“Don’t Take It Personally: An Open Letter to a New Father” originally appeared on The Good Men Project and was reprinted with permission.
“I don’t know what to do? Whenever I try to put my baby to sleep he won’t stop crying. I keep telling myself to man up and stop being sad. To do something about it. But no matter what I try, nothing works. Then my wife comes into the room and — poof! — the baby calms down and goes to sleep. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”
This heartbreaking response was an answer to a question I posed to a friend in passing, “How’s the baby?” I didn’t realize the can of worms I would open and by the end of his painful admission, he looks at me and asks, “Did this ever happen to you?”
It’s obvious this father was going through a difficult time and likely feeling inadequate. He just had his first baby and was starting to feel the effects of that life-altering event. It wasn’t difficult for me to empathize since I had similar feelings with my first child, and because of that, I wanted to help him. My heart was pricked as I prepared to share with him all the reasons why he’s not a bad father, but sadly there wasn’t much time or privacy so I was regulated in sharing with him a few words of encouragement, “It’ll get better.”
This conversation has inspired me to write what I wished I could have said if given the time and privacy.
Dear New Father,
When your child cries while you try to play with them, don’t take it personal.
When your child cries while you put them to sleep, don’t take it personal.
When your child cries because they’ve been handed to you, don’t take it personal.
These moments, though soul crushing, aren’t a reflection on who you are as a father. Just because your new baby would rather be with another parent doesn’t mean you’re expendable. You are not. You have to remember that your baby reacts instinctively. If they’re hungry, cold, hot, tired, wet, and generally uncomfortable, they will let you know. There isn’t much forethought and since they can’t verbalize their feelings, desires, and wants, they do the only thing they can to get their message across: cry. Usually crying will subside once the need is taken care of, but what should be done when all needs have been accounted for and your child is still screaming at you?
When you feel calm, you’ll be able to think clearly and while facing their cries, you’ll be able to figure out a way to comfort your child.
Don’t take it personal, and remember: these frustrating moments are temporary when compared to the entirety of their life with you. If you can focus on the baby and not on your insecurity, you’ll be able to stay calm. When you feel calm you’ll be able to think clearly, and while facing their cries you’ll be able to figure out a way to comfort your child.
By going through this experience and doing your best to help your child, you can be assured that you’re not a bad father.
It’s also important to remember that you are not alone, and if you have a partner, you should discuss with them what you can do to settle your child. Sometimes another set of eyes can illuminate your perspective and provide new ideas.
If you don’t have a partner, there is information all over the Internet that can provide strategies in answering your child’s cry.
I can testify that after a rough few years with my daughter, we are closer than ever. We go on daddy-daughter dates, and she enjoys playing with me. I know she loves me, and she knows I love her. This relationship didn’t come easy, but as I focused on connecting with my daughter, I was able to figure out ways to bond with her.
You can do the same but you can’t rush it. Your child should be given time to grow in their connection with you. It may come quick or it may take time, but it’s worth the wait.
So the next time your newborn is crying, don’t take it personal.
A Dad Who’s Been There.
More from The Good Men Project:
- This dad just can’t … he has to hold the baby
- Why we fail our children by not letting them fail
- The only two pictures of the last year
- A dad-to-be was praying for a girl … until he opened his eyes
- The 4 dads every kid needs