After having significantly more kids than the average family (well, I didn’t give birth to them, but I did cut the cord), to say that I have learned some things is a vast understatement. Some of these things took a long time to learn, even as late as the last kid. For the men out there that are a first-time dad, here are some of the lessons I learned.
- Having kids is the most wonderful thing that can happen to you (outside of getting married to a wonderful woman, of course). Having kids will also be the most stressful and trying thing that can happen to you, which hopefully is unlike what happens being married to a wonderful woman. Let me be blunt: having kids will force you to give up selfishness. You are going to have to put more things than you are used to of your own desire on the back burner. Prepare yourself for doing that, and do it willingly, and do it out of love for your family. Guys typically aren’t naturally good at this. You aren’t supposed to completely sacrifice yourself, especially in a passive-aggressive manner, but you are going to need to give up things. If you can be selfless, and do it for the right reason, you will be amazed at the happiness it brings to you and your family. Not giving yourself to your family is going to put your wife through the wringer, don’t do that to her.
- If you wife has a vaginal birth (not a C-section), you are going to need to give her time to heal before being physically intimate again. Being intimate will happen again, especially if you do the bullet above. However, recognize that pushing a small watermelon through your pelvis is going to do some damage. If you listen to the OB, they will probably give you an estimate on how long your wife will need to heal after birth. I suggest that you double it. Putting your wife in pain for your satisfaction is not consistent with the spirit of physical intimacy, no matter that you are not used to waiting that long. Be patient and deal with it. If men were the ones to get pregnant and give birth, we would go extinct as a species.
- I was talking to a guy several years ago, and he said, “When I have kids, I will work at my employer as long as possible every day so I can afford to buy my kids all the stuff I didn’t have.” My response was, “Dude, kids (well, the small ones until we teach them otherwise) don’t care about objects. What they want is your time. They are happy playing with a big cardboard box, and they want you to get on the floor and play with them and read them stories. They don’t need things, they want you.” The best present you can give your kids is yourself when they ask for it. That doesn’t always correspond to when you want, or what you expect. When you depart from this mortal life, your family is the only thing you can take with you. The sad thing is that at some point your kids will probably stop asking to play with you.
- It is so easy for your wife to get completely consumed with being a mom. With a newborn, there is not a full night’s sleep and there are no vacation days.
- You have to give her a break. When you come home from work, take over the kids and let your wife do something of her own choosing for a couple hours. It doesn’t matter if you had a hard day at work and need some break time, she started when she woke up in the morning and won’t finish until she goes to bed, and likely there will be middle-of-the-night fulfillments. That’s more than your 8.5 hours.
- The rule is “when the baby sleeps, mommy sleeps.” Baby naps are not always to be used for mom to catch up on chores. Mommy needs to catch up on sleep so she can be a functioning person. When she is caught up on sleep, then she can catch up on chores.
- Don’t forget that your wife is still your wife and not just a mom. It is very easy for both parents to become parents and forget to be spouses. Find someone you trust to be a babysitter earlier than you think. Go out for a short date and talk about things other than just the kids. The intention is for the kids to grow up and leave the house, but your wife should stay with you.
- The house is going to be a mess. Just expect it. Instead of being part of the problem, be part of the solution. You will need to own more chores. There is no sharing equally and keeping track of points. You need to jump in and do as much as you can, independent of what your wife may or may not have done.
- If your wife is breast feeding instead of using formula, her breasts will get bigger. However, they also become very tender, especially at the start of nursing. Treat her carefully. The skin will toughen up over a few weeks to handle the nursing. They will return to usual size after nursing stops. Also, when a baby is breast feeding, the poop actually isn’t too bad. It’s when you go to formula or solid foods that it turns into the classic stinky mess.
- Be patient. Take a deep breath and don’t have a temper. Kids will throw enough temper tantrums, you don’t need the parents doing it too. Just let the unimportant things go. Yes, having kids will dramatically alter your perspective on what is important. Lack of patience is one of the easiest ways to mess up a family.
- Jump in and be willing to figure it out. Every child is different, and every parenting situation is different. Figure out what works for you and your family. Experiment. What works for child #1 may not work for child #2, even if they are twins. You’ll find lots of things that don’t work, followed by an “aha!” moment.
- The What to Expect When You’re Expecting and What to Expect the First Year are good books that dads should follow along in as their wife reads. At lot of stuff that seems weird actually is quite normal. And the only way to learn it is by experience.
- Kids don’t actually cost very much money, except perhaps in healthcare. If you can get hand-me-down clothes or go to Goodwill (they destroy clothes anyway), it’s really not bad. They don’t eat much, don’t need expensive toys, can travel in your lap on airplanes, etc. Don’t bother buying them nice new expensive things, because when they are little they don’t care. It’s later when they need car insurance and college tuition that it starts to hurt your wallet.
- Kids are amazingly resilient. They bounce good. Typically the parents need to take a deep breath instead of panicking.
I hope you find this useful. Having kids is a trip. I didn’t think it would be so before it happened, but my life would be so empty if I lost my kids. My life is way more complicated now with kids, but I’ve grown to prefer it that way – it’s more fulfilling.
2 thoughts on “life: advice for the new father”
Wow, very heartfelt post!
I disagree on a couple points. (Meaning that for the most part I think you’re spot on!)
First of all about the saying that if men had to have the babies we would die out. All due respect to women and not to belittle in any way the special hell and pain that can be childbirth, but that’s really a ridiculous saying. Women’s bodies are designed to be able to do that. I can’t say that I personally have had to go through too much misery, but I know men who have and can take it. If we had to we would, and that’s just the way it would be.
And that book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” I found to be mainly scare-mongering. (That sounds worse in words that I feel about it, but I can’t think of something else that would fit better.) They look at the most negative of everything, it seems like. We found another that was much better: “Great Expectations.” At the very least it fit my style much better.
I agree that if you get the hand-me-downs they aren’t all that expensive. We splurge a little here or there, but have been pleasantly surprised for the most part. I have to say that Legos, even spendy as they can be, have been about our best money spent on toys for Jasper. He’ll spend many hours just playing and building. I *love* it!!
Ditto on the Legos. By far the best investment in toys. They don’t break, they don’t take batteries, and they are infinitely reconfigurable.