Parenthood is not easy. Ask anyone, and they would say that parenthood is one of the hardest things that a person can experience. I remember people telling me that “there’s never a good time to become a parent”. Essentially, becoming a parent reframes everything else in your life. You begin to realize that life is not about you at all, you realize that there is someone else’s life, time, and needs that must be met. Women tend to get the short end of this proverbial stick. Pregnancy, hormones, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, postpartum depression, and anxiety – all of these are painful, difficult, and overwhelming.
I remember asking for advice in the weeks leading up to the birth of my daughter. How can I be a good partner? How can I support my wife? How can I make sure I start this fatherhood thing out right? I got all sorts of advice, but almost every single person made sure to remind me how much harder it was to be a mother than it was to be a father. To be fair, all of those well-meaning friends and family were right. I never want to suggest that fatherhood is harder than motherhood, but as a new father myself, I am uniquely positioned to understand the challenges that do exist as a first-time parent. I hope that I can offer you some advice, some hope, and maybe a sense of solidarity.
1. Do EVERYTHING else. There is a good chance that mom is going to have a hard go of it. The baby will demand food constantly, and a mother’s body expends an unreal amount of energy to provide for a baby. The baby will get hungry at all hours of the day and night. Your job as the partner who is not responsible for feeding is to change diapers, burp, bathe, dress, and rock to sleep. If your partner asks for a break, it’s time to step in. If the dishes need to be done or a load of laundry needs to be washed, it’s time to step up. It is a huge demand, but this is such an integral part of those first weeks as a father both for your partner and for your little one.
2. Sleep as much as you can. When your partner is feeding the baby in the middle of the night, you should be sleeping. If it’s for five minutes or for five hours, you need to be getting your rest so that you can be “on” when your partner needs a break.
3. Find the things that make you laugh. Parenthood is draining and stressful. There is little to no sleep in those early weeks and months, and tensions can run a little high. Nothing sets your teeth on edge quite like a baby who has been screaming in your ear for twenty minutes, an hour, or two hours. You sometimes feel your sanity slip away little by little. On the other hand, the sheer ridiculousness you can find in these moments of insanity can often help break that tension. Misspoken or mispronounced words are a real treat.
4. Give yourself some grace. Parenthood is hard, and mistakes are going to be made. I cannot tell you how many times I have forgotten to make sure I have diapers and wipes ready to go before starting to change the dirty ones. I have been so frazzled and frustrated while the baby is screaming in my ear that I have seriously contemplated just putting my hand over her mouth for some relief. I am not operating at my absolute best and punishing myself for not getting it quite right all the time benefits no one.
5. Take a step back. Like I said in the last couple of points, a screaming baby is hard to deal with. If you do find yourself in a mental state where you are contemplating questionable things, take a step back, set your baby down (or return them to your partner) and gather yourself back together. Ultimately, many of us only want what is best for the baby. It may take a minute, it may take several minutes to regather yourself, but it is important to take those moments seriously, check in with yourself, and go back to being the father that you know you can be.
6. Give your partner some grace. In my situation, my wife gave birth to our baby and is the primary source of food for our little bundle of joy. She has had to deal with all of the hormonal changes in her body, the pain of pregnancy and childbirth, and the constant demands of the baby on her body. If I need to give myself grace for not operating at my best, I need to give a double helping of grace to my partner. She is not always going to be on her “a-game” either, and many times the way I respond to her can help de-escalate an emotionally turbulent situation.
7. Spend time on your relationship. A new baby is taxing on you, taxing on your partner, and a stressor on your relationship. My wife and I ask each other “how are your buckets doing”? We use the Five Love Languages in our relationship to talk about our needs for one another, and describe each Language as a bucket – physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, and quality time. Invest in your partner’s bucket when and where you can, and do not be afraid to be honest about your needs too.
Parenthood is no joke, and these tips are not a foolproof guide. But hopefully, they are helpful to you, new dad! You’ve got this.