forget to pay special attention to your relationship with your wife. Having a new baby can take a real toll. You’re going to need plenty of time alone–individually and as a couple (away from the baby).
Finally, I’m sure you’re already in contact with adoption support groups. If not, though, there are some great resources for adoptive parents at Adoption Connection (adoptionconnection.org) and Adoption.org (adoption.org/)
Dear Mr. Dad: How can I spend quality time with my eleven-year-old daughter outside of going shopping all day? I realize that’s her passion these days, but honestly, I don’t have much to contribute on a shopping spree (except money, of course).
A: Oh, come on, shopping isn’t that bad! Actually, I’m with you on this one. There’s something about setting foot in a department store that makes my back hurt and my head ache. Fortunately, with a little advance planning, it’s possible to survive your tween’s occasional shopping trips while building a solid relationship along the way.