‘Only Child’ Night

I’ve had problems bonding with my son.  And I know I’m not alone.  The number one thing people search for that brings them to my sight, (besides “good pool snacks”) is “father not able to bond with son”.  I can’t say that my experience will help everyone, but maybe something I am going through will help other fathers in their quest to strengthen their relationships with their children.
I think there are two main reasons I was having trouble bonding with my boy.  First, he is our second child.  This means that there is constantly an older, louder, more talkative, more energetic, more active, more curious, more potty trained “I need help” moments, more “daddy, read a book”, more “daddy, can I have milk?”, more demanding three year old who dominates my time at home.  This leaves little time for focused attention on my son.  Although I try.  Even when I am holding him in my arms and sitting on the couch, Ella is still tugging on my hand to put him down and play with her, so I’m still interacting with her and not with him.
Second, he is so easy going.  You would think I would bond more with a baby who was easy going, than with a crying, screaming, whining baby. But all those nights of comforting Ella, rocking her and reading to her, tickling her legs and arms until she fell asleep, those were the moments that helped me bond to her.  I learned this past week that a big part of the bonding process, or attachment, comes from meeting needs.  Pax never really had any needs that he cried about.  He was always so content.  Only if he got really hungry or tired would he start to fuss, but even then, once you put him in his baby swing, or gave him a bottle, he would be happy as a clam.
So I’ve had to do a few things differently lately.  First, I’ve had to take more initiative to carve out time to ‘meet his needs.’  At night, instead of just giving him a kiss and laying him in his crib, I’ve turned it into a longer process, even if he won’t.  I hold him and rock him for probably a good half hour and read to him from the Chronicles of Narnia series.  We’ve already finished two of the seven books.  This was a good start for me for a couple of reasons.  For one thing, I was holding him in my arms.  It was nice to have that feeling of being close to him.  Also, he was hearing my voice.  I think a lot of people, especially fathers, struggle with what to say to a baby.  The whole time I’m talking I’m thinking, “Ummm, you DO realize he has NO idea what you’re talking about…” What made it easy was that I was sharing something with him that I like and am interested in, and it was something that was just ours.  I never read these kinds of books to Ella, just baby books full of pictures of toys and shapes and colors.  So it was nice to do something unique with Pax, that made it special.  Now though, I’ve decided that there should be a better balance.  I’ve read to him the books I like, but I know he hardly enjoys them as much.  After all, it is true, he really does have no idea what I’m talking about.  So now I mix it up, a little of my book, and some time reading his stuff.  He likes this much better AND it makes me feel like I am meeting his needs!  Bonding!
Also, with a little help from Erica’s mom and dad, we were able to have what I am calling an “only child night.”  Have you ever wondered how parents with three, four, six, ten, or nineteen kids do it?  How do they manage to build unique relationships with each of their children?  I think the key is to be sure to spend time with each one, apart from the other children.  Ella and I go out on daddy daughter dates to places like Chuck E. Cheese’s or the park, Pax and I have never really had time alone.  So last night, at the dinner table, it was awesome to be able to focus just on him.  I heard him making so many new noises, that I’m sure he was making before, they were just too hard for me to hear between Ella talking, or me telling Ella to take another bite.  I could give him real ‘face time’ with dad, and that felt good.
Bonding and attachment is not an overnight thing, but considering the rewards I’ve already felt from just a few weeks of effort?  I know this is something I will want to be doing for the rest of my life!
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