Q: My two-month-old baby doesn't like me. He's perfectly content with my wife, but when I try to hold him, he gets upset and cries. I've backed off a little, thinking that he just needs a little time to get used to me, but that doesn't seem to be working. I'm starting to think I'm just not a very good dad. Is it too late for me to build a relationship with my baby?
A: There's not much in this world that can make a grown up man feel more incompetent than a baby can. The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to get past those feelings - and no, it's not too late. Not even close.
Before we get into the what-to-do part, we need to do something about the way you're thinking. First, get the idea that your baby doesn't like you or that he thinks you're a bad father out of your head. Do you really believe that someone who's a few months old is qualified to make a judgment about your parenting skills? What other dads could he possibly be comparing you to?
Second, stop backing off now. Most likely there are three things that account for your wife's ability to get the baby to stop crying, and the first two are breasts. 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, his vocabulary is pretty limited right now, but if you listen carefully, you'll discover differences between his "feed me," "let's play," "I need a nap," and "new nappy!" 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 his 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 him. He may cry a little at first, but if you've taken care of his needs, a few tears are fine. The more you hold him, the more comfortable you'll be - and the more comfortable he'll feel with you.
Chat. At his age, he won't comprehend much (if anything) of what you say. But talk to him anyway. The topic doesn't matter. The key is hearing your voice and having face-to-face interaction with you.
Change nappies. Sounds a little crazy, but changing nappies is a great excuse to log some more one-on-one baby time. With practice, the nappy-changing part will be over in a few seconds. But the tickling, nuzzling, making faces, and just marvelling in his silky soft skin can go on for much longer.
Play. It'll be a long, long time before he'll be able to play catch or poker, but try to carve out at least half an hour every day for playtime. His 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 him (no phones or other distractions) and make it fun for him (use plenty of verbal and facial encouragement; smile and laugh). Make it fun for yourself. "Think Like a Baby," by Amber and Andy Ankowski, and "Experimenting with Babies," by Shaun Gallagher, are filled with science-based research "projects" to do with/on your baby. Finally, when playing, take your cues from him. If he cries or seems bored, stop what you're doing.
Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to email@example.com