It’s that time of year again, when I look up from a pile of end-of-school-year activities and summer camp forms and realize it’s almost Father’s Day.
Lucky for me (and my husband), we live in Somerville, which is really a dream place to treat the hipster dad in your life. From artisanal shaving soap made by Somerville Soap Works to a gift card to Hub Comics, and beers from any number of local breweries like Slumbrew or Winter Hill Brewing for the drinking dad (or Union Square Donuts for the non-drinking dad in your life), it’s easy to make dad’s day here.
But the best gift for a dad, especially a new dad, is the gift of space to make mistakes.
Yes, you read right. Mistakes. Let me explain.
I spent a lot of my early parenting years committed to not being a helicopter mom. But instead, I kind of became a helicopter spouse, micromanaging my partner’s involvement in our child’s care. Oops. I know I am not alone in this behavior.
Because I was home with our oldest son for a year full time, my husband and son were rarely on their own together, especially early on. And when they were together, I was leaving detailed instructions and getting exasperated when they weren’t followed. None of us was happy with this (again, oops). So I realized I needed to trust him more and be OK with his way of figuring things out.
It took me a long, tense, time to learn this. Now some of the most important advice I give to new parents is: LET DAD MAKE HIS MISTAKES.
This isn’t a thing about how dads do it all wrong — not at all. Moms make tons of mistakes, too. We just aren’t self-reporting them when we notice them.
Assuming here that dad knows the basics of newborn/child care and where the food and diapers are, your job is to leave. The room, the house, whatever, doesn’t matter. Let your partner figure it out. He may ask you questions, he may do the wrong thing. But he will figure it out. And both dad and baby will be just fine. This is what every 80s movie ever has taught us. Which is what we all strive for as parents, right? (Note: Don’t do this on actual Father’s Day, when it may be seen as less of an actual gift.)
Why is this important, you may ask, followed with… and why is it a gift? For a few reasons.
Dads in America don’t typically have a long leave when their baby is born. This sets the stage for a stronger bond with mom than dad, just by sheer number of hours spent together while she’s home on leave. Babies give very subtle messaging, which can be missed in fleeting interactions (or, frankly, not so fleeting ones). Leaving your partner to have quality one-on-one time searching your baby’s eyes for those subtle sleep cues is not just beneficial to you as a mom who needs rest or time to herself, it also helps dad get to know and anticipate his baby’s needs. And don’t worry if you no longer have a baby around; this works on toddlers and older kids, too. They’re even better at telling dad what they need.
While long days of maternity leave can be exhausting, one plus is that you get tons of time to privately mess up without being called out on your mistakes. (I liked to chronicle mine on Facebook, but that’s just me.) Give dad this luxury, too. And I’m not joking. This isn’t like the time my son tried to sell me on a fidget spinner by listing the benefit of reduced screen time; there is a real benefit to learning through your own experience!
Growth as a dad
You know that thing where moms get mad when they’re asked if dad is home babysitting when they’re out without the kids? I’m sure it’s happened to you at some point. It’s insulting to all of us. But there is this societal idea that dads aren’t a primary caregiver, even if both parents work outside the home. Most of the dads I see in my work want to be an equal partner in caregiving, but they don’t know where to start. Giving him the space to learn parenting on his own time can really help him own his dad role. And if you’re open to learning from each other, your relationship will grow both as parents and partners. And that is pretty cool.