How to Prevent a New Father from Withdrawing

July 29, 2012 by

In Portland marriage counseling, I work with many couples who are enjoying new parenthood – and also struggling with its challenges. Becoming a mother or father is a major change in our identity, and it is also accompanied by a shift in roles between the couple. One common problem that couples face while navigating these changes is withdrawal of the father.

The result isn’t good for the parents’ relationship or for the child. According to recent studies, babies with active fathers are more emotionally secure, more confident, develop better social, linguistic, and cognitive skills, and even have higher IQs. They’re also less likely to get into trouble at school or use drugs and alcohol when they get older.

Portland Marriage Counseling: How to Keep Dad Actively Involved in Child Care

The responsibilities of child care in the beginning often fall primarily on the mother. After all, if she is breastfeeding, it’s only the mother who can provide that milk, and on a daily basis, this can take up as much as 8 hours of time with a newborn! It’s also likely that the mother will spend more time with the child since she is likely to be on maternity leave.

Often unintentionally, new moms can push their spouses away from the process of care taking. They can do so by controlling access to the child, and taking over duties even when the father is available to participate.

Another common issue is criticism. New moms may develop a “right way” to care for their child and try to impose that on the father rather than allowing the father to develop his own ways for changing diapers, putting the baby to sleep, etc. This puts added pressure on dad, who may begin to feel bad about his capabilities as a parent and simply stop trying.

In Portland marriage counseling, I’ve seen how these issues, along with the other challenges of new parenthood, can cause relationship problems with couples. The baby can pick up on this and may be more likely to withdraw from the father, which, of course, won’t help the problem!

But here’s the good news: by being aware of these potential hurdles, you can work to overcome them and keep the father more involved. First, make an active effort to include the dad – whether that means changing a diaper, giving the baby a bath, or just enjoying playtime.

And as a new mom, give dad space to find his own way. He may not do things exactly like you, but that’s okay. Just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In fact, it’s good for your baby since he’ll benefit from learning from different types of interactions.

Finding it hard not to be critical? Just leave the room and let them be together alone. If that idea makes you nervous, go back to that list of benefits that your child will experience from having a dad that’s more hands-on, or talk through the issue in Portland marriage counseling.