Fatherhood 101: Ready, Set, Dad!
You hear it over and over again: “Get ready, your life is about to change!” And while this cliché may be true, it’s not really that helpful. So what should dads-to-be know ahead of time? We’ve got advice to grow on right here.
Keep your first few weeks private
Some people swear by built-in help from parents or in-laws who stay over when the baby’s born. But those first few weeks can also be a priceless time for a party of three. “I think the fact that the three of us were alone in the first few weeks really helped us bond as a family,” remembers Marcello, dad to 1-year-old Livia. “I would definitely do that again.”
The baby won't break
She’ll be floppy and small, but that little bundle is built to last so don’t worry about whether you’re holding her “right”. As long as she feels safe in your arms, you’re doing great.
Leave the house
Packing up everything you need for an outing with a new baby takes forever. And you’ll probably still forget something. Go out anyway. Bring diapers, wipes, an extra outfit for the baby, and consider throwing in a shirt for yourself. Spit up does not discriminate; mom and dad are equal opportunity targets.
Babies can sleep a lot...at first
“The first two weeks are deceiving,” says Courtney Carini, new mom to Caitlin (8 weeks). “The baby sleeps a lot and you think all those rumors about babies being tough are just that, rumors. Then the babies wake up.” Call this a gift from Mother Nature, letting you get your footing before the action really kicks in, but don’t be surprised if things really pick up in the second month.
Get everything ready ahead of time
New moms are programmed to nest. Even if you think there’s plenty of time, support your wife’s need to get things organized ahead of time. “Go ahead and put that Pack-n-Play, swing, seat or crib together now,” advises Courtney. “Even if you don’t think you’ll need it right away, you will be happy it’s done when you have a sleeping (or screaming) baby in your arms.”
It's a one-way street in the beginning
While you are going to hover over, stare at and cuddle that baby for hours, she can’t really even see you yet. And she definitely isn’t going to react, respond or notice most of the things you do. But that’s just for now. It takes a few months, but eventually your baby will start interacting and you’ll both have a whole new world to share.
Your wife will be tired
Mono tired. Tired like she has never been before (and certainly hopes she won’t be again.) You’ve had some experience with this during pregnancy, but that was just a warm-up. She’s going to wake up every night with the baby and not just for several days or weeks. She won’t get even one night of sleep for months, and it’s grueling. This means that your wife might be cranky or sensitive sometimes. She’ll probably cry more often. None of this means she loves you or the baby any less. She’s just tired.
Try to find something you can do
“I would encourage any father to participate 100% in taking care of the baby from the very beginning,” says Marcello. “It’s both an added help to the mother and the best way to really get to know your child.” Courtney agrees. “As the dad, you can help in more ways than you think. Give mom a break by bathing, dressing, rocking or holding the baby. Even five minutes of freedom can be helpful for a sleepless mother.”
You're both right
You rock him to sleep, but your wife insists that bouncing is best. Don’t worry. In the early days you can just do your thing and she’ll do hers. At this stage, the most important thing is bonding and getting comfortable together. Keep talking, keep getting to know your baby, and down the road you’ll figure out a more consistent strategy that works for everyone.
Have the confidence to explore
Go at your own pace, but don’t limit yourselves to staying home just because you have a baby now. “After your first kid, you can feel so trapped by the new responsibilities,” remembers Dean, father of two. “With the second kid you realize that you have a lot more freedom to live the life you were living before kids. We went backpacking with another family recently: 4 adults and 4 kids under 5. Nothing went as planned, but it wasn’t that hard and definitely made more memories than another trip to the zoo.”
Don't forget your relationship
“Be very patient and recognize that the stress of a new baby will impact your relationship with your wife,” advises Marcello. “Your reaction to that stress — and the environment it creates — will definitely impact the baby. So do whatever it takes to manage the stress well and maintain as serene an environment as possible.”
Find other fathers
“For me, hanging out with fellow dads has been good,” says Dean. “Normally it’s over beers and after hours which allows for good conversation. It’s been interesting to hear dads with older kids point out how their opinions have changed over the years.” It’s nice to get support and insight from guys who are in your shoes but who’ve also walked a few more miles.
Get ready to grow
You’ve heard it before, but this is such a powerful lesson that it bears repeating. It won’t be about you anymore, and that’s actually great. “Having a baby is the next step in learning to serve another and release selfishness,” explains Brent, father of two boys in Oregon. “Until you get married, all you really need to do is think about yourself, then you get married and have to put another person first. Then you have kids and you really have to put their needs first. It’s a great growing experience!”
Take care of yourself
“As a new father, don’t underestimate the amount of physical taxing on the body. You’re going to be sleep deprived, so stay as healthy as possible and eat well,” recommends Chris, father of 10-month-old twins, Levi and Caleb. “And it’s true that your life will belong to your children soon, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get free time to do cool things. Your kids need someone stable taking care of them — so work with your spouse to figure out how you can both get time to relax and have some grown-up fun.”
You'll figure it out
“It’s a good idea to read books, but none of them will really prepare you for the day you come home with your newborn,” says Chris. “You’ll find a way to do things that work for you and the family. Don’t worry about if how you are raising your kids is ‘right’ way because there is no such thing. It’s the values that are important to you and your family that will matter.”