Chances are, if you’re new to the dad business, nobody has fully prepared you for the myriad obstacles you will confront. Raising children is a moving target. Just when you think you’ve mastered diapers and sleep training, your child will start potty training/bed wetting/having nightmares. And just when you master that, they’ll start befriending kids or kids whose parents you can’t stand. While you may not be able to control everyone and everything around you, you CAN make adjustments to set you and your family up for success. Here are some of the challenges I have faced and what I’ve done to surmount them:
Dads aren’t morons.
Absurdity is the new normal. It’s healthy to laugh at yourself, but that doesn’t mean you have to become the new parent laughing stock of the town. Don’t buy into the mass media hype that dads are incompetent and bungling idiots. If you let that preconceived societal perceptions set your expectations, then you’re setting yourself up to fail and put extra strain on your relationship with your partner. All of the the media portrayal of dads dropping the ball, while often hilarious, just aren’t true. In fact, I’m pretty sure even some moms have put diapers on backwards at some time or another. The point is, all of those mistakes are bound to happen in some shape or form, but a wise dad will learn from them and they won’t be repeat mistakes. Generally speaking, moms aren’t better at raising kids because of some deep-seeded maternal instincts, it’s a matter of time investments. Plus, think of all the great stories you can lord over your children when they’re older. Ultimately, the more time you spend with your children, the more responding to their needs becomes intuitive…so dive in!
Parenting is hard work.
Seriously, it’s hard work! But your hard work can and will pay off, so I suggest embracing it! My own coping mechanism is to step back from each difficult situation and find the humor. At every stage there will be new obstacles, curve balls, red herrings, vomit, jerkish boyfriends to chase off, etc. You have to be willing to put the time in. Something I noticed immediately was that once I stepped up and started taking charge of more diaper changes, baths, and other routines, that I felt much more connected to my daughter. There is a direct link between time investment and sacrifice to the closeness you will feel with your child. Your partner will also thank you.
Don’t be afraid of discipline and routine.
Your job as a father is not to raise over-indulged and entitled drains on society, so don’t treat them that way. Remember that even the worst tantrums and screaming are only temporary. You are the adult and as such are given the power of perseverance. I’m not necessarily saying you need to spank the feistiness out of your child or start dishing out time-outs like they’re kittens, but you should absolutely not give in to their extortion tactics most of the time. Think of all the times a toddler will say “no” to you. It’s perfectly okay to say “no” back. In fact, it’s good for them to have firm boundaries. That’s how society works, better that they learn it from you than from the real world.
It’s okay to be flexible.
The caveat to discipline is knowing when it’s okay to bend or break the rules. There is no tried and true formula so what works for one kid may not work for the next. Kids come out pre-wired for many behaviors so it’s important to not only adapt to your child, but also your situation. When we go on vacation, often we’ll be more willing to let eating habits slide and bedtime routines slip. When we take her to Disneyland, she can eat whatever she likes, and maybe even get a fun cheap plastic toy from China. Sometimes it feels good to break the rules, even if they’re your own! Don’t become a slave to your own authoritarian regime.
Make time for you.
Whether it’s an old hobby, reading, playing video games, staying in shape… carve out some time to occasionally do stuff that YOU enjoy. Those things still make you who you are. There’s an inherent danger of losing yourself within parenting, and you don’t want to become an automaton. Add to this, making time for your spouse and relationship. Male camaraderie is also important and you should absolutely enjoy some time with the guys. That time can be enjoyed with or without children. Stay tuned for a separate “5 Things” on tips for building and maintaining strong bonds among your guy friends, along with a “5 Things” on keeping the romance alive with your partner.