5 Things is a new content series where Playground Dad contributors share 5 tips with new and expectant fathers.
When my wife and I were expecting our first child, we received a slew of advice, the best of which was “advice not asked for is not advice at all.” Now there was some great advice! By my estimate, 80% of the advice we were being given was the totally biased banter of new parents who HAD ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA HOW TO COPE WITH THE NEW DEMANDS (read: sleep deprivation) OF PARENTHOOD! Thus, in taking advice, learned to ask for advice from people we respected, and onwards we forged towards the awaiting horizon. What I learned, though, along the 41 weeks of my wife’s pregnancy, was that no advice can prepare you for fatherhood. You see, every piece of advice is an understatement.
The parts about “loving more deeply than you ever knew possible”? Yep, fatherhood will blow your notion of love out of the water. Knit up in that fresh, little bundle of wonder are parts of your wife, your parents, your grandparents, even your in-laws…and suddenly, you will love them all a little more because you will see parts of them (for better or worse) in every pudgy little puckered scream your baby utters. And the advice about how “your life will never be the same again”? Yes, that too, is an understatement. I remember turning to my wife one night at 3am as I waged war against the syrupy splash of a diaper grenade, and pleading “why didn’t anyone tell us it would be this hard?”
“They did. Everyone told us it would be this hard. We just didn’t know what THIS HARD meant.”
The next night was Friday, and as our friends gathered for drinks at a local watering hole or something, we sat on the bed eating pie and playing “Go Fish” while the baby nursed. My wife sighed, turned to me and quipped, “will we ever be cool again?”
“No.” I replied confidently. “We will never be cool again.”
Coming to that conclusion is half the battle. Once you’re a parent admitting this one simple fact makes life a whole lot easier. That said, here are five more tips for soon-to-be-dads.
1. Embrace The Team
You and your spouse are now a team. Every decision, argument and conversation is now going to be witnessed by another person – a person who will grow up to imitate and emulate you (and, when the time is right, yes, they will mock you). So it is vital that the two of you get on the same page. As your relationship goes, so goes the family. Thus, even with all the screaming; the sleeplessness; the spit-up-massacres-on-your-nice-work-shirt; the 4am “poopsplosions” (just wait); the mixed messages; the on-the-fly-parenting-decisions; the abnormally high stakes; and the endless onslaught of profligate demands, you must focus on your relationship with your spouse. You need to weed the garden and focus on communicating. Once the kids are asleep, reflect on the day, on your communication, and ask yourselves, “how can we do this better tomorrow?” Kids take tons of attention; don’t let your relationship with your partner be the commitment that gets left out.
2. Get your own beliefs in order
This one didn’t hit me until my daughter began talking in full sentences. But once she did, the questions started.
“Daddy, is the moon a girl?”
“Can I hit you”
“Are you my friend?”
Those are the easy ones (Well honey, the moon is a thing, not an animal; no, we only hit pillows; yes, I love you very much)…the tougher ones soon follow.
“I will grow up to be a boy?”
“Can I see your penis?”
“God is in my belly?”
“Shaq[uille O’Neal] is like chocolate?”
Hmmmm, what now, Sherlock?
Well, a steadfast foundation of your own belief system is important here. Wait, what? You never planned on discussing God, sexuality, transgenderism or race with your 22 month old? Dr. Spock didn’t mention that one? Well, the books don’t know your child, and your child is going to be curious. My experience tells me to smile lots, hug my daughter, affirm her, and tell her the simplest form of the truth…most importantly, don’t use sarcasm and try not to laugh (kids love making their parents laugh!).
So, on the fly, do your best:
“You are a beautiful girl and someday, if you want to, you get to be a mommy”
“You can only touch your own body”
“God loves your heart very much, but he’s not inside your heart.”
“Wow, you’re right, he is the color of chocolate, isn’t he? What other colors can we find?”
Now, I recognize all of these are not perfect, but I’m no stand-up comedian, so I just do what I can. The key is doing your best, being honest, and vowing to do better next time. What you believe about God, race, sexuality, doesn’t matter, but know that you don’t always get to choose the circumstances of these conversations…they’ll sneak up on you, so telling your kids what you really believe is best…lying to your kids is less good; if you lie to your kids, they’ll learn even more scarring lies from some kid on the playground…and even though “that kid on the playground” is somebody’s precious, precocious little kid, we don’t want our kids rubbing elbows and picking their noses with them.
3. Embrace Sacrifice
If you haven’t learned this one yet in your own love life, having a baby will assuredly convince you: love is sacrifice. You will have to prioritize your time. Try to figure out ways to combine tasks (think jogging strollers and pull-ups on the monkey bars; or reading on your i-pad while you burp the baby). Also, get over the fact that your child will ever repay you. They won’t that’s what sacrifice is all about. Cruel reality, I know.
4. Don’t Overprepare
I read all the books, assembled all the gadgets and strollers and practiced changing diapers blindfolded with my left hand…but when the time came to strap on my Dad boots, I wasn’t ready for the improvisation required. Nothing could have prepared me; heck, I might as well have packed a snorkle and a tube of cookie dough for a weekend on Everest. “Go with what you get” was another great line tossed our way when my wife was pregnant. Whether you’ve lovingly adopted your beautiful baby, or watched your wife wage through the harrowing and heroic beauty of childbirth, you are blessed to have a new baby. The health, demeanor, growth and nature of your baby are not guaranteed…go with what you get. Be surprised by nothing. Look for opportunities to improvise every step of the way.
5. The world Doesn’t Like Your Kids
Sounds weird, right? Just take a flight, trip to the library or enjoy a meal at a local restaurant, and you’ll see what I mean. Your parenting is on display everywhere you look. And there will be naysayers all along the way. The key is staying true to your decisions. Men at work will often speak negatively about their wives’ nagging, their annoying children, or refer to your decisions to marry and have a family as “shackles,” “leashes,” or something far worse. Be brave, dad! Defend your family in the face of criticism. You are entering a battleground. Hold your ground and relish the moment you see your beautiful family again…before you know it, your kids will be too cool to hang out with you at all.
Finally, the mere fact that you’re looking for tips on how to be a great new dad means you’ll be a great new dad. Just go easy on yourself. On your worst days, vow to be better tomorrow; on your best days, vow to do it again.
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