New Daddy Secret

• Also see New Mommy Secrets

You’ve just delivered your first child and are in the throes of first-time parenthood. In the midst of this indescribable joy and overwhelming chaos, you might not notice that your husband has some uncomfortable feelings about you and your baby he is terrified to express (you’re a bit of a postpartum mystery to him, after all). Here are five things your husband secretly wishes you knew about his being a first-time daddy.

Secret 1: He’s terrified he can’t protect you

Think back to the peak of your labor. Your husband watched you go through agony and back without being able to intervene on your behalf. It doesn’t matter that he was prepped for it and knew your pain was for a joyful reason; he still felt helpless to protect you.

Postpartum, your husband’s likely wrestling with that same sense of helplessness. He sees you endure the pain of breastfeeding and the trauma your body underwent from childbirth. Sure, he can make a pad and prune juice run and coach you in getting the right latch, but when he sees what you’re going through, he’s shaken by his inability to fix it.

And now, added to the mix, is another beloved literally dependent on you both for survival. Every ordinary aspect of care becomes a question of whether he can do things well enough to protect his new baby. But his imagination doesn’t diminish just because his reality has expanded. He wonders: What if someone walks in the house with a gun? What if there’s a fire? Whom do I help out of the building first? Your husband’s allegiance feels divided. And at the heart of that conflict sits the daunting question: “Am I good enough for both my wife and my baby?”

It sounds silly, but take a few moments to create contingency plans with your husband. My husband and I have mapped out where we’ll take cover in our house if there’s an earthquake, and where we’ll meet in town if we’re separated and without cell service. In general, my husband has always instructed me to run (and call 911) and let him handle the danger if any threat entered our house. Now these instructions include my taking our daughter as well. Even though our plans might never be used, my husband’s relieved to know our baby and I will be protected.

Secret 2: He wants his wife back

Your temptation as a new mom is to center your world on your new baby. For the first several weeks and maybe months, life is mere survival followed by an incredibly steep learning curve. The only thing that feels instinctual is bonding with your little one. Don’t rush this time, but do glance ahead for when the timing is right to focus on your husband again. Be willing and excited to date him, and be creative within your limitations.

For example, my husband and I treasure sleep and covet that for our daughter too, so we stay home a lot to avoid our daughter’s having to sleep on the go. The result is we sometimes feel housebound, stuck in a rut. So we’ve found new restaurants that deliver, subscribed to movie streaming services, and intentionally amped up the romantic touches in our environment. All this so we can date each other at home.

Figure out what you can do given your limitations. Then tell your husband you want to block off a window of time (even if it’s just twenty minutes) for a surprise. Spend that time doting on him, lavishing him with praise, eating his favorite foods, cuddling, reminiscing about when you first met, or anything else that would set that time apart as a “date.” Even if it’s only a loose version of how you might have dated prior to baby, it’s a beacon of hope for him that you’re still his wife.

Secret 3: He feels out of place

If your husband works during your maternity leave, he likely feels a little depressed being away from your new baby all day. Sure, he’s probably thankful not to have to deal with all the baby stuff, but at the core of it, he misses his new bundle.

Les Parrott's Making Happy
Get more — Free! e-booklet — Les Parrott's Making Happy

On top of that, during the first six weeks, your baby doesn’t need him to eat or sleep or poop. After the baby can smile, there’s a short time before he or she goes through the developmental stage that heightens separation anxiety from mom. Just when your husband’s getting to know your baby, your child starts treating him like any other stranger off the street.

Your husband longs to be his baby’s hero, but you’re filling that role. Help him know that he is your hero. Find ways to affirm his fatherhood as well as the other roles he fulfills. Thank him for working and acknowledge what he is sacrificing when he’s at the office.

Secret 4: He doesn’t want to be the bad guy

“Wait until your dad gets home” is that stereotypical parenting threat made to children who need discipline. But in reality, when you’re the dad, it hurts to always be associated with bad.

As an infant, your baby doesn’t need disciplining, but if your husband works while you’re home, he still might feel as though he’s often stuck with all the “bad” tasks. Early on, my husband would come home to both his girls crying. He’d be thrown into problem-solving mode the second he walked through the door. Usually he needed to deal with the inconsolable crying baby so I could recuperate and stop crying myself. But he started to feel as though all his time with our daughter was when she was upset.

So if your husband steals an extra hug when he should be feeding your daughter, or if he’s caught up in your son’s smile, let him indulge in some of the sweet moments. And rather than transferring all baby responsibilities on him the second he gets home from work, take a double portion of duty in those evening hours so he can savor whatever playtime he can get.

Secret 5: He’s grieving his leisure

Being on-call for your little one forces you to adapt to a life of constant multitasking and selflessness (well, for the most part). Watching your husband indulge in some downtime can feel like betrayal. Yes, that is dramatic, but in our emptiest hours, it really can feel that way.

Men tend to need time to decompress, especially if they have a stressful work environment. For a mom who’s exhausted, that might spark jealousy. For a mom who feels unproductive, that might breed resentment. And for a mom dying to exercise, that might stir up contempt. However your husband might utilize his downtime, refrain from judging or controlling it. A rested and de-stressed husband is a better teammate for you.

And keep in mind that when you start to get your energy and routine back, you might be itching to put social or productive things back on your calendar. What your husband wants, however, is you. He wants time alone with you and he wants family time with just you three, rather than feeling like you’re always trading off the baby in order to get things done.

Parenting is a dance, an adventure. It can bring out the best in your marriage if you let it. With some communication and selflessness, and a better understanding of what your husband is feeling, your marriage can survive and even thrive during the challenges of first-time parenthood.

• Also see New Mommy Secrets