Advice for a demoralized Dad?
November 8, 2010 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Calling all Dads: When did your child begin to accept you as a parent/care-giver? How did you deal with it if they didn't accept you? What advice do you have for a first-time demoralized Dad?

My daughter is a happy, healthy, social, unbelievably cute four month old. She was wanted, planned and is very much loved. We have a strong support network of family and friends. We took pre-natal/parenting classes. Our marriage is as solid as they come.

The problem is that I am completely demoralized as a dad. My daughter is totally indifferent to me and my attempts to comfort and care for her. I feel useless, worthless and I can't keep banging my head against this wall destroying my self-esteem in the process.

I want to be an involved father. I want to change the diapers and give the bath. I want to soothe, snuggle, comfort and love even if it is at 2:00am. I want to give my wife a break.

My daughter, on the other hand, wants her mother and ONLY her mother. She reserves all positive emotions and feedback for her mother. She reacts to me no differently than a stranger off the street. I can hold her at most for 5 mins before happy becomes crying, content becomes anger or calm becomes fidgety. I have no success with soothing using the same techniques my wife uses. Honestly, I see no indication she even recognizes me. She definitely recognizes mommy.

Things we have tried that have made NO difference: starting small with little bits of time then building up, having my wife in the room coaching me, having my wife leave the house and going it alone (sink or swim), making sure I am free of stress and tension before holding the baby, making sure the baby is happy first, making sure she is needing something specific I can give her first, changing my voice tone, trying skin-to-skin contact. Nada, nothing, no dice.

I understand that at this age it isn't intentional, manipulative or personal but it still sucks. And for those of you who may say that this is nothing and soon she will be in college, please don't. You get rejected every single day for 4 months and then tell me it's a blink of an eye.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (50 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I went through this exact same thing with our first child. For the first year, it was as if I was just some guy who happened to live in the same house as his mom. It sucked.

As you've suggested, there's nothing you can do to change a four-month-old's mind, other than the great things you're already doing. Keep changing diapers, keep being present, keep being positive, keep letting her hear your voice and see your face and watch you interact with mom.

I guess what I'm saying is, it gets better. Hang in there, because when it does change, and she falls in love with you, you are going to be so totally wrapped around her finger. :>
posted by jbickers at 9:03 AM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, meant to add: Feel free to memail me if you want to talk more about it.
posted by jbickers at 9:04 AM on November 8, 2010

That totally sucks. Sorry to hear about it. I was in a similar position when my daughter was her age, and it was really tough. (And, emotional rejection + sleep deprivation = misery.)

If comfort and soothing aren't things she'll accept from you now, what about entertainment? Maybe have your wife hold the baby, so she feels secure, and while she's safe in her arms, you can try to make her giggle with silly faces, noises, or dances. Once kiddo realizes that you're safe (and funny!) she may feel more at ease in your arms.

I'm really sorry to hear that you're going through a tough time with this phase of fatherhood. If you ever want to vent or anything, MeMail me.
posted by AngerBoy at 9:05 AM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mommyitis is a pain the butt, but it does pass. I can't tell you how many hours I rocked kids to sleep while gently reminding them that it was I, their Other Parent. It got to be so bad occasionally that I (only half-jokingly) started referring to myself as NotMom. There is something of a stronger bond with Mom at the moment. How I got over was reminding myself (as you already are) that this was an infant, running on pure Id. Not personal, not nothing.

It passes. I promise you that it does. Hang in there and ping me in mefi-mail if you want to hash it out further. The day will come - and sooner than you think - when you'll get the DADDDY! as you walk in the door.
posted by jquinby at 9:06 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

My sympathy, this really does suck. I don't have any specific advice, except to ask how long are you trying the different methods you listed? Are you cycling through them fairly quickly? Are you expecting results the same day? Maybe you should give one technique a try for a week or two, expecting that it will suck for most of the time, but that maybe it'll get better by the end. What if you are the only one to put the baby to bed for a couple weeks? What if you are the only one to give her a bath for awhile? I think if you try something like this you should start small, doing only one of the above suggestions, for an extended period. It'll likely be stressful on all of you, and it's never a good idea to over reach, or push the child for too much at once.
And keep reminding yourself that it's not a judgment on you. It's just babies, and sometimes they're weird.
posted by purpletangerine at 9:18 AM on November 8, 2010

Other people will know better, but isn't this a developmental thing? I have read that there is an age up to which a baby doesn't really tell its mother apart from any other caregiver, then becomes extremely attached the the mother and only wants the mother, then eases back up again. IIRC this all happens before the child is a year old. I'm not trying to say anything like "oh, it's nothing, soon she'll be in college." I think it will change a LOT sooner than college, within a few months.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:19 AM on November 8, 2010

Lots of psychoanalytic theory would state that she has not yet realized that she is not a part of mommy, and that mommy is not a part of her. When she realizes that she is an individual among individuals (ie when she reaches the mirror stage), then she will be more ready to acknowledge your existence. Prepare for this to be a bit of a bittersweet moment for your wife.
posted by pickypicky at 9:22 AM on November 8, 2010

Remind yourself it's not because of you. There's nothing you are doing wrong. You are not a failure, you are an awesome dad for persevering this far. This is something babies all over the world do, and a difficult thing dads all over the world labour with. Some of them give up. But you haven't. You are awesome.

Part of showing your love as a dad is that sometimes you get precious little in return, but you do it anyway. Keep being there and when this phase is over it will make a difference. Oh, your kid may not remember, but you will, and the care and love you expended on your kid will grow into a very close bond.

Being a new dad is hard, hang in there!
posted by Omnomnom at 9:23 AM on November 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

Oh dear. Maybe put on some of your wife's hand/body lotion and drape her recently worn sweater across your chest when you hold the little one?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:23 AM on November 8, 2010

For the first years of baby's life, mommy is the center of their little universe. But eventually they recognize this guy that keeps hanging around (daddy) and decide that he's pretty awesome, too.

It will pass, and don't take it personally.:)
posted by shino-boy at 9:28 AM on November 8, 2010

I could have written this same question 18 months ago. Don't worry, it gets better.

Once my daughter moved to food (instead of just nursing), the playing field started to level out a bit. There are still plenty of instances where she only wants Mama, but those are fewer and fewer. There will also be plenty of games and fun that she'll only do with her Dad.

It's very hard, but you've got to try to not take things personally. Your daughter loves you and your wife unconditionally, but she'll unknowingly break your heart a thousand times in the next few years. She's developing at a breakneck speed, but there's still a way to go before she can start to empathize or consider your feelings. During the tough times, I would cope by cuddling up with her while she napped. Baby naps are magical!

So shake it off, put on a smile, and get back in there! She'll warm up to you soon enough.
posted by mattybonez at 9:28 AM on November 8, 2010

Keep your chin up, it does get better. And then they become teenagers and you are back to square one.

Here's how you do it - just keep plugging away at it. It will only come with time and effort. Plus, she'll grow into it. I promise.

When people talk about parenting being hard - this is what they mean. You, and everything you stand for and hold dear, will be rejected outright at one time or another. Not taking that personally is really hard sometimes.

Parenting is trial and error. Mostly error, actually. But, here's what I'd do :

Set aside time, every day, just you and her. A regular uninterrupted time for you and her alone. No interference or help from Mom. Just tough it out. I used to really enjoy mornings with my son, but whatever fits in your schedule.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:29 AM on November 8, 2010

My baby turned four months old yesterday and she far prefers her mother (more so than our first did) and no matter how much you tell yourself it isn't conscious or intentional, it hurts your feelings and I sympathize. Practically, I would suggest having mom hold the baby in her lap while you make faces and see if you can make her laugh. At least you can get a little positive feedback that way. Now more intangibly, you are going to be sacrificing for this kid for the the rest of your life and she will break your heart any number of times when you will just have to swallow it and keep loving her the best you can. This is a great first lesson in that, and it might help a little to think of it that way. Talk about how it makes you feel with your partner and your support network, but at the end of the day take your lumps. It sucks but you're her dad and you are just going to let her scream and cry every time you hold her and just keep loving her and if she will be happy with you for five minutes then hold her for five minutes at a time as often as you can. Sounds like you are doing right, but that is just half the battle. The real challenge is that you have to do right and keep doing right (or as best you can) for the rest of your life. That's the gig.
posted by ND¢ at 9:30 AM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Anon., it's the suck. I'm sorry. This is *not* nothing, although it will pass (I promise!) and things will get better far sooner than move-in day. You're doing all the right things and you can't do the impossible, which is to BE MOM.

I can't recall the current recommendations on age for slings these days, but as soon as you judge it safe, you might try wearing your daughter (and a pair of shooting muffs, no joke), putting her in the sling *right around the time she looks sleepy.* Rinse and repeat. No guarantees, but perhaps worth trying?

You are a *good guy.* Please remember that.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:31 AM on November 8, 2010

Maybe this sounds callous, but at this age it would seem to me that conditioning plays a large part. Mommy is there every time something good happens, therefore Mommy is wonderful. You're only there when awesome Mommy isn't (even if she's at the other end of the room), which is upsetting, which is just going to make your baby more upset around you because she associates it with the removal of happy baby goodtimes. If I were you, I'd try, for a few days, putting myself there with Mommy and little baby anonymous for every single feeding. Talk happily and quietly to Mommy and baby until your presence there isn't so notable or scary. Helping baby to associate you with positive feelings like being held by Mommy and getting fed should be a big help.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:34 AM on November 8, 2010

Hi, a mom here. I was in your wife's position, in that I was the only acceptable person. It sucks for everyone (except baby hah). Stay strong, I promise it will get better soon. Some great comments above, the realisation that she is a separate entity from mom will make a big difference (usually around 9-10 months, but it will get better before that), also the suggestion that you be the entertainment person, whereas mom is the comfort person. Eventually entertainment person becomes a comfort person too. Sometimes entertainment is a comfort.

Here's my suggestion. Accept that your role as Dad to a tiny baby is never going to be a one-to-one mirror of mom's role. Sorry if that's not what you want to hear, but I think it will help if you revise your expectations. However, this DOES NOT mean that your role is lesser, it means your role is different. Maybe mom is the putting baby to sleep person, and Dad is the bath person. Maybe mom is the breastfeeding person but dad is the bottle feeding person. Or maybe mom is the milk feeding person and Dad will soon become the solid foods person. Mom is the comfort person, Dad is the tickle person. And so on. Find out which roles you can provide, entertainment is just as valuable for baby's development, and tired moms often don't have the energy. Basically wait until she is in a happy mood and does not need comfort, then take over and spend time with her.

At four months she is on the verge of turning from a small poop-machine into more of an interesting baby anyway. Birth to four months is quite unrewarding and demanding for everyone IMHO. Good luck, you are an awesome Dad, even if your daughter does not show appreciation yet!
posted by Joh at 9:34 AM on November 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

I would take care of our kids while my wife worked 2nd shift and had plenty of rough evenings.

What worked best for me is movement - strollers, front carriers, backpack carriers, car rides, holding them with them looking out and around. If you're weather permits get outside, if not, I put a lot of miles just walking through the house.

The change you're looking for is coming up in the 6-8 month range when they start getting interested in "toys" and you can become the playmate. (Not to mention finger foods).

Kids are amazingly resilient. Your daughter being unhappy for a while is okay. Don't be concerned if you can't comfort her right away. She'll live.

Don't get discouraged. From my standpoint as a father, I always wished my kids came to me on their 1st birthday - I think that's where the fun really starts. The first year is a lot of work! You're doing the right thing by wanting to be involved. Keep getting in there.
posted by Edward L at 9:34 AM on November 8, 2010

I went through the same thing with my son, who is about the same age as your daughter. I just felt useless when it came to care until he started accepting bottle feedings. There were several completely horrible solitary care sessions where I couldn't do anything to soothe him while Mommy was away. It was pretty bleak emotionally and I felt like crap.

It helped to talk to my wife about these feelings. She was probably going through even more stress than I was, but leaving stuff unsaid while pretending to be the big rock of stability for the new family wasn't yielding great results. It made me feel helpless and resentful, which lead to me avoiding dealing with the baby, which lead to Mom feeling overwhelmed and resentful. I'm not sure if babies can pick up on their Moms' opinions of other people, but for the good of your relationship (and sanity) it's good to get it off your chest.

One thing that has helped is that I'm the person who picks him up from daycare. I feel helpful when it is my job to relay the daycare workers' accounts of his day to my wife, happy that I have an hour and a half each day 1-on-1 to bond with him, and useful when I'm the one dealing with his you-can-set-a-watch-on-it 4:45pm freakouts (which also gives me my own little cross to bear - no way as heavy as Mom's breastfeeding cross, but weighty enough that I feel I'm working at it too). Also, I think the routine helped establish me as part of his life in a way that wasn't happening when he was at home with Mom all day.

He now smiles at me when he sees me and thinks my one joke (making a popping noise with my mouth) is the funniest thing in the world. When he's really in a snit, it's still only Mommy that will calm him down, but I can walk him back from total meltdown to merely grumpy now.

There is a turning point, but since that point is largely up to a little person who is not entirely clear on who owns those hands that keep floating around in front of their face, it's hard to say when it will hit. But once it does, yeah, it gets better.

Feel free to drop me a MeMail if you want some commiseration.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:40 AM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

OP, I feel for you. It's probably helpful for you to hear this from a variety of people, but really -- It's Not You, Some Kids Are Like That. I went through this to some degree with each of my kids (some more than others) and it is tough not being able to calm the baby down when the Momma can do it in 30 seconds. You are not alone.

4 months is VERY early in the process. It will get better. You say that your daughter doesn't treat you differently than strangers, but if you just stay the course, this should change pretty soon now. My wife and I started joking that I was the "Adequate Momma Substitute" when she wasn't available. The baby showed a clear preference for me over grandparents, etc -- as long as my wife was not in the picture. If she was in the room, only the Momma would do.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 9:40 AM on November 8, 2010

You don't say whether your daughter is breastfed or bottle-fed, but if it's the former, I think you should keep in mind that some babies are just never happy unless they are at or near the boob, as 26.2 pointed out. A baby that age has, really, no idea that there are people yet. She's just reacting to stimuli, and mom has the correct stimuli.

That said -- you mentioned that you've tried having Mom leave the house. How long was she gone, and what happened? I'm just curious what the reaction was. Was she just dissatisfied and grouchy, or was it full-throated screaming until Mom returned?

I can tell you that almost anything with a baby is plastic. My son always fell asleep nursing for his first nine months or so, and when his mom returned to work and I became the stay-at-home caregiver, I was really afraid that I wouldn't be able to get him to nap. And for the first few weeks, it was horrifically rough going -- crying for twenty or thirty minutes at a time. I would swaddle him and rock him and make soothing sounds, and he would scream in rage and frustration. But little-by-little, he got used to it, and I got better at reading his signals. Now we don't need the swaddling or the rocking. I just take him and lie down with him on the couch, and he nods off in a couple of minutes.

Don't despair. It will click. At four months you are coming out of the most difficult parts for everybody. Things get better from here.
posted by thehandsomecamel at 9:42 AM on November 8, 2010

Your daughter may not be reacting to you that you can see, but I really fully believe that she's aware and processing it on some level, so keep it up!

I was a daddy's girl, and according to the stories I was completely "whatever" about dad until I was almost two, and then he was the greatest. And apparently I was awful to both of my parents at various times, so your wife will probably turn to you at some point and need you to help her through some similar emotions.
posted by mrs. taters at 9:43 AM on November 8, 2010

For the first three years of a kid's life, there is almost always a preference of one parent over the other. Sometimes it's not very defined (they'll only ask for a parent when they're scared/hurt/sick) and sometimes they make no bones about who's the favorite adult. One day you will be the favorite, and your wife will feel a little hurt and rejected (SHE carried the kid around for nine months, SHE spent x hours of labor pushing her out, SHE hooked her boobs up to one of those sadistic pumping machines), and the cycle will switch.

Even though your daughter is still very very little, the best thing to practice now is showing her that you love her unconditionally, even when she rejects you. As she grows more aware, she will pick up on the tiniest clues you drop because you and Mom are her life support and her entire world. Do not underestimate the messages you can unconsciously send out to her even when she's a tiny froggy human who can't do anything for herself. If you hand her back to Mom every time she cries, you're communicating to her that you cannot or choose not to deal with her emotions. If she reaches for Mom over you and you make a big deal about it, she'll learn that her preferences are wrong and/or unwelcome. However, if you remain unfailingly sunny on the outside while she puts knives in your heart every time she wants Mom over you, she'll learn that Dad loves her no matter what she feels or does on that particular day.

I know she looks so little now that it seems unthinkable that she'll become so tuned into these messages, but remember how small her world is! She needs you on her side even if she's not necessarily on yours right now.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:45 AM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Reading this makes me want to know you! You sound amazing. Your daughter will remember in her cells the fact that you were present and committed, even if she only comes around a little later. Please hang in there and know it will get better!
posted by analog at 9:54 AM on November 8, 2010

I'm a dad with 3 kids under 5. We're about to have our fourth (and last). With every one of our children, I've gone through periods where I was nothing to them. Sometimes it lasted a day. Sometimes it lasts weeks. Other times, I was their favorite person and their mother was the enemy. You're probably not doing anything wrong. The important thing to realize about kids, particularly little kids, is that it's a phase. Everything is a phase. Since it's a phase and it will soon be replaced by a new and completely different phase, I think it's best not to force it.

Hold the baby when you can hold the baby. Play with her when you can. Let her come to you. In the meantime, maybe there are other ways to help Mom, who may feel overwhelmed by the baby constantly needing her. Be a support to her, with maybe a larger share of the household chores, or helping her to relax while baby's asleep (nice bubble baths, massages, foot rubs or whatever helps put her in her comfort zone.

I don't think you mentioned whether she's a breastfed baby, but if she is, it's possible that she is so much more attached to Mom because of her role as a source of food and feel-good hormones. But here's the thing about that: if she's 4 months old, she'll soon be trying solid foods (like in about 1 to 2 months). Maybe you could take charge of that project; be the go-to guy for baby cereal and strained sweet potatoes. Make it fun. Don't force it. And wait for the next phase, whatever it may be.
posted by wabbittwax at 9:55 AM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I remember telling my wife that it's amazing the species survived, as little kids wear us down in *so many* ways. I even remember holding my then-infant daughter and asking her, as she was crying about something "You, You, You...What about *my* needs?" (it was kind of a joke, but it was also true.)

You probably had all kinds of hopes about what your relationship with your kid would be like - you probably had fantasies that you would be the parent that your parents weren't, and here's this little kid refusing to accept you.

Hang in there, bro. This will get A LOT better, especially when the little one starts moving around, which is the realm where dad rules. Then mom will start to feel neglected, and on it goes...
posted by jasper411 at 10:05 AM on November 8, 2010

Happened to me too. It's a double-bummer because not only do you not feel the affection you want from your daughter, but you also don't get as much time from your wife!

I made diaper changes my job. Whenever a diaper needed to be changed, I'd shout "It's Daddy Time!" Which of course had no effect on the child, but made us laugh. Now my son is 2 and we're totally clicking, but still, a diaper change is "the original daddy time."
posted by rouftop at 10:16 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

And for those of you who may say that this is nothing and soon she will be in college, please don't.

Sack up, son. Put a smile on your face, keep your voice level, and take it.

Probably not the advice you were hoping for, but that's all you can do; you're in a supporting role for the next few months, so play that role as best you can. It's a burden on Mom, too, who could probably use a shift or two off by now. You might get some traction by just being in the room with Mom when she's putting her down, or feeding her, just to get the kid familiar with the smell of you, but there's not a lot else you can do aside from "trying like hell", which seems to be what you're already doing. Be patient, be supportive, but man up and be there for both of them. That's all. Mine's 18 months, and for the first five or six, yeah, I was just some guy and give me back to mom or I scream.

It will get better, almost inevitably, but your relationship with your wife, your kid and your own bad self will be shaped and remembered in a lot of ways by how well you kept your spirits level and your shit together during that first six months. All you can do is participate, but nobody who's been there will ever tell you it was easy. It's crushingly difficult, but you need to work through it regardless.

If you want to talk about it, email me.
posted by mhoye at 10:16 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just one anecdote... I'm told I was a daddy-hater until I was 8 months old. They say I wouldn't even let him hold me some days.

By the time I was 4 and until, um. now, I turned into daddy's girl through and through. He was the one I called with problems, he was the first person I told that I got into vet school, and as a kid he was my most favorite playmate.

My husband has struggled a little bit with being the less favored parent, or at least the parent without the capacity to nurse on demand. Him giving her bottles of pumped milk has helped a great deal. Now that our daughter can start to play, they spend lots of time together building (him) and knocking down (her) towers of wooden blocks.

You sound like a great guy with a lovely little family. I promise you, it will get better.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 10:24 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

This too shall pass. Both the stage you're in and its ending are pretty much inevitable. Our kids all spent a fair amount of time where they always wanted physical contact with Mommy (always wanted to hold her hand, clutch her pants, sit in her lap, etc.). If it's any comfort, it's a big PITA to be the one who's always in demand as well; your wife no doubt wishes she isn't quite so popular.
posted by Mr. Justice at 10:25 AM on November 8, 2010

My 18 month old twins will still occasionally try to kill me (eye gouging, choking, pinching, kicking, biting) when they want Mom and they get me instead.

So, take what everyone above said to heart, and remember that you could have it worse... there could be two of them. :)
posted by togdon at 10:33 AM on November 8, 2010

It will pass, just as everyone else says. By the time she's four or so you'll be The Man.
posted by orange swan at 10:35 AM on November 8, 2010

Well, at 2.5 years, despite lots of trying and an almost complete absence of nursing from the get-go, our child still prefers me (mom). It's definitely gotten better and she clearly loves her dad and is very affectionate with him but when the chips are down, she needs me. It sucks for everyone: Dad feels rejected, Mom feels burdened, child feels stressed. What helped for us, was, first of all, the passage of time but there also was a lot of powering through the rejection. My husband just had to BE there all the time, especially without me around. He had to let her scream and be mad and then realize that things weren't so bad with dad, after all.

Also, I had to be willing to let him do his own thing and not insert myself in situations even though I felt like I could help or sooth or do something differently. I've had to work on that a lot so that our child could see that her father is as capable and caring as I am. She needed to follow my lead, in some respects. But yeah, it's tough and it'll probably get worse before it gets better.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:47 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think other people have said this, but I've been where you are. My daughter is about one month older than your child. The few times I've done solo care, she can get to an inconsolable stage that I can only barely tolerate. Two things have helped me : move with her. I bounce and walk and rock as much as possible. It wears me out, but it makes her happy. The other is to feed her with a bottle once a day or so. I do it nearly every day now and I think it probably helps. She wants to breastfeed when we are done, but I think she enjoys the time anyway. The first few times, she screamed when she saw it was me holding the bottle, but eventually we worked it out. Also, my wife is breastfeeding and the bottle feedings haven't disrupted anything with that process.

Hang in there!
posted by Slothrop at 10:47 AM on November 8, 2010

As everyone says, it's a phase. My baby recognized me super-early and, while he was very mellow and not bothered by dad, showed no glimmer of recognition of dad for quite a while.

Sink or swim. Send mom out of the house for long periods. At six weeks I started having a weekly meeting that went as long as six hours (thank God for pumps) ... dad learned real quick how to comfort the baby, and baby learned real quick that mom isn't always around. Even if you're breastfeeding, mom can leave right after a feeding and go enjoy some time to herself and come back right before the next feeding. A lot of dads get into the cycle early where, since mom is "better" at comforting (mainly b/c equipped with boobs), dad gets in the habit of handing off the baby. My husband never comforted the baby the way I did, never played the way I did. I never coached (except for, like, if I found a super-secret gas-passing technique to make him fart). I just let them figure each other out. They did. They play a lot rougher than I do and sometimes I cringe, but I figure it'll work out.

Find a baby activity. Four months is a little young, but baby "water acclimation" classes using the Red Cross curriculum start at six months. There are music-and-motion classes starting at day one! My son and his dad started swim class together at six months (mine loves water) and that was a big bonding experience for them. He doesn't even want to go in the pool with me in the summer because SWIMMING IS WITH DAD.

Walk. Walk with the stroller if she likes that, but she'd probably like being carried even better. Use a sling, use a Bjorn, whatever works. (Mine preferred the Bjorn.) Mine LOVED being up against warm, warm daddy (daddy is much warmer) in the baby Bjorn. At first it would sooth him to sleep; later, when he could face out, he liked daddy carrying him because daddy's taller so baby could see a lot better. We eventually graduated to a Kelty (as recommended by AskMeFi) and he will try to climb into it himself so dad will take him hiking! Sometimes they just walk around the neighborhood, sometimes they go out and hike in the forest preserve.

At 17 months my toddler prefers dad SOOOOOOOO MUCH that I am totally ignored when dad is available and a poor substitute when dad is not available. But it's okay, I figure I'll be back in his good graces again one of these days! (He even has separation anxiety for DAD but not for mom!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:50 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, my husband also always did the burping when we were both home, so when the baby was warm and full and happy he'd go see dad and have a lovely big burp. That seemed to help some too.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:52 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm right there with the many others who have said, "Hang in there; this will pass."

Our daughter is not 15 months old, but I distinctly remember the tension around her first few months. I felt helpless and worthless because I couldn't be the comfort to my child that my wife could be. It hurt, but it passed.

A reminder: While you may not be able to comfort and nourish your child, you ARE able to comfort and nourish your partner. It's exhausting to be a new parent, but try to keep up the energy to keep the house picked up, some good, healthy food made, and a calm environment surrounding your family.

Today, when I get home from work, my daughter will bumble-walk up to the back door, saying, "DADA! DADA! DADA!" This will be coming from a girl who howled as if she was in pain the first time I was alone in a room with her.
posted by elmer benson at 10:54 AM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

The experiences of two-parent homosexual households might have something to offer you - perhaps you can search for tips from daddy & papa (or mommy & mama) couples on how to become the parent who the infant wants to see...?
posted by Sarah Jane at 11:10 AM on November 8, 2010

Yep, you're Not Mom. But if you stick around, the baby'll grow to like you. And yes, it sucks for Mom, too, since she has to do *everything*.

We're on our fourth child and they all did it, but at different ages and for different lengths of time. The youngest, at age almost-three, just went from "No!" every time I turned toward her (before I even opened my mouth to speak) -- less than a week ago -- to suddenly this weekend singing out, "Good morning, Daddy!"

I think of our relationships like a very eccentric orbit: sometimes the kids are warm and very close to me, and sometimes they are cold and distant. I expect this pattern to persisit until both of us are dead.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:10 AM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

At four months, there aren't many babies who are very interested in Dad. Mom, especially if she's breastfeeding, is the only acceptable source of comfort for most. It does get better, but kids are different, and some will get over this stage faster than others. I've got four kids. The youngest is 13 months and started liking her dad a few months ago. She still wants me for comfort, but she's happy to play and sometimes cuddle with dad. My five year old, on the other hand, didn't want my husband anywhere near him until after he was two. He is still a serious Mama's boy, but he does love his Daddy too. As he puts it, Dad is his Best Buddy, but Mom is the Best.

As others have said, this is stressful for mom too. Being unable to get a break without knowing baby is miserable without you can be crazy-making. She may, in her exhaustion, start to blame you for not trying hard enough. But really, babies are just like that.

I second the recommendation for movement. I also recommend taking the baby outside if weather permits. That was the one thing that almost always worked with my eldest - no matter how cranky she was, the second we stepped outside she was quiet and content. One other thing you might try, rather than having your wife coach you through tasks, have your wife do the tasks, but with you intimately involved. Have Mom give the bath, but you use a second washcloth and do the fun splashing. Have Mom change the diaper, but with you stroking her face and talking to her. Have Mom put her to bed, but you sing the lullabies. It might be awkward having two people do a one person job, but it gives her the comfort of Mom doing things the way she's used to, while she learns to associate your presence with those activities.
posted by Dojie at 11:12 AM on November 8, 2010

For the first year of my son's life, even though his dad was very involved, every time he was away from my arms, he would BRAWL. I mean, scream, kick, stare and look miserable. It took him until 8 months or so to want daddy specifically, and now, at 4 years old, the two of them are inseparable. Sometimes my son even says "no mommy!" when they're playing in his room.

This isn't your fault, it has nothing to do with what you're doing and it's not something that lasts forever - not even until college! More like a couple more months! Instead of trying to do everything for the baby (for now), take care of the wife instead. You'd still be around so that baby can get used to your face and your scent. Don't look frustrated. Smile at her. Get up at night nursing time with her and get whatever she needs. Draw the water at bath time and bring the towel.

Baby will warm up to you before you know it. But please remind yourself from time to time that kids go through phases of mommy/daddy favoritism all the time. My son went through a few weeks in his second year where he refused to talk to daddy when he called. This too, went away quickly as he realized that "picking" a parent isn't exactly an effective way to show his independence.
posted by Sallysings at 11:17 AM on November 8, 2010

The important thing to realize about kids, particularly little kids, is that it's a phase. Everything is a phase.

Oh my goodness, yes. I'm not going to say "before you know it, they'll be in college"--none of mine are there yet!--but it is SO true that these baby phases that stress you out so much will pass very quickly.

My husband was the primary caregiver for our first baby, and did a great job of it but also had to muscle through a lot of frustration. The difference between this period with our first child and our second was huge. The first time, you feel like these things will last forEVER and nothing you are trying to do is working.

The second time, you know that whatever the situation is this week, it'll likely be different the next. It passes so fast. Just carry on; you're doing great and will reap the benefits later, and "later" might seriously come a lot sooner than you expect.
posted by torticat at 11:20 AM on November 8, 2010

Have mom show you lots of affection and attention while she's holding/cuddling/feeding baby.

This will work more when she's older. To some extent, this is an age thing, but also partly a personality thing. Some babies aren't that picky.

Holding a baby for 5 minutes is actually a rather long amount of time, although I know it hurts and doesn't feel like much of anything.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:45 AM on November 8, 2010

Can you give your daughter one of her feedings? If your wife is nursing, can she pump enough to get one bottle's worth extra a day? That is what my husband and I did. I nursed, but there was one feeding that just kicked my ass - the one around 10pm, after I had already been asleep for an hour. So after a while, my husband took over that time slot with a bottle of pumped milk or formula. At first it was difficult, but she managed to catch on. And eventually, Daddy was The Man, and I was just that Mean Lady who insisted on boring things like picking up toys and not eating clumps of dog fur. I think that bottle ritual was one of the reasons they became such buddies.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:50 AM on November 8, 2010

Another voice in the "This too shall pass" chorus. The best parenting advice I got, about anything, was that everything - good and bad - is a phase, so enjoy the former and wait out the latter.

What you could be doing now, though, is making sure you're modeling the kind of attitude you hope your wife will have when your child wants nothing to do with her. The tables are going to turn eventually.
posted by brozek at 12:25 PM on November 8, 2010

Right now, your baby only cares about being warm, being dry, and being near nipples that give milk. And right now, you're feeling sorry for yourself because you have vestigial nipples. Stop that. Your wife's too tired to deal with your self-pity. You have myriad tasks to accomplish as a father and husband -- not just when your daughter's in college, but right now, at this very moment when your wife is nursing your child. Focus on everything else you can do as a husband and father during this time. If you don't know, ask your wife, every time she picks up the baby, what you can do -- for your baby, for her, for your house, for the dog, for the kid down the street that your wife was mentoring before she gave birth. Or just hold your baby for 5 minutes so your wife can take a shower, and then go make her some lasagna. Then, while it's baking, run to the store and buy your wife something nice.

Everyone else is right. This will pass in weeks or months. Until it does, take hope in this: someday soon -- sooner than you can comprehend right now -- you will have a reunion with your child after, say, a long day at work or a few days on the road. And your child, just having learned to run, just having learned to speak, will leap from her mother's arms and into yours. She will wrap herself around your neck, and whisper in your ear, "I love you, Daddy." Never lose hope this will happen. And once it does, never forget that it did.
posted by hhc5 at 12:50 PM on November 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

This happened to my sister, even though she was nursing her daughter. My niece totally preferred her dad over her mom, unless she wanted to nurse. The rest of the time until she was 8 or 10 months old only dad could keep her happy.
posted by mareli at 12:56 PM on November 8, 2010

Nthing all the 'hang in there' comments. Odds are the tables will turn when she's a toddler and you'll be the one she loves most. Try not to look smug when that happens ;-)
posted by Sebmojo at 12:58 PM on November 8, 2010

Right now, your baby only cares about being warm, being dry, and being near nipples that give milk. And right now, you're feeling sorry for yourself because you have vestigial nipples. Stop that. Your wife's too tired to deal with your self-pity. You have myriad tasks to accomplish as a father and husband -- not just when your daughter's in college, but right now, at this very moment when your wife is nursing your child. Focus on everything else you can do as a husband and father during this time. If you don't know, ask your wife, every time she picks up the baby, what you can do -- for your baby, for her, for your house, for the dog, for the kid down the street that your wife was mentoring before she gave birth. Or just hold your baby for 5 minutes so your wife can take a shower, and then go make her some lasagna. Then, while it's baking, run to the store and buy your wife something nice.

Frankly, this too. Sympathy and all, but man up.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:00 PM on November 8, 2010

It suuuuuuuucks. It sucks so bad. Particularly if you're nursing, your wife is Milk Lady, Bringer of Life and Mammaries, and you're, well, the UnMother. I have deep, deep sympathy for you, and no advice, but two things that may help bring a ray of hope:

1. It will pass. It really will. It's not you, it's not even her, it's just a thing, and it will end. In fact, the time will come when you are the King of the Awesome Parade and mom is the sad sack. I promise.

2. You are modeling an unbelievably important lesson for her here: that of unconditional love. Babies her age are absolute cognitive sponges, and even if she doesn't have the wiring to realize it yet, you are showing her that you love her, forever and always, even if she doesn't give a rat's crap about you. You are showing her what it means to have a man respect her and care for her without expecting anything in return. I know, she's only four months old, blah blah blah, but this shit matters. This is one of the first difficult, awesome parenting tasks that you have the opportunity to get exactly right. And you are.. I know it sucks, but if you can, keep it up.
posted by KathrynT at 1:34 PM on November 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm in no way minimizing your pain and stress over this, it's definitely an awkward and trying situation. But it will get better. Developmentally speaking, it is completely normal for the baby, which has bonded with mom for 9 months in the womb and which instinctively recognizes her as Alpha Caregiver, to pretty much only want attention from the mother.

There's not a lot you can do unfortunately, except wait it out. But keep doing the things you have been doing. I know the instinct when getting rejected is to pull back, but I urge you to keep going. That way within a few months when the baby has become less dependent on its mother, and is finally ready to accept and want (believe me, this will happen) attention and care from you, it won't be jarring or awkward.
posted by katyggls at 5:13 AM on November 9, 2010

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