Life can come at you fast and before you know it, you may be responsible for another human and your name tag now says … Dad. You can call on your parents for advice, take any one of the available parent preparation classes, or read books written by “experts.” Undoubtedly you’re going to stress about the forthcoming addition to your family and as the minutes tick by in the delivery room, the fear sets in — “Am I ready?”
Truthfully, there is no such thing as an expert when it comes to parenting. Every bit of the arrival and first months is going to be different from any other father’s experiences. Yes, your newborn will require constant attention, a new diaper more times than you can count (and at hours of the day you probably haven’t seen since your college era), a bottle or reassuring cuddle session to get them back to sleep. Any and all advice should always be taken with a grain of salt, but there are some words of wisdom and things a handful of new dads wish they’d known before it all started. And perhaps the wisdom will prove to be extremely beneficial to you as gear up for #dadlife or provide a moment of reflection and laughter knowing you weren’t the only one struggling.
Enjoy your time as a duo, because in an instant, life will revolve around the schedule of the new addition. This is not to say that your life will be positioned behind bars, but the first couple of weeks are all about getting on a schedule, adjusting from a past life to a new one, and a constant state of paranoia. Eventually, those lavish retreats will return, but they are years down the road.
The last weeks and months leading up to the due date should be enjoyed as a couple, doing whatever you want — within reason and happiness of the child-bearer. Today’s culture has even brought forth the babymoon, a last hurrah to enjoy the world’s offerings before goo-goo gah-gah is your Rosetta Stone. Enjoy a few last quiet meals together, 15 episodes of Mindhunter (or another true crime show), a good night’s sleep, and true silence.
Whether you sign up for or are pulled into any one of the available parenting classes, it is all preparation for the unknown. And when your time comes, instinct will kick in and override anything you have recently learned. This is not to say that preparation classes should be skipped, but you should not look at them as the answer or as an absolute must to ensure your first days and weeks as a new parent will be smooth sailing because of your attendance. It can be argued that parenting is in our blood, or that it is for most and for others it takes a few months to truly kick in, but your natural instincts will rise to the occasion or at the very least, add the final pieces to the puzzle. And truly, just because your newborn does rely on you and your partner for everything, doesn’t mean they are totally helpless. Newborns are more resilient than you may think and when something is wrong or they need your attention, they will let you know.
Kiss it goodbye. Reverting back to that babymoon and enjoying your weeks as a duo is impossible, and after your little one comes into the world, a truly good night of sleep is something you may not experience again for a long time. The first few nights are panic-stricken because there is someone new and tiny sleeping in your home that you are responsible for. Is he or she still breathing, why hasn’t he/she cried in the last couple hours, he/she is up and no, it’s not your turn, it’s mine — and the list goes on and on.
The events taking away from your slumber come on top of your already chaotic schedule of juggling work and your new life of parenting. Even as the weeks go by and a feeding and sleep schedule is established, a deep slumber is never really found. You’ll lay in bed waiting for your little one to wake up, you should wake up and offer what you can when it’s your partner’s turn, and even when everything seems to be perfect, you’ll lie in bed knowing it’s too good to be true. The first few nights are the hardest, some element of sleep does seem to return once the baby can sleep through the night, but even years into the game when your toddler is mobile, your attempt to count sheep is generally interrupted by a tap on the shoulder wanting to join you in your bed. And sorry to say, but the last good night of sleep you get could be months before you assume dad status because the last weeks of pregnancy you will be on ready five with Maverick, hospital bag packed, and fastest, traffic-free directions waiting for you hit “start.”
You are a dad, you are a parent, but the boob tends to rule all. Through the first weeks and potentially months, you may feel somewhat secondary as a father figure, but that is natural. You may not have the natural food source or the inherent scent of the mother, but there are ways for you to step up to the plate. Find ways to pick up the slack and support your partner in ways you may not have before. Cooking, grocery shopping, late-night runs to the store for diapers or Rocky Road ice cream, doing the dishes, paying the bills, whatever you can do to support your partner is going to be your role as your little one warms up to you.
You are and always will be an essential part of your child’s life, but it will benefit you to know that during the first weeks and months you are as much a support system as a caregiver. And keep in mind, the time will come when your child will figure out who you are and crawl towards you. You will do things with your child that your partner does not. You will have your special something with your child and a critical bond will grow with time. Don’t be discouraged by any initial feeling of inadequacy. It’s natural and with each day that passes, it will dissipate.
Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it might, but it will all pass in good time. Every sickness, diaper rash, squabbles with your partner, and/or when frustration is peaking you just have to remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day and whatever seems to be the problem at the moment, will pass. With a little one, there is no reasoning, you can’t sit down with them and talk through a problem, you can’t storm out of the room leaving them alone, you can never let your frustration get the best of you. Take a deep breath, find an opportunity for five minutes of “me time.” As the days progress, make an effort to find and establish your sanctuary so that when times become unbearable to you can bring it back together and be the dad you’re supposed to be.
Some dads fall in love the moment they see their child, some moments later once they hold their kid for the first time, and for others, it takes months before eternal love sets in. Every dad’s love is going to come at different times and if/when you see your little one for the first time the spark is not there, it’s okay and know it will come.
The first days are a lot to comprehend and as you’ve seen in nature and on Planet Earth, sometimes it just doesn’t click for the dad. It can be blamed on biology and oxytocin levels, that in women surge during pregnancy, tend to develop as a dad cares for the child. New dads, you need to understand and remember that everyone’s experiences are different and that if your best bud fell in love at first sight, it doesn’t mean you will or have to.
You’re new to this and no amount of advice, education, or practice will prepare you for the journey that is about to begin. It will all make sense and the love between you and your newborn will grow every day. Support your partner and understand that the two of you are in it together, and mistakes will be made. And if you are going into this alone or know someone that is, ask or offer to help. Becoming a father and bringing a tiny human into the world is a serious undertaking, but remember, there are others out there in the same boat.
And prepare yourself, the first time your little one smiles at you, it’s all over — your heart will melt with the understanding they now run the show.