My daughter is now three years old and she’s amazing. Naturally I now know everything there is to know about parenting so here’s my advice for new parents (particularly aimed at affluent middle-class fathers in NZ who have two cats).
The first three months are the hardest, followed by the next three months. The three months after that were also hard but then it started to get easier and more enjoyable. (Even if it was still a lot of work.) I’m writing this just after my daughter turned three – she’s still hard work but I adore her absolutely and we have quite a lot of fun together.
It doesn’t matter how you feel about becoming a father or whether you wanted the baby or not. Decide now to commit to doing the best job you can and being the best father you can be. Any of the alternatives aren’t going to be good for anyone.
You will never go back to your “normal life”. This is your normal life, embrace it.
Go to the ante-natal classes. Go to the breastfeeding course. Yes, both of you.
Forgive your partner already and ask for their forgiveness in turn. I see that relationships are built on loving reciprocity. You do something for your partner because you love them, they feel even more warmly to you and do things for you because they love you. It’s a beautiful spiral of loving caring – and the introduction of a young baby screws it up pretty badly. You’re both exhausted and have very little time to look after each other and little energy to give. But you’re both doing your best and there’ll be time in the future to reconnect. That said, give your partner what you can when you can.
Don’t worry if you don’t get an instant hit of love and adoration when your child is born. It was pretty amazing on a number of levels but for me the bonding process took time. That said – make sure you’re leaving yourself open to it. Don’t let the sleeplessness and hard work turn you resentful and closed.
Get stuck in – don’t let your uncertainty or doubt hold you back from doing everything that your child requires. We all had to change our first nappy or give our first bath. Don’t let anyone else disenfranchise you by doing someone on your behalf that you can do perfectly well yourself. Don’t be the father who doesn’t want to be left alone with his own child because he’s too scared to care for them.
Question what you think you know. You probably have all sorts of ideas on how kids should be raised based on what your parents did, what your friends do and that half-remembered show you saw on TV. Do your whole family a favour and do some reading about the best way to bring up a kid. In particular learn about what real normal child development looks like (bad news: “sleeping through the night” doesn’t happen as soon or as consistently as you’d like). This article does a reasonable job of summing up the views I came to about raising a happy and healthy child.
I said it was hard work, right? Get in there and do the housework and the shopping and the errand running and taking the baby out for a walk so its mum can get just a couple of hours sleep. No matter how hard you work it probably won’t be as tough as it is for the mum who’s staying up most of the night breast-feeding the baby to sleep.
Your baby won’t give a shit about whether it has a beautiful nursery.
Non-specialist doctors and pharmacists are generally pretty ignorant about pregnancy, infants and breast-feeding. Do your own research – but make sure it’s from reputable websites that are backed by the best and latest in medical science. Bookmark http://kellymom.com for great evidence-based information about the care and feeding of babies and their mothers.
Using a clip-on bed is a good compromise between using a cot and having the baby in bed with you. This is where you have a separate sleeping surface for the baby attached to your bed so that you can both care for the baby in the night without having to get up. Our daughter went from the clip-on bed straight to her own bed without any problems at about 14 months. Her bed is a double mattress on a base and it’s been absolutely brilliant. It means that either of us can sleep with her on her bed if we ever need to (it also fits the two cats as well).
Get a tablet computer with good battery life for those long nights where that damn baby just won’t sleep unless it’s on someone. Block access to Trade Me if your budget won’t allow it.
Don’t let your duties (paid work, housework, maintenance, etc) take away from your time spent at home looking after your child and supporting your partner. It can be tempting to avoid the stress at home by saying “Oh, I need to do this” but your #1 priority at this time should be your family.
You need a lot less stuff than the glossy brochures would tell you that you need. And do you really need a baby buggy at all? We never really used them, preferring front-packs and back-packs and good old fashioned carrying.
Parent the child you have. Keep an eye on the expected milestones but ultimately you have to care for your child as it is, not the ideal child you have in your head, not your friend’s child, and not what some book has told you to expect.
Parenting is hard work but the first time you get a big cuddle and an “I love you Daddy” from your child – oh. my. god.