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Ask Mr. Dad: Why does my baby hate me?

Armin Brott, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Dear Mr. Dad: Since my daughter was born two months ago, I’ve become completely convinced that she hates me. She seems quite happy when she’s with my wife, but when I try to hold her, she gets upset and cries. Thinking that maybe she just needs more time to get used to me, I’ve backed off a little. But that hasn’t done the trick. I’m getting very depressed thinking that I’m just not a very good dad. Am I ever going to build a relationship with my baby?

A: There’s not much in this world that can make a grown man feel less competent than a baby can. The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to get past those feelings. And don’t worry, it’s not too late to build a strong relationship with your daughter — not even close.

However, before we get into the what-to-do part, we need to talk about the way you’re thinking. First, get the idea that your baby doesn’t like you or that she thinks you’re a bad father out of your head. Do you really believe that someone who’s a few weeks old is qualified to make a judgment about your parenting skills? What other dads could she possibly be comparing you to?

Second, stop backing off. Right now. There are three things that account for your wife’s ability to get the baby to stop crying: the first two are breasts, and the third is practice. Your relationship with your baby starts with bonding and attachment, and that can’t happen without getting your hands dirty, so to speak.

The best way to start building your relationship is to learn your baby’s language. Yes, her vocabulary is pretty limited right now, but if you listen carefully, you’ll discover differences between her “feed me,” “let’s play,” “I need a nap,” and “new diaper!” cries. You won’t get it right every time, but the more you pay attention, the better the chances that you’ll be able to satisfy her needs. That will make you and the baby feel quite a bit better about each other.

Now, roll up your sleeves and get busy:

 

-- Carry her. She may cry a little at first, but if you’ve taken care of her needs, a few tears are fine. The more you hold her, the more comfortable you’ll be — and the more comfortable she’ll feel with you.

-- Talk. At her age, she won’t comprehend much (if anything) of what you say. But talk to her anyway. The topic doesn’t matter. The key is hearing your voice and having face-to-face interaction with you.

-- Change diapers. Sounds a little crazy, but changing diapers is a great excuse to log some more one-on-one baby time. With practice, the diaper-changing part will be over in a few seconds. But the nuzzling, making faces, and just marveling at her silky soft skin can go on for much longer.

-- Play. It’ll be a long, long time before she’ll be able to play catch, but try to carve out at least half an hour every day for playtime. Her attention span is pretty short, so you’ll probably need to break that 30 minutes into three or four smaller chunks. What you do isn’t as important as how you do it: Focus on her (no phones or other distractions) and make it fun (use plenty of verbal and facial encouragement, smile, and laugh). Make it fun for yourself, too. My book, “The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year,” is filled with science-based research “projects” to do with/on your baby. Finally, when playing, take your cues from her. If she cries or seems bored, stop what you're doing.

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