For those men who haven't had any exposure to babies and find themselves being offered to hold one, their first response may be to cross their arms and declare themselves simply "an observer." Men can find it awkward and a bit frightening to be around babies for the first time (as can women, for what it's worth). And as we know, things that are unfamiliar and scary can breed some strange behavior in people. In fact, there's quite a list of weird things men do around babies, from the laughable to the just plain annoying.
Of course, it is unfair and biased to make sweeping generalizations about an entire gender. It's certainly not a given that every woman is a natural when you put a baby in her arms. For every woman that feels the impulse to hold every newborn she passes on the street, there's a woman who recoils at the sight of a baby. Still, there seems to be some level of comfort and recognition in plenty of women when it comes to what to do and how to act around a tiny blob human, sometimes more so than men. Maybe it is innate, or maybe it is all the gendered play that society foists upon women since preschool, what with baby dolls and mini carriages and tiny kitchens. It's no secret that our culture tries to prepare women for parenthood and men for work outside the home, so if a dude feels odd around a baby, it probably (read: definitely) has something to do with the messages they've received since always.
I know plenty of men who are naturally very nurturing, by the way. And I know plenty of men who, until they had their own babies and got the hang of holding a brand new life in their hands, could hardly stand to be near a baby. My own partner is one of the former — he's a man who absolutely loves babies. He's the first guy to ask to hold every newborn we meet among our family and friends, and he was always the more confident of the two of us when it came to handling our own newborns. Most of the "weird things" below do not apply to him, but some of them do, and I have a feeling they might apply to the man in your life (or the man strangers around you), too:
Hold Them Like Various Sports-Related Objects
I personally believe the term "football hold" was created by a man. Granted, it is a very comfortable position in which to breastfeed, but when I observed my husband holding our baby like a football (and certainly not for nursing purposes) the term took on new meaning.
In fact, many new dads I've known seemed to naturally revert to some kind of "athletic" hold on their swaddled babies. At some point, a woman in the group would say something like, "You realize you're holding that baby like a [insert some kind of ball here]" and then the dad would look down, elicit genuine surprise, and laugh. "Oh, yeah! I didn't realize that. I guess it's how I feel comfortable!" he'd say. Why, I wonder? Why couldn't these men feel comfortable holding their babies like, oh I don't know, small helpless human beings in need of bodily contact and warmth?
Try One Soothing Thing & Then Give Up
When my mom friends and I had our weekly meet ups, a common gripe would be about our partners' tendencies to rely on just one tactic of soothing, and when that didn't work, they would pass their baby on to the mom. But you know what? Us moms didn't want the baby to be passed back to us! We wanted to take a 10 minute bath and for you to deal with a bout of crying so we didn't have to. You know?
Being a parent to a newborn means you have to get creative. When babies cry and cry, you'll probably have to pull out every trick in the book. I used to fly my baby around the room like an airplane, do squats all the way down to the floor, tap his pacifier against his lips with my pointer finger, and come up with inventive rhythms of "shushing." Literally whatever it took to get him to stop crying, I would try. My partner, however, was known to try just one thing, and then decide the baby was hungry, or give up and put the baby down and let him cry. Which, inevitably would mean that two minutes later, the baby was my problem.
Refuse To Sway & Bounce
Women from the beginning of time (OK, I'm exaggerating) have been trying to teach men to dance soulfully, and have gotten the awkward Frat Boy Dance instead. Same goes for the Sway and Bounce. Many men just can't do it, no matter how badly a baby requires it. A man's body remains stiff and unyielding with a crying baby in his arms. Give him a medicine ball so he can at least have something to bounce on, and he'll run and hide like you've just asked him to go with you to Ballet Barre class in a pair of your Lulus.
Treat Spit Up Like It's Kryptonite
It is just regurgitated milk, not a radioactive substance that will cause spontaneous convulsions if exposed to your skin. Come on! Your own baby just ate the stuff two seconds ago, and now it came back up from their sweet little throats. What's yucky about that? Change your shirt, and wipe your neck, good sir.
Pause For Too Long After You Ask If They Don't Mind Changing A Diaper
I witnessed this the other night at a friend's house with her new(ish) baby. She had just finished feeding her preschooler and infant, and was pretty much covered in food (my friend, not the child), and her husband had just enjoyed eating dinner without having anyone crawling on him. So my friend asked him if he wouldn't mind changing the baby's diaper. And then he paused. For like, six whole seconds. The pause totally said it all. He was so not down with having to change a diaper. Why? Are some men exempt from yucky things, like regurgitated food, messy dinner hours, and poop diapers? I say not a damn chance.
Claim Ineptitude At Putting A Baby To Sleep
This one is a huge pet peeve for me. Here's the advantage that many women like me had (and have) and that cis-men just don't: we can breastfeed. The ability to breastfeed (i.e. "give baby the boob") is the dividing line between most mother's and father's ability to handle bedtime. If dad can't do it, baby is handed to mom for "the boob."
There were many times I contemplated quitting nursing just so that things would be more equal between us. Still, I think that the fact that I was the one with boobs was an excuse, and was just another weird response men have to babies: a feeling that they can't manage all the things women can when it comes to taking care of them.
Shift Uncomfortably Or Leave The Room When A Baby Is Nursing
If their own partner is nursing the baby, it is unlikely that a man is uncomfortable. But in the case that the mom nursing is their buddy's main squeeze, many men will suddenly find something very interesting on the ceiling to look at and become tongue tied. If a woman decides to nurse in front of you (with a nursing cover or not) it most likely means she feels comfortable with the situation (more or less) so why would you go and make everything all weird? Most men have seen their share of boobies. Can you please do women (and babies) a huge favor, and not get all "middle school boys in Health Class" when it's time for those babies to nurse? It's a kid eating, not some porn tweet Ted Cruz liked on Twitter. Grow up, gentlemen.
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