On Being a New Baba: A few helpful frameworks and tips
Posted on May 24, 2017
Here are some helpful frameworks and tips that helped me in the early days. If you are a new parent reading this now, I suggest you begin writing things down that help you. Most parents forget these early and precious moments.
(Image of Collin on his first day home. He is in his car seat on the porch. Next to him are 2 big pots of Vietnamese soups.)
A few helpful frameworks.
- the baba is a nurse for the mama and child: Often we think about nursing for the newborn; it is also a period for the baba and/or others to nurse the mama. Having a baby is one of the most beautiful events in life and as i’m reminded can be the most painful.
- Co-parenting is not “easy”: In general, parenting is not fully valued in society and most of the invisible labor falls on the mama. Co-parenting is not easy either and takes some getting used to. There needs to be a strong foundation of communication and problem solving together. When the baba steps up, it is good but also can disrupt norms and expectations if there isn’t trust and some letting go. Sometimes the baba’s lower efficiencies needs to be factored in as well but it will be worth it in the long run. As i took on different gendered activities from changing the diaper to the trial and error of nursing the child, there were some adjustments for both of us. Fortunately for us, years before Collin was born, we had regular date/talk nights and annual couples retreat where we set intentions, priorities, talked about how to deal with tensions/disagreements. Co-parenting is an evolving process; as we parent we keep learning more about our strengths and vulnerabilities and how to support each other.
- The transition from being single to babahood (fatherhood): Before having Collin, I thought mostly about taking care of myself and then others afterwards. This is how cis men are socialized and there is a privilege to all this. Now as a baba, I think about Collin first and foremost. Obviously I still think about myself but I feel there is so much more at stake when you have a child. The challenge now is to make time and space for you and your partner and not to lose yourself.
Some helpful tips.
- Don’t be afraid of your child: This was top of my list. As a cis man, most people, including Mychi, my partner, didn’t expect me to bond so well with Collin in the beginning. In fact, there are pretty low expectations for cis men, even in today’s world. It’s almost like society has not advanced very far in this aspect. I got points for my willingness to change a diaper. There is truth to this though. Before Collin, I knew nothing about holding a baby, changing diapers, swaddling or burping. But I wanted to step up so I was very committed to building a relationship early with Collin on my own. When Collin cried, which was a lot of the time, I didn’t pass him off, I embraced him. Even when it got really intense and Mychi just wanted to take him, I gave it another 5-10 minutes and most of the time it was fine. I got to know him, his needs, and his spectrum of cries (ie hunger/gas/pee/poop cries). We hugged it out. My goal was to get to know him on my own and to be the best baby whisperer i could be.
- Step up your leadership in the relationship: This helped me think about my overall role and division of labor in my relationship with Mychi. Again the expectation were pretty minimal like be around and on standby when shit happens. I took a step back and thought about what it would really look like to support and co-parent in a relationship. So for the first month or so, I decided that my main contribution was to let Mychi sleep through the night. I did most of the night shifts while mychi slept and healed. On most nights she had 10 hours of rest, while I had Collin from 12 am – 6 am. Then I slept from 6 am – 12 pm. This was actually met with some resistance. Most babies are “supposed” to be with the mama to sync with/attach to the breasts for breastfeeding but it is also such an exhausting time for the mama. In the end, Collin was only delayed a few days on his syncing/attaching. This may or may not be the best intervention for you but I took leadership in this situation and think it was worth it. You can ask Mychi 🙂 Another big part of my leadership i felt was constantly helping my partner let go. I provided emotional support as much as possible. Mychi felt the need to always be the main person watching and caring for Collin. There’s some biological/chemical reason for this and sometimes she was just more adept but again, in a situation where the baba is trying to step up, it can disrupt roles and norms. To me, it was clear that Mychi needed a break and I would have to encourage or tell her to take a break and prove that i was capable to watch and care for Collin. In the end, there is plenty of turf for both of us.
- if you have family and/or community support, USE IT! For this to be effective, make sure there are concrete and discrete tasks ready for people who want to help (i.e. wash the dishes, clothes, take out the trash, watch the child while you shower/bathroom). Do a meal train drop off and don’t feel like people need to be invited in your home either. People know that the parents all need rest. Our parents are a whole other story but remember parents have leverage over how things are done because they want to be with the baby. Most of our parents have not handled newborns for over 30 years so don’t agree with common practices like swaddling for example.
- Find your own mastery: This takes some work on yourself. Figure out what you are good at and build off of that. For example, from being an organizer to an ED, I realize that I’m pretty methodical in establishing short and long term goals, implementing new practices, setting new culture in the household. Im also really into all the tiny baby building blocks of human development! I’ve been called a “tiger dad” but i think it is because most people in society are not used to babas being active in this way. Some things i tried to master.
“shhing” and swaddling: My shhing was pretty effective I have to say. We watched the “Happiest Baby on the block” video and it was AMAZING for us. Here is a quick video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftKua_qL2rk
Assessing Collin’s needs: I developed multiple ways to entertain and or soothe Collin. He still had a deep yearning for his mama, as most babies do, but I was able to re-direct most of the time.
Bottle feeding: I was able to get Collin on the bottle almost immediately. He rejected it in the beginning but after many experiments and repetition, he was won over by the bottle. This allowed a lot more flexibility in how we split up our time and energy. This also eases tensions in the first 12 months; if the baby isn’t into the bottle, the mama’s time has to be all centered around the baby’s feeding times
5. Don’t take things personal: Someone reminded me that a baby is still a baby. In the infant stages, the baby is just getting to know themselves outside of the womb. it doesn’t even know what their hand and arm is yet! Many people assume that if the baby cries when they see someone or are held by someone, it is about that person. Actually, it is really ALL about the baby. This continues to be a useful framework throughout baba-life.
Not so helpful things.
- Saying “It gets easier.” This is not actually true, at least in the near future. Honestly, I found that many parents don’t remember their first 2 years of parenting (!!) which is another reason I started writing.
- Assuming things about the baby: This one is tricky and how we are socialized to figure out the baby. Mychi and I both did this too. Since Collin would cry a lot (like a lot!) or didn’t smile or make a lot of eye contact, people took it to mean he was a serious baby or not a very happy baby. Or some people would say “oh, Collin doesn’t like women.” Really, it is not about you, it is about the baby and figuring out their needs and what they are trying to communicate. When we realized later he was autistic, we had a lot more tools to understand him. He was definitely NOT very happy because we didnt always understand his needs!
- Advice that is out of context: Mostly people give a lot of good general advice but it is not totally relevant in the current infant stage. Our parents of course had LOTS to say about our parenting style. Not always helpful.
To close out, some of this stuff might feel clunky and it is. As babas step up more, it disrupts patriarchy and other norms embedded in society. In no way is this enough. As we fundamentally change society, these practices will become more natural and normal. There is so much more to be said. Mychi and I are fortunate to have each other and a loving community, who are present and able to care for Collin. I hope this was helpful for you and your fam.
(Image of me holding Collin. He is 4 months old or so and laying on my chest as I’m lying down on the bed. Both of us are not making direct contact with the camera)