For divorcing fathers of a newborn baby, the task of keeping in contact can be daunting. Here are some practical ways to make it easier and more enjoyable.
Often there are conflicting feelings at work; from the desire to see and care for your child, to the discord and tension that may accompany contact with your spouse. No matter what other issues you are dealing with, it is crucial for you and your baby to have frequent contact to develop a healthy bond. In this article we'll give you some creative tools and techniques that will enable you to stay in close contact with your child.
First of all, the overall amount of time you spend with your newborn is especially important. The more time you spend with the child, the better. If custody has not been decided, insist on 50/50 parenting time. Unless there are clear reasons to the contrary, you should have equal access to the child and be allowed to provide half the care. Do not accept the standard "every-other weekend" visitation schedule- insist on being allowed to parent your child on an equal footing with the other parent. Make it clear from the outset that this is an issue that you will not compromise on.
Newborns are very attuned to the smells and the "feel" of their environment. One way to reassure your newborn and give it a sense of continuity and familiarity with you is to give him or her a T-shirt that you've worn for a day (maybe even two). This gives the child a soft, cuddly item that has your recognizable and reassuring scent on it. Make sure you exchange the T-shirt every few days because the scent will fade with time.
With newborns, other problems may complicate exercising your parenting time. If the child is being breast-fed, the mother may be reluctant to allow the child to be away from her for any length of time, citing the need for frequent feedings. In this case, make arrangements to obtain a breast-pump for the mother's use so that a supply of breast milk can be provided during the time the child is with you. Do not accept the "breast-feeding argument" as a valid reason for your parenting time to be denied.
Telephone contact can also be a good way to help your newborn remember you. Keep in mind that some newborns seem more able to recognize voices than others; don't be disappointed if your child doesn't 'perk up' when he or she hears your voice over the phone. Keep trying- after a few calls your child will learn to recognize your voice. As in other areas, consistency is important in phone contact with your child. Pick at least one regular time each day to call and "talk" with your baby. Talk to him for a minute or two, and tell your baby you love him. Keep your calls brief- babies have notoriously short attention spans. (Your ex-spouse will probably also be more willing to support telephone contact if calls are of a reasonable length.) Since regular telephone contact requires the cooperation of your ex-spouse, work with him or her to schedule the best times for phone contact with the child. If your calls are long-distance, you can also offer to provide a SPARC Card if the other parent doesn't want to pay for the calls.
Another idea to keep a young child reminded of you is to provide pictures for the child when she isn't with you. Keep the pictures simple- preferably just clear and simple portrait shots of you against a basic background. Have the pictures laminated to keep them from getting scuffed up (we all know how babies like to put things in their mouths). If a laminating service isn't available, use a clear plastic sheet-protector found in office supply stores for under a buck. Tape several pictures in the sheet-protector back-to-back, then seal the opening securely to prevent the pictures from coming out. Whichever way she looks at the sheet-protector, several pictures of you will always be visible.
Another neat method of providing that "daddy presence" are any of the new toys that let you record your voice. For example, I bought my son a toy cell-phone that allowed about ten seconds of speech to be recorded into it. After recording an "I love you!" clip, I then super-glued the 'record' button into the "off" position so it wouldn't accidentally get wiped out. He loved it, listened to it often and for a while it was one of his favorite toys. For $10 to $20 you can also find photo frames that have a voice recording chip in them- this is an ideal way to provide a picture of you along with your voice.
We hope these tips have given you some ideas on ways to stay close to your baby during the process of separation and divorce. Be creative, patient and persistent, and remember that your baby needs frequent contact with you for a happy and healthy development.