Because of my time as primary caregiver in that first year, I forged a bond with my daughter that I wouldn't have been able to form otherwise.
To be honest, before my wife went back to work, I thought of myself as a pretty “modern”, emotionally-bonded and capable father. I had taken two weeks of paternity leave after the birth. I was never afraid of changing a diaper. I had already spent many broken nights trying all manner of techniques to get a fussy baby back to sleep. I also – or perhaps as a result – already felt a strong connection with my daughter and a powerful love for her. What else was there to learn?
What I failed to appreciate at the time was that because all of my physical and emotional investment in fatherhood had occurred with my partner still at home, my relationship with my daughter was not wholly my own. Don’t get me wrong, the shared experience of parenting was – and remains – one that is incredibly valuable. But, becoming the primary caregiver for a sustained period of time unlocked an entirely new appreciation for what it meant to be a parent, and a father.
There are many reasons why I feel that way, but here are the three most important:
- Responsibility. When my wife left for work every morning, my daughter’s well-being was in my hands alone. It was my job to learn how to interpret and fulfill her many unspoken needs. Her diapers and rashes, her crying and frustration, her hunger and thirst, her tiredness, her fears and pains. It was up to me to figure out how to take care of her, and the full weight of that responsibility only became clear when it was no longer possible to consult or share or discuss with my partner.
- Accomplishment: From embracing my responsibility came a profound sense of accomplishment and pride. To be sure, every day brought new challenges as our daughter developed. But, with my own self-confidence growing, I knew I could be there for her, whatever she needed. I was able to develop a happy rhythm at home, which worked for both my daughter and I as individuals, and together.
- Joy: Having established a stable, healthy home, I was able to focus on the moments of pure joy that parenthood brings. The little games we played and songs we sang. The smiles and laughter that began to fill our house. Watching my daughter’s sense of wonder when she discovered something new. Feeling my own sense of wonder when I watched her figure out a new skill, or how to solve a problem.
I am convinced that my time as primary caregiver in that first year helped me form a bond with my daughter that I would not have been able to forge otherwise. That spending meaningful time alone with her deepened my understanding of her, and of myself. I faced my own fears, overcame my own personal challenges, and discovered my own ways of bringing happiness to her little face. In truth, the time alone with her was the greatest privilege of my life.