TALL DAD CONFESSION: I’m Scared That I’m Not Bonding With My Baby

I’m having a really hard time bonding with Felicity. It’s not her fault. It’s not Tall Mom’s fault. The fault is mine, and mine alone.  But here’s the worst part – I feel awful about it.  Oh, and not just awful either – I’m scared too.  It’s actually scared me to the point that I felt that I had to write about it here.  First, I need some support – how do I get past this? Second, I know if I’m feeling it, then there must be other second time dads who feel the same way too, and they need to know they’re not alone.  But, before I sound like a total jackass, please let me explain why I’ve realized I feel this way, and what I hope to do about it.
So let me preface this entire article by saying that I love my daughter Felicity.  She is so precious, cute, and best of all, she actually sleeps!  I never, in all of my wildest dreams, thought that I would get a baby that sleeps as much as this child does. Watching her with Tall Mom is probably one of the greatest things I have ever witnessed, and she truly brings a level of innocence to the house that I never imagined.

I’ve got a daughter.  And while that’s scary as all kinds of hell, it’s actually a really cool notion. She rocks.

Here’s my issue though, I’m not bonding with her.

I don’t know why.

Well, that’s a little bit of a lie – I’m intimidated, I’m tired, I’ve got more on my plate than I care to admit, and I feel like my relationship with my son is far better.

Let’s just go down the list:

1. I’m intimidated – Holy shit am I intimidated.  You’d think that I’ve already been through this, so it should come easily for me.  This isn’t wholly untrue.  I’m not as nervous about doing something to kill her like I was with our first tiny baby.  But intimidation is different than nerves.  I swear to all that is living and dead that every time I go to hold Felicity, she cries.  I’m not kidding. It’s almost given me a complex.  In fact, her crying has affected me so much that if is she is at all relatively happy while in her crib or bassinet, I refuse to touch her.  I’ve actually come to think of this song as our anthem.

The whole SIDS thing scares the ever loving shit out of me.  Yes, I know I just said I’m not as scared to kill her, and I’m not.  But SIDS is totally out of my control and I have no idea if it will happen, and when it will happen.  True, it’s completely irrational.  But, terrifying nonetheless.

Also, she’s a girl, and I am super intimidated by cleaning the lady parts.  I know you have to wipe up to down.  I get it.  But, something just really makes me incredibly uncomfortable about it.

The essence of this idea is that I have a general feeling of unease around her.  Maybe it’s because she is a girl and I don’t know how to deal with it? I don’t know.

2. I’m tired – Granted,  I did say she sleeps. She sleeps like a guy who just ripped three joints in 15 minutes.  My wife has also taken the lead in caring for Felicity in the middle of the night if she needs it – so there is no excuse there either.  But, my son Rhys is still getting up at the wee hours of the morning (multiple times) and I take care of him.  So I’m up super early with Rhys, and I’m going to sleep late because I need to make sure Mary and Felicity are taken care of.  Between that and everything else I have to do (more on this later) I am really fucking tired.  I come home from work and all I wanna do is eat dinner, watch Netflix, and decompress.  As such, I have very little patience for Felicity and the witching hours of 6pm through 9pm.

3. I’ve got more on my plate than I care to admit – Bear with me as this is going to sound like whining.  But, my life is full.  No, it’s FUCKING full.  Full to the god damn brim.  I don’t think there is anyway I can possibly fit anything else into my tornado of a life. Between my day job, my part time job, working out to lose the extra weight I gained through Mary’s pregnancy, house work, TRYING to have a social life, taking care of Rhys, being a poor to mediocre husband to my wife, getting dinners prepared, fixing stuff in the house, decorating the newly moved in house, two cats, and so on – I’m completely overwhelmed.  I have so many things on my plate that I don’t even know where to begin anymore.  I don’t think I’ve seen the floor on my bedroom in over 2 months because the room is such a mess.

Listen – I’m sure this situation is no different than any other second time dad and that’s why I feel terrible saying any of this, but I feel like I don’t have time for Felicity.  I’ve got twenty pounds of shit packed in a one pound bag.  I’m a master of nothing.  I’m spread so thin that I’m not getting anything of real significance done. I’m doing everything and nothing – all at once.  It’s taking a major toll on my feeling of self worth, and my confidence as a man/provider.   I keep thinking of that song by The Beatles, “It’s All Too Much.”

There is, however, worse news. I know I’m letting my wife down because of all this.  I know she only wants the best for me, so she tries to help and give tips on how to best soothe or handle Felicity.  But, while the baby cries in my hands, the last thing I want is someone to tell me that I’m a failure at doing something that should be natural to me.  Is she actually saying that I’m a failure? Of course not.  She is just trying to help.  But, that’s how I feel.  So not only am I not handling my daughter well, but now I’m disappointing my wife too.  That’s the worst kind of pressure, and it just keeps building with each passing day.

Like I said, I’m tired.  I’m tired from all the above mentioned shit and more. I don’t want to deal with a newborn, I don’t wanna deal with the disappointment, so I avoid it as much as possible.

4. My relationship with my son is better – while I know this reasoning is the most asinine and unfair assessment of all the conclusions I’ve drawn so far, somehow it’s the one that rings most true.  My son Rhys is my buddy.  My shadow.  He and I do everything together. Football, baseball, eat, sleep, go to work, play on the swingset, drive in the car, you name it and we do it.  Of course, it wasn’t always like this, he was a colicky little dink for  so long.  In fact, he was such a god damn pain in my ass as a baby that I didn’t want to hang out with him at all either.  But, even though he was such a terror, it just felt different than it does with Felicity.  Perhaps it’s because he was my first child and it was all so new to me that I had an instant connection.  Suffice it to say, the passing course of events have completely solidified and shifted our relationship of today into something that’s really beautiful. We talk, watch How To Train Your Dragon together, laugh at each other, rough house, and it all makes sense.

But, none of this exists with Felicity. She barely smiles at me, cries when I touch her, she mainly relies on Mary for all her needs, she’s frail, and I can’t converse with her.  You see, I already went through all the tough shit with Rhys.  I did my time. I did the sleepless nights, the colic, the teething issues, getting sick, taking care of breast milk, endless diapers, bouncing on yoga balls to calm the crying, all of it! I earned the relationship I have with my son and I god damn deserve it too.  I have to start all over now?  It’s kind of like losing 75 pounds, getting in shape, and then eating at the Old Country Buffet every day for a year, only to regain the weight and put on more to boot.  Then you realize you have to lose it all again.  You know how to do it, you know what it takes, but you look in the mirror and say, “Jesus Christ that’s a lot of fuckin’ work, and I don’t wanna do any of it all over again.”

What scares me is that I’d rather be with my son at any given moment.  I don’t want Felicity around at times because I feel like it takes away from my work with Rhys. It’s stupid. It’s nonsense. I get it.  But, it’s horrifying.

So in the end, I’m messed up.  I don’t know what to do. I hope it gets better, and I keep telling myself that it will.  But will it? I don’t have a guaranteed answer of yes. I look around me as things happen, and I wonder if I’m the man my wife deserves?  People around me are breaking up, ending their marriages, moving on to different endeavors, and I can’t seem to get anything right.  Will my wife move on from me too? (Of course not, but it’s the insecure jackass in me that keeps pushing this idea to the forefront of my asshole brain.)  Can someone far smarter, and better than I be able to handle all of the issues that are thrown my way and still be able to treat her in a manner that she truly deserves?

Do you know that my wife and I were at breakfast the other day, and as I looked at a twenty something couple who just trudged into the diner (definitely after a night of partying and heavy drinking) and I broke down crying because I miss those times with her?  I miss waking up at 10am, rolling into breakfast at 11am, getting home by noon only to take a nap with her after, and then go for a ride on the motorcycle for no other reason because “we could.”  I remember what it was like without my kids, and I wanted it back.  I wanted just my wife.  Felicity (and, yes, even Rhys) prevent this from happening.  They prevent us from being us, and I hate it.  Yet, I love it at the same time.

My children have made my heart grow in ways that are inconceivable. I get so much joy and fulfillment from them that only a parent can understand.

So this is my quandary – a living, breathing, walking, talking paradox of life.  Happiness and sadness all wrapped up in a titanic anomaly of life.

Tell me what the hell I need to do.
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  1. Dear Blake: Speaking as a Mother of 3 sons and Grandmother to 9 grandchildren, I want to ask you a question. Do you think that what you are feeling is abnormal? not felt by every other new dad? I assure you it is not. Of course you have a special bond with your son. It has developed over time. You know each other well. You are comfortable with him because you know how he acts and reacts. Felicity is still brand new. You think because she's a girl she should be treated differently, and yes, in some respects that's true. But you have to give it time for a connection to develop. It doesn't happen in a few weeks. Right now she wants the warmth of mama's breasts. that's all. You will find that as she grows and becomes aware of all the things around her you will become her protector and her hero and she will wrap your heart around her little finger. I promise this is the truth. You are normal new dad. Relax. If she cries when you hold her give her to her mother. As for the other stuff, you are not superman and no one expects you to be. Make a list of priorities and make a schedule of your time. Put the "must do's" first and fit in the rest as you can. If the house is a mess and you run out of time or energy, let it go. A messy house never killed anybody. Make sure you allow time for rest. Get a sitter and take your wife to dinner or a movie. Take a walk if that's all there's time for. set aside a few minutes every day just to hold her and for her to hold you. Most of all, RELAX! If you have too much on your plate, ask family and friends for a little help around the house. Truly, they'll be glad to help and they'll think more highly of you for asking. It's not a sin for a new mom or dad to ask for help. You may have to sacrifice the late night parties and hangovers, but nothing worth having comes without sacrifice. But with a little time management and perhaps the help of a few, you and your new family will become one unit again. The hole will go from square to round and the round peg will fit perfectly. Your friend….Anna

  2. Blake,

    As previously suggested, get the sitter or family member and get out of the house with Mary for just a few hours, it really won't take much.

    And now that you have given yourself your confessional, you need to forgive yourself for all of your feelings. Feelings are usually based on happenings, and that's where the idea of happiness comes from. All of the circumstances which are here today are going to change, the happenings are going to change. And you will feel happy again. One day, Felicity will have a voice and you will be just enchanted by her. So let go of the Forest and just look at the Tree.

    Practice some deep breathing excercises. Take 10 deep breaths. Hold your dog or cat, feel their heatbeat, this always calms me down. Use your Claire voice, make someone giggle.

    Give Mary some alone time, it could be just 30 minutes and take some for yourself also.

    You and Mary have given me such joy with your podcast that it is easy to keep you all in prayer. If you are nominally spiritual, ask for help. You're a great dad. Only a really great dad would voice his thoughts as you have. And dont be fooled, every mother has had these thoughts and feelings as well. You are not alone.

  3. Blake,

    It is as simple as this…just chill and relax. Unfortunately the description of your life is far too familiar. We are all going in many different directions. As the mother of 3 young men…24, 25, and 26, life was crazy for quite a few years. So take my advice stop thinking about it, relax, and all of a sudden you will realize it happened.
    Much luck!

  4. Blake,

    It is as simple as this…just chill and relax. Unfortunately the description of your life is far too familiar. We are all going in many different directions. As the mother of 3 young men…24, 25, and 26, life was crazy for quite a few years. So take my advice stop thinking about it, relax, and all of a sudden you will realize it happened.
    Much luck!

  5. Blake,
    I have two children, ages 9 and 5, and have experienced every feeling you described at some point since my firstborn arrived. Everyone does. They're lying if they tell you differently.

    Being a parent is the most amazing thing I've ever done and ever will do. It's also extremely difficult and very scary at times. But I wouldn't change a thing, given the opportunity.

    Small children can suck the life right out of a person. You and Mary are in the thick of it with a toddler and newborn. Take heart that it will get much easier. When I was expecting my first, a wise person told me that "the days are long, but the years are short" (with small children). So very true!!

    My best advice to you is 1) BREATHE, and 2) RELAX. Cut yourself some slack. Lower your expectations. Only focus on the top priorities, the rest can wait. And ask for help!

    Make sure to take a little time each day to do something non-kid related just for yourself (Mary, too). Schedule date nights and get a babysitter.

    Regarding your relationship with your daughter…kids go through phases so quickly that this one will be over before you know it. All your daughter wants to do right now is eat, sleep and poop. And let's be honest, newborns are really not that much fun; however sweet and cuddly they may be. It wasn't as obvious with your son because he was the first and everything was new. Your relationship with your daughter will be different than with your son, but no less amazing.

    I can tell by listening to your podcasts that you and Mary have an amazing relationship. AND that you love your kids dearly.

    I promise it will all get better. You and Mary will be able do things again that you enjoyed before kids. Right now, you have to focus on finding your new normal.

    Take care and best wishes! Julie

  6. Dear Blake, I'm going to second what Deann said. A relationship takes TIME. Of course you have a better relationship with your son right now. And it isn't unusual for a young baby to cry whenever she is picked up by someone "new." Even though she heard your voice before she was born, its got to be different on the outside. On the other hand, sometimes a baby does seem to take exception to one person in particular. My niece would ALWAYS cry when I cared for her when she was a baby. We babysat her and her older sister one day a week while her mom was in school. Everything would be fine in the morning while my husband was home, but the couple of hours between when he left for work and when her mom would come to collect the girls. It would be so bad that, if she needed to eat during that time, I would make my son (only about 1 year old at the time) sit on the sofa and hold her to feed her the bottle, since she wouldn't take it from me. I, like you, felt like there was something wrong with me. Fortunately, our families are quite close, and we got through that difficult period. Now she is a beautiful young woman of 25, and we have a wonderful relationship. My advice is to spend time cuddling her and your wife at the same. Dancing to a slow song with the baby between the two of you can give you connection both to Tall Mom as well as to Baby. Or maybe, while you are reading to your son, you could do so on the bed or the sofa with baby snuggled close by so that she begins to associate your voice/touch with comfort just as your son does. Once you get some positive interactions under your belt, it will be easier to let some of the negative ones go. After all, I am pretty sure that your son has had at least one tantrum where he explicitly or implicitly told you he hated you. (I know I'm not the only parent who has had this!) But because of the many positive interactions, it's easy to let those words slide right off. Oh, and as for fear of SIDS, you recognize it as irrational. Just own it, and it is less likely to overpower you. This is naturally a chaotic and anxiety-provoking time in your life. Go easy on yourself! You have a right to feel neurotic and a bit overwhelmed. And if it helps, know that those of us who listen to your podcast will understand if you aren't able to add one more thing to your plate right now. We will be in the background cheering for you and your beautiful little family! Sending my love to all four of you. T

  7. So so so normal. When my first was born (he's now a strapping 13), I didn't feel bonded with him until he was a good five months old. I didn't even feel anything like love for him. Don't get me wrong – I cared for him, fed him, snuggled him, talked to him, did everything I was "supposed" to do so that he felt secure. But I was just going through the motions and felt no emotional connection. At all. Completely indifferent to him. And I was HIS MOTHER! The mortification I went through at the time is unspeakable, and I told no one whatsoever about it because no one else I'd ever known had ever said that might happen. I had vivid fantasies about taking off in the middle of the night, and had very specific plans about how to do so. I was fortunate that around five months, I was able to start building an attachment to him that quickly became the strong parental love everyone talks about.

    Looking back, I was clearly going through a post-partum depression. And you know what? Dads get PPD, too. Especially when you're under so much other stress in addition to the new baby and all that household disruption.

    And of course you feel more connected to your son right now. Sounds normal. You've had a couple years to build that relationship, figure him out, he's figured you out. You know what he likes and what he doesn't, how to make him giggle, how to tuck him in at night just the right way. He can communicate with you with a lot more nuance and depth than Felicity can.

    By the time Felicity is forming actual memories of her family and childhood, you'll know her as well as you know your son. Right now, she needs only to feel like her basic needs are met, and it sounds like that's happening. The rest will come later.

    If the anxiety is too much, there are professionals who can help with that. Otherwise, the first step might be to cut yourself some slack and realize that what you're feeling is, in fact, totally normal. Even if it is different from the first time.

  8. I am a mother of three that are all grown and I want to tell you that I agree with all the advise above. I don't want to just repeat so I am going to share a poem that I had hanging on my wall while raising my kids. I read it every day to try and keep perspective. I'm going from memory here and don't know the author so apologies for not crediting the wonderful person who wrote this

    Cooking and Cleaning
    Can Wait Til Tomorrow
    For Babies Grow Up
    We've Learned to Our Sorrow
    So Quiet Down Cobwebs
    and Dust Go To Sleep
    I'm Rocking My Baby
    and Baby's Don't Keep

    As it was said above – Put the big picture aside and just look at today.
    What has to be done today and what can wait.
    If that's to much – do it by the hour.

    You'll make, hang in there!

  9. I don't have advice as much as encouragement. I was 18 and unmarried when I had my oldest. I was terrified that my family and friends would never look at me the same way, so I waited until I was 6 months along to tell ANYONE. I was away at college, so my parents didn't see my belly growing. Once he was born, I had no clue what to do with him (pre – google times), so my mom was more of a mom to him than me. Anyway, I did not bond with him. I felt like his sister. I kept thinking, "I'm supposed to feel like ____ (insert so called "instinctive" mom feelings), but I don't". Here we are 19 years later and the bond with him could not be stronger. Life and love WILL create this bond. You are a great daddy and everyone is different. Don't judge yourself and keep rocking on Blake!

  10. You're not perfect? I'm shocked! Shocked, I tell you!

    Get a sitter or two, or someone in to help Mary with Felicity and with Rhys, so you can get a FULL NIGHT'S SLEEP. Sleep deprivation is a real danger and messes with your head and physiology on many levels. If necessary, use a sleep-aid or sleep in another location (away from home) for a night or two. The whole family will benefit.

    And remember, it's okay to be imperfect. The rest of us are!

  11. I can't really add to these wonderful comments apart from tother say Blake that you're both in the pressure Zone now, with a baby and a toddler hang in there, do what you need to to snatch sleep whenever you can find it. And as Claire says "it will be alright." She would also prescribe at least 12 hugs lasting at least 20 seconds a day with Mary. xx

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