It was my first solo night out since my daughter was born. I took a shower! I even did my hair, put on make-up, and donned a pair of black boots with heals. With a bottle of wine clutched close, I reminded my husband that I had just nursed the baby, so she shouldn't be hungry, but if she is, there is a bottle of breast milk in the fridge. I reminded him to change her diaper before bed so she doesn't wet through her pajamas, and swaddle her tight. And don't forget to turn the sound machine on. You will probably need to hold her until she falls asleep, and then lay her down really gently, so she doesn't wake back up. You're going to do great! I kissed my husband and my daughter good-bye. My husband had a look of fear in his eyes. A look of how-could-you-do-this-to-me. A look that seemingly implied I was going cross-country and leaving him with a baby who he had never met.
I was going 3 houses down the block.
A couple hours later, with a glass of wine in my hand and a tummy ache from laughing, I glanced at my phone and saw that I had 10 missed calls from my husband. I reluctantly returned his call and he picked up in a record breaking half-ring. He immediately announced "I promised myself I wouldn't be the guy who needed rescued on my wife's night out, but the baby has been crying for the past 2 hours! She's not hungry. I've changed her diaper. She is swaddled. I gave her a pacifier. Anytime I sit down, she cries. I need your help, you have to come home."
I needed this night out to restore my sanity. I was not going home.
Many dads are terrified of caring for their baby without being close enough to do a hand-off to mom when the baby starts to squirm. However, it's not a mystery why dads feel this way. Typically, moms have weeks to months at home to bond with the new baby, learning how she likes to be held, what soothes her, what she does when she is hungry, how she looks when she is tired. Many dads have just days to weeks at home before returning to work after their new baby is born, and often spend that time playing a supporting role... going grocery shopping, taking the dog for a walk, or doing the laundry. Dad's want to contribute. Many just feel more comfortable doing tasks they've had practice at, which for many new dads often doesn't include caring for a baby.
Dads... although there are a few things that you cannot do... conceive a baby, give birth, breastfeed... you can be a pro at all other things baby! Here are a few tips on how to prepare to successfully care for your baby when your wife leaves you alone.
1. Get involved in your baby's care from the start
Becoming a new parent is very intimidating for both moms and dads. Learning how to make your baby happy and soothe her when she is not takes practice and patience. In many families, the mom assumes the duty of caring for the baby while the dad offers, for example, to take care of the long list of to-do's that have gone by the wayside. Instead of tackling the to-do list all weekend, however, consider spending some solo time with your little love getting to know her. The better you know her, the better you will understand what makes her happy and sad, what she does when she is hungry, how she looks when she is tired.
2. Have confidence!
You know you are a great dad! You have mastered diaper changing, you are the best swaddler in the house, and your baby smiles at you every time you do that silly thing with your face. Remind yourself of all the ways you care for your baby on a regular basis and feel good about them. Besides, your baby can feel when you are tense, which can cause her to feel uneasy... and cry. Yikes. Loosen up, and put your game face on!
3. Find alternative ways to do things
So you don't do things the same was as your wife... who cares. Maybe you don't feel comfortable rocking your baby in the rocking chair. Your baby will notice this and inevitably won't fall asleep. Instead, find your own way to put your baby to sleep. Remember how your baby always falls asleep when you carry her in the baby carrier around the farmer's market each weekend? Go ahead and put her in the baby carrier... you already know it works! Want to play with the baby, but don't care to read the black and white picture books? Put on some of your favorite music (on baby volume, of course) and dance around in front of her, or with her, or even better, get out your guitar and sing a song to her. The special way you do things with your baby will create memories and help you to build a special bond that she will have with no one else.
4. Get some short practice runs
Get some short practice runs in before being left with the baby for a longer period. Suggest that your wife go work in the garden that she has been dying to tend to. Or take a leisurely bath. Or even better, a nap. You will get some major bonus points for allowing her alone time and you will have a chance to practice caring for the baby on your own, with the comfort of your wife close by in case you have any emergencies.
5. Manage your own expectations
Appropriately manage your own expectations. If you are solo with the baby on a Friday evening, you may be dreaming of holding a sleeping baby in your arms while you relax in your favorite chair, enjoy a cold beer, and catch up on your favorite shows. However, your baby may have her own agenda that night. She may want to play with you. Or she may even be having a little fussy period (all babies do, each day!). Begin your solo time with an open mind and no specific agenda. Go with the flow. And now that you have been practicing... you'll know how to take care of your baby no matter what mood she is in.
BONUS TIPS from my husband
1. Don't call your wife repeatedly, especially if she rarely gets out.
2. If you do, beg for mercy.
3. Definitely don't ask her to come home (unless you have a box of chocolates waiting... distraction is the key).