Welcoming a new child into the world can spring many new emotions on you. Of course, you’re overjoyed with your new bundle, but you’re also probably terrified. That’s okay! You’re not alone in your fear. All parents were new at the job once and they have some great advice for the new players.
#1 Normal Volume
If I had to say one thing to new dads, it would be to not have it dead silent in your home when your child is asleep. Do your normal routine or have your normal noise level going on, even if your gut tells you otherwise. It’s either maintaining a normal volume or ending up with a child who’s easily woken up down the road.
#2 Don’t Shake the Baby
Don't shake the baby. But, remember that’s okay to want to shake the baby. After all is said and done, they can be very irritating. Just don't do it. Put them down somewhere safe like a crib and walk away. But, just know we all want to shake a kid at some point. Having that feeling doesn't make you a bad dad.
#3 Remain a Team
You will be tired, drained, sleep-deprived, and 100% done. But, so will your partner. Changing diapers is not more pleasant for her just because she's the mom. She needs to sleep as much as you do. When you go back to work, if you're the working parent, remember that you get an eight-hour break from crying and messes, and you get to talk to actual adults.
She doesn't get those breaks, though. Likewise, if you're the stay-at-home parent, please remind your partner that you need breaks and adult time, too. Besides, your wife’s body is recovering, either from giving birth and not being pregnant anymore (hormones, whee!), or major surgery and not being pregnant anymore.
#4 Be a Role Model
Easily the biggest thing I've probably learned from being a stepfather is if you want your children to clean their room, you’ll have to keep your room clean as well. I mean that metaphorically, too. A word to the wise is that, as parents, you have to be a role model for the behaviors they want your children to have.
#5 You’re the Foundation
You and your partner are the foundation for the kids. So, make your relationship a strong one. Kids will learn a lot about how to treat members of the opposite gender (as well as how relationships look) from the two of you. And, at the end of it, after the kids have grown up and moved out, it’ll just be the two of you. Stay connected so that when the time comes, you’re not total strangers.
#6 Front to Back
I cannot stress this enough: wipe your child down front to back. Additionally, you should also invest in getting some baby tender parts cream (there are a bunch of different ones you can look into). With cream on your side, you won't have to wake up as much. And more importantly, the baby will feel better as well.
#7 Tackle a Diaper
When you’re in public with your baby and partner, offer to change the baby on the changing table in the men's room. These rarely get used as opposed to the women's restrooms which, I was told, have changing tables that are fairly nasty from high use. You’ll be a prince to the mother of the baby for doing this.
#8 Precious Sleep
Having a baby is just like having a honeymoon — except replace "relations” with "sleep." You're going to feel the need to do it everywhere. On the kitchen table. On the drive home. In a dark theater. In the parked car after grocery shopping. Every time you get five minutes alone with your wife, you're going to look at her, and she's going to give you that yawn, and you'll know it's on - and you'll be unconscious before your head hits the nearest horizontal surface.
#9 Quality Time
Don't feel like you have to make all your time "quality time." It's okay for your kids to just be with you while you're doing chores or just vegging out playing video games. It's better to spend time together doing something stupid than stress out trying to make everything perfect. Something else I’ve learned is that if you don't know the answer to a question, don't lie to your kids. You might fool them when they're little, but they'll figure it out sooner than you think. Then you'll have grown-up kids who know they can't quite trust what you say.
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#10 They’ll Challenge You
A few years down the road when they’re older, they’ll challenge you. Allow them to be a vehicle of self-reflection and change for you. Why are you saying no? What are your preconceived ideas about parenting, about discipline, about life? My two girls made me do so much self-reflection while they were growing up. I learned so much about myself through their presence in my life.
#11 Teach Them Things
Try to teach your child as much as possible from as young as you can. They’ll ask a million questions because everything is brand new and interesting to them. I’ve seen so many parents just ignore kids or tell them to be quiet when they feel like they ask questions. But, they’re missing out on so many teachable moments! Everything you do is something they can learn. All of this will leave a massive impression on them and will lead to so many good memories later.
Be understanding. Your kid is a blank slate driven by emotions. You can teach them as well as you can, but they’re still their own person. They'll make mistakes, argue, get upset, throw tantrums, and frustrate you. Instead of getting angry and reacting with it, stay calm and try to figure out where the behavior is coming from. You’ll get better results with your little one if you talk about what's wrong and help them through. You’ll also build a foundation of trust that’ll make it easier to communicate honestly as they get older.
#12 Bonding Time
Don't freak out if your partner doesn't bond with the kid right away. Taking care of a baby is hard and in the beginning, it's thankless. Keep an eye on mom's mental health and watch for depression. But, don't be alarmed if she's more "I’m too exhausted to think thoughts" than "this child is my world" in the beginning.
#13 Protect Yourself
When they're about two years old and their head is just high enough to reach your family jewels, beware. They’ll run to you for a hug, so just watch out. Also, a few weeks ago, my youngest hit me with a nerf toy, point blank on my sensitive area while I was wearing pajama shorts. I went right down. The poor little guy was so scared. I felt bad for my son, too.
#14 White Noise
I know a lot of people try to have their children accustomed to noise when they sleep. But, try not to condition them to only sleep with noise. There’s this new thing where parents condition their kids to sleep to white noise. Well... one night my cousin's power went out once. Guess who was awake the whole night without their white noise machine?
#15 Take a Break
I got back from deployment and I tried to take care of the kids while my wife took a shower and relaxed. Both of them were crying just because they’re kids, you know? My wife walked into the living room and I was just crying while holding the kids so they wouldn’t run amuck. It’s okay to know that people have to walk away and take a break sometimes.
#16 Be There for Your Partner
Take over the mental load from your partner. It's invisible work that goes unnoticed — knowing what’s coming, what jabs and immunizations need to be, what appointments are happening, what needs to be prepared and ready every day. You can do the chores, and that stuff will get visually noticed by everyone. It'll feel good and is definitely helpful.
But, if you're not involved in the thinking and planning side of things, it'll just be a drain on your partner. So, make sure that there are enough clean clothes for everyone, that bags are packed and ready for leaving the house, that spare changes of clothing are ready, etc. Your partner and child will love you for it because everything will run far smoother.
#17 Paternal Postpartum
Paternal postpartum depression is a thing. It’s okay if you don’t like your child right away. And it’s also more than okay to get help if you need it. It was almost two months for me before suddenly things just switched. Everything now is incredible. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hard sometimes. But, it’s incredible.
#18 Support Groups
Many communities have support groups like "Mom-2-Mom." We found that most of the people in these groups were really affluent and would host events to re-sell their baby goods. You could pick up expensive designer collection clothes (some with tags), toys in boxes, and just about everything else for pennies on the dollar.
#19 Problems with Crying
Understand you aren't the only father who has a problem with crying. It makes many fathers upset. Accept that sometimes they’re going to cry and you can't fix it. If you feel like you can't handle it, put the child down and walk away. No child gets hurt from sitting in their crib for a few minutes while you take a step back. Many children get hurt by frustrated parents who shake them to quiet them down.
#20 Becoming Human
At a certain point, you’re going to physically pick your kid up and put them for the last time. And the weird thing is, neither of you will know it. All of a sudden, you've got kids with a learner's license, a partner and report cards you have to deal with because they became human. So, the next time your kid asks for a ride on your shoulders, enjoy it. In an instant, it's going to be gone.
#21 Don’t Be a Helicopter Parent
Don't be a helicopter parent. Let your kid make their own decisions, conclusions and questions. You're there to guide them and make sure they don't lose a finger, but otherwise let them figure things out. For example, instead of telling them something like, “you can't drink my coffee,” tell them why and have a conversation. Have conversations instead of giving commands and making demands all the time. Talk to them like they're normal human beings, not adorable pets. They're mini-humans and they get really smart, really fast.
#22 Mistakes are Okay
Don’t be hard on your kids. It’s easy to forget that they’re just kids most of the time. If they mess up, it’s because they don’t know any better or they tried their best. If they show remorse, they know they’ve done wrong. At that point, let them know it’s okay and you’re not upset. They’re just as frustrated with themselves and they need to know that mistakes are okay.
#23 Doing it Right
If your hygiene takes a hit, you’re depressed at all, you’re easily irritable, or constantly tired, then you’re doing it right. Take it one day at a time and try to appreciate your new little one (and partner). The first month is rough, but it gets easier. I’m five months into my first born’s life and absolutely in love with her.
#24 Getting Ready
You don't feel ready, but that's okay. No new dad or mom really feels ready, no matter how much prepping the nursery they've done or how tall their stack of parenting books is. Love them, pay attention to them, learn as you go, and it will probably work out fine. That's the best you or anyone can ultimately hope for.
#25 Let Them Lead
You're not raising a child; you're raising the adult you want your child to become. Kids are kids, they lie, they use their puppy dog eyes to get what they want, they do things you tell them not to, etc. Teach your child how the world works so when they come of age, they aren't baffled by life. I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.
#26 Cherish the Moments
Don’t worry if the kid doesn’t respond to you for the first few weeks or even months. It usually takes longer than bonding with the mom. It will happen, I promise. Additionally, everything is a phase and it’ll pass. This goes for the good and bad. Enjoy those late nights somehow because soon you’ll wish they did call for you and you could come to the rescue.
Also, my wife had to remind me all the time, they’re babies and they don’t know better. Remember this when you inevitably get frustrated with them. It’s not personal. That said, enjoy the moments you have with them. Take lots of video and pictures; you can never have too many and can never get them back if you don’t.
You should also figure out something that you and only you do to help out. Mine was bath time. I gave my daughter every bath and shower except for maybe three of them. I did this until she was at least two years old. Also, I always did morning bottle feeds. I liked being the first thing she saw in the morning. Speaking of helping out, when buying things: function>form.
Try not to take your kid out to be handled in public unless necessary before three months. If they get sick and you go to the ER with a high fever because their immune system can’t handle the world yet, they will do a spinal tap and it will break your heart putting them in that much pain. Lastly, ask questions. Who cares if you feel dumb for asking. We have all done it and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
#27 Teachable Moments
I have three boys. One is six years old, another is four, and our youngest is only 18 months old. It's so easy to say, "Not right now" or, "No more questions." I catch myself doing this a lot of the time. This especially happens when I'm exhausted, which is pretty much all the time. Every moment is a teachable moment.
Also, cut back the media time to almost being nonexistent. I've had days where I was single parenting and had to work. My kids would watch hours of television that day. They were cranky and threw fits over everything. The days where it was the opposite, where they played outside or did similar activities, they were angels.
#28 Make the Right Purchases
You don't have to get an $800 stroller they sell at Buy Buy Baby, but a decent stroller is a worthwhile purchase. We have a not-so-great umbrella stroller that’s too short and uncomfortable for us to push. We got a stupidly good deal on an expensive stroller and I can't imagine using anything else. If we have another one, we can add it onto the wheelbase and it becomes a double stroller.
#29 The Little Things
It's not the big planned outings and expensive vacations that kids remember, it's the little stuff. It's your daughter remembering that you used to comb her hair after a bath, that time she watched you change the oil in your truck, or the times that she helped you mow the lawn. They remember the stuff that you don't focus on, keep in mind that it all matters. They see how you treat your wife, your friends, and yourself.
Finally, no matter how tired or annoyed you are, especially when they’re still little and want to spend time with you, don't waste it. There will come a day where they don't want you around anymore, so absorb all the time you get with them. Let them tag along when they just want to help you fold laundry or wash your car.
#30 Help Out
There’s no need to have mom do all the typical “mom housework.” A good father does whatever needs to be done, regardless of what chore it is. Your child will see this and follow in your footsteps. If you have a daughter, prepare to be wrapped around her little finger. There is no fighting it, we turn to mush when our little girls need us.
#31 What Works Best
Ignore 90% of parenting advice. People will tell you what worked for them, but there’s no one right answer to parenting. I’m glad someone had a good experience with this one scenario. But now we’re talking now about a different child in a different environment with a different family. Take advice under advisement, but there are no “musts” to parenting outside loving your kid and not selling them off. There’s no objective “best” bottle or toy, there’s only what works best for you.
#32 Avoiding Rashes
Wash bottles as soon as you can. If you see them, wash them. It takes 20 seconds to wash a bottle and then you have another ready to go. Don't hold your baby to sleep either. Sometimes it’s okay when they’re over a year old. Any younger and they learn that's how to sleep and it's super annoying. I know you want to and it's great, but it's better for both of you if you don't.
Also, wash your baby in the sink or with the shower wand at home. Take off their diaper and wash their butt with a little soap. Let them air dry then diaper back up. By not using wipes at home and washing with water there are no rashes and they smell better. While you’re there, you can throw some water under their chin or wash their face so they don't get rashes there either.
#33 Lifelong Interest
Here’s something that I’ve learned being a parent. If your child ever shows any interest in what you're doing, let them in on the fun. No matter how insignificant you think your activity may be, include them. You may just provide a starting point for a lifelong interest that could enrich their lives for years to come.
#34 Take Everyone Into Account
Just listening to your child can add a lot to your relationship and bond. Listen to their goofy stories, their limitless imaginations and just talk to them about anything. Ask them questions to see how their minds work. Also, appreciate their mother. She put her body through months of misery for your child. Spoil her, go out of your way to let her get extra sleep, even if it means you're sleepy through the day. She deserves that.
#35 Giving Each Other Space
You can put your baby safely in a crib and walk away for a break, even if the baby seems to get more upset by it. If a baby is crying so hard that it has you at a breaking point, nothing you're going to do in the next 30 seconds is probably going to resolve it. Babies cry. It's kind of their thing. So, put them down. Let them get angry and cry harder. Leave the room. They're still crying and that's totally fine. Give yourself a couple of minutes to breathe. Maybe you'll luck out and the baby will tire itself out and go to sleep on its own. But don't think of it as a failure.
#36 Show ‘Em How It’s Done
If you don’t want lazy kids, you can’t sit around all the time being lazy. If you don’t want messy kids, you can’t be a slob. If you don’t want kids addicted to screens, you can’t be on your phone all the time. If you want confident kids, you can’t put yourself down for imperceptible flaws. If you want to raise little readers, pick up a book and read it… in front of them.
#37 Spend Time With Them
My son had a little stuffed tiger that he loved until it basically disintegrated. After I got divorced, he left it at my house one night. I drove across town to his house and gave it to him. He didn't say a word but gave me the biggest hug he'd ever given me, tears in his eyes. No one is going to fondly remember that all-night gaming session where you ignored the family. Spend time with your kids.
#38 Be on the Look Out
When they’re babies, look at everything around them for potential danger, that is your biggest job. When my daughter was six months old, she grabbed hold of a jug with near-boiling water in it and spilled it on her arm and back, all because I didn’t think for a second. She spent a week in the hospital, and thanks to some amazing doctors, she was only left with a tiny scar you can barely see. But, it could have been so much worse.
On that note, cool bottles down, don’t warm them, it’s safer and not worth the risk. If you’re running late, be late, don’t take the chance. I know this is entirely my fault, and not a mistake 99.99% of dad’s will make. Nothing anyone can say will make me feel any better or worse about what happened. I only say it in the hope someone remembers it and doesn’t have to have their child go through the same thing.
#39 Early Access
Unrestricted access to social media, YouTube, etc. via a smart device makes the world way too big way too fast for a nine-year-old to handle. There are posters around my kid’s school now for Wait until 8th - meaning, wait until at least eighth grade before giving your kids a smartphone. Don't give in to your kids' pressure when they start begging for one.
#40 Don’t Google Advice
I have a seven-month-old and we learned quite quickly to stop googling “parenting advice for infants.” For every helpful bit of advice explaining certain care methods and telling you to embrace what works best, there are a hundred pieces of advice arguing about how one way is wrong. There are also other pieces saying it’ll never be right for anyone, so you should do it "this" way only or else you're a bad parent.
#41 Take an Interest
Show your kid that you’re curious and enthusiastic about their world. This was especially helpful when our kids started going to daycare. Instead of just dropping them off and picking them up, I would make a point of going in so that they could show me what they played with or did that day. It was an extra 5-10 minutes each day, but it demonstrated that I cared about their lives and that I thought their daycare was fun and interesting. I think doing so helped my kids enjoy school more and cut down on separation issues when dropping them off.
#42 How They Answer
Think about how your child will respond to some questions. Such as, “What does your dad do besides work?,” “What is your dad’s favorite thing to do?,” “What happens when your dad gets mad?,” or “What makes your dad happy?” If you like the answers to some of these questions, then you’re doing a fine job. Think of them before yourself.
#43 What You Missed
Reserve a special moment every day that’s exclusively reserved to your kid doing what he or she wants to do with you. Do it even if you’re tired. Those moments you and your kid will appreciate later on. If you miss a day, don't beat yourself up. Just try harder the next day. By doing it like this, you can make sure your child feels being important to you and you won’t lose any of those precious moments. My best overall advice is: think of things you missed when you were growing up and listen to what your kid wants to do.
#44 Many Different Forms
Take care of your wife. Postpartum depression is real and has many different forms. My wife’s anxiety levels went off the charts. She needed help and I didn’t see it right away. It’s all good, but I wish I spent some time researching and understanding, not just chalking it up to the stress of new motherhood. That’s real, for sure, but I think I could have saved her some pain if I just knew more.
#45 New Parents
Every other parent before you was new at it, too. They didn't have it figured out either and shouldn't be telling anyone otherwise. Be open and do what feels right for your family and situation. At the end of the day, you only have to answer to your partner and kid. Keep them happy and healthy and life is a lot easier.
#46 Making Mistakes
Our nurse explained to me: you will make a lot of mistakes. They’ll get bumps and bruises. They’ll get diaper rashes and sunburns. You’ll forget to feed them on time and you’ll forget to give them something to drink. You will make so many mistakes. But, it's okay. However, there’s one mistake you simply cannot make: you cannot lose your temper and shake the baby. Not even once. Literally, zero times. Walk away. Cool off. Come back. The baby will still be there. Angry, perhaps, but unshaken. And that makes all the difference.
#47 Father to Father
Here are my bits of advice. First, depending on your work schedule, try and be there for the night feeds. My wife struggled to stay awake to feed, so it was helpful for me to stay up, watch TV and talk to help keep her from falling asleep with the baby in her arms. Similarly, you should help out and be as hands-on as you can.
Try to keep your cool and don't lose your temper (this can be hard with sleep deprivation!). Remember it’s not all about you, though. Your partner will most likely be absolutely drained. Try and give her regular breaks by taking the baby for a walk or to the shops. This is good baby-bonding time for you as well.
Babies need constant attention, which can be draining on both you and your relationship. Having a child doesn’t mean your relationship needs to fall by the wayside. It's important to remain a team and talk as much as you can. If you have family or friends that can have the baby for a little while, it's good to have a bit of alone time together.
In the end, remember that everything is not permanent and things come in phases. Being woken up in the middle of the night, being used as a pee pad, getting thrown up on, changing 15 diapers a day, not having a moment to yourself. Things may seem hard right now, but don't stress over it too much, it's all a phase.
#48 Have a Routine
If possible, before the baby is born, practice a routine when traveling with the baby. Have a routine when you’re in the car with your baby, when your spouse and baby are with you, and when your spouse is alone with the baby. That way, you’ll always remember to check for the baby in the back of the car. There will be a system of checking by both spouses to ensure that the baby isn’t left in the car.
#49 Do the Feedings
Get up for every feeding in the middle of the night. Yes, it is exhausting. Yes, life will be miserable for a while. Do it anyway. It’s a short enough time frame and you will cherish the memories of one-on-one time. My youngest is 13 now and I still am eternally grateful that my wife tricked me into doing this with our second child.
#50 It’s a Marathon
Remind yourself that this whole being a parent thing is a marathon, not a sprint. Along the way, you’ll have high points and low points, neither should define you as a parent. Don't be afraid to let your child see all of your emotions, good and bad, and how you handle them. Finally, make sure you indulge in the things that make you happy and when you can share it with your child. But, never force it on them. You can't be a truly good dad if you're not happy yourself.