Tug-of-War between Mom and Dad




Eight-day-old Tabitha is calm when the doula first arrives for her home visit.  But as her mother undress her for her morning bath, the baby starts to rev up. At first her hands shake, then her chin trembles and her face gets red. Her face now "clouds over" as she stares out into space. (See SOS "Sign of Over-Stimulation.) As mother continues with undressing her, the baby starts to cry.

Mother hesitates a moment then leans over Tabitha and softly call out her name. "Tabitha can you calm yourself down?" The baby clearly hesitates a moment when she hears mother's voice but then starts to cry again.  At that moment her father scoops the baby up in his arms and rocks her up and down with a bit more zest that would her mother.

Though the doula was prepared to discuss a baby's sleep states and newborn "Zones", she decides instead to try out that first HUG Strategy, "Start here, not There."

"It is wonderful to see how hard you are both working to respond to the needs of your little one, " she begins. "I see mother using that sweet, sing-song voice that your baby seems to appreciate. And, Dad demonstrates that swaying your baby girl helps her to get from that Rebooting back to the Ready Zone."

Both mother and father brightened up hearing these remarks. Dad explains, "Sometime I feel like we are in a bit of a Tug-of-War with my wife . . . I wonder, which one of us can get to her first and settle her down the fastest!"

Today's fathers are often (and preferably) involved in the decision to plan a baby, participate in the OB visit, help select the baby's new doctor, and often attend the well baby visits. Expectant parents anticipate that they will feel some competition with the mother-in-law who arrives at the child's birth, the older sister who stays a week to help out, or the doula who shows up for a shift or two. But as new parents they do not expect to feel competition between one another as they strive to care for their baby.

Research on new parenthood suggest that this competition is normal and, in fact, can fuel the attachment process of a parent to his/her child. However, if these feelings are not understood and appreciated for what they contribute to the developing parent-child relationship, such competition can undermine the parent's relationship with one another.

"Dad likes the more physical rocking and mother loves comforting with her voice," the doula says. "Parents are often surprised by the difference in their approach to parenting. Some even confess to a little competition with each other during the first few days of their baby's life."

Dad jokingly "complains" that "Mom has the breast which always trump what I can do!" But Mom quickly explains that "But Dad can swaddle and comfort Tabitha like nobody else!"

Dad quickly shares that he had been worried about this feeling of competition with his wife. "It had never occurred to me that this little competition is part of growing our parenting style." With a big sigh, mother adds that she, too, "is relieved to know that this tension is normal and proof that they are both working hard at being a good parent!"

Babies learn from both parenting styles and grow in their attachment to both. Their behavior says, "I know the difference between mom and dad, and I LIKE it a LOT!"

How lucky is any newborn whose parents finds themselves in this loving tug-of-war (with themselves and each other) to be the best parent they can each be! (Click here for another story on mothers and fathers different styles.)

© HUG Your Baby 2016