I’ve always wanted to be a dad. When I was five, I drew pictures of my future children, Jason and Brittany (then spelled Jasen and Brintny). Being a father is one of my most clear purposes in life, and when anyone asked why I wanted to have kids, I would stare at them dumbfounded like they were asking me why I want to breathe.
I look back for my first Father’s Day, nine months in, and realize these have been the most joyous and most difficult months of my life. People say that children are our greatest teachers, and from my initial time in this role, I’ve developed some key lessons that I hope can inspire fellow new dads.
Super dads also need self-care.
I was so determined to be the most engaged father I could be that I tried to do everything short of breastfeeding, which I would have done if it were possible! I attempted to change every diaper, take every night shift, feed and care for my recovering wife, manage the household, and run our baby food company—all on very little sleep. If I made a mistake or dropped the ball, I would feel incredibly guilty. I once broke down in tears because I forgot to run the dishwasher, and we didn’t have any clean bottles.
After six weeks of running on fumes, I hit a breaking point. I realized I couldn’t take care of my family if I wasn’t taking care of myself. It seemed impossible to find time for healthy eating, exercising, socializing, and spiritual practices while caring for a new baby. But these were essentials for me to function at my best, so I quickly learned the power of saying no, taking breaks, scheduling time for self-care, and prioritizing myself alongside my baby, wife, and our company. By finding time for me and knowing my limitations, I can perform at my best—and feel more like a super dad than a super dud.
There are six S’s to soothing a baby.
I love this simple parenting hack from The Happiest Baby on the Block, and it has done wonders in helping my baby fall asleep or relax when agitated. The Five S’s are
- Swaddle: wrap them up good and tight
- Side or Stomach Position: lay them on your arm or leg
- Shush: say “shhh, shhh, shhh” close to their ear to mimic the sound of the womb
- Swing: rock, sway, bounce, or any other type of rhythmic gentle movement
- Suck: on your finger or a pacifier
And lastly the sixth S that I’ve added in—sing! It doesn’t matter what song or your singing talents, your rhythm and tonality have a calming effect. The idea of this process is to activate your baby’s instinctual sense of safety by replicating the womb environment.
Be mindful of inherited parenting techniques.
I didn’t realize how having a child would trigger memories from my own childhood. A few days after my daughter was born, as I kissed her forehead, filled with more love than I even knew I was capable of, I had a vivid flashback of my dad holding and kissing me. It was the first heartwarming flashback memory of many. I soon realized there were phrases and vocal intonations I was unconsciously mimicking from my parents, too. I’ve never been fond of the phrase “good job,” for example, as I’d rather acknowledge effort over outcomes. But that phrase just flows out of mouth subconsciously because my parents said it. So instead, I’m training myself to say “you did it” to build her own sense of personal success. My heightened awareness allows me to proactively avoid repeating any parenting techniques I don’t want pass on.
Try alternating nights with your partner.
For several months, my wife and I both felt responsible for bedtime and middle-of-the-night care. We wasted unnecessary energy on last-minute decisions over whose turn it was, which meant neither of us ever felt fully rested. Our solution has been to alternate nights. This allows each of us to have a few nights off and get some good sleep throughout the week. Other parents we’ve spoken with say they split the night by time which is great if one is a night owl and the other is a morning person. However you choose to split the responsibilities, implementing a set schedule for us has not only helped our mental and emotional stability but also our relationship with each other.
There is such a thing as safe rough play.
Since my wife’s idea of a good time is sitting in bed with a book, I prayed that my daughter would join me in my favorite extreme sports like snowboarding, water skiing, and paintball. Based on her enthusiasm for adventurous play, I think my prayers have been answered! Pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu says, “When done safely, rough play can give your older baby or toddler a sense of freedom and movement, help them learn what their body can do, promote balance and coordination and foster trust.” However, to ease my wife’s nerves and ensure my baby’s safety, I’ve implemented these guidelines:
- Support their head until they have full head control, which happens at four-to-six months
- Never hold or swing them by the arms because that could dislocate their shoulders
- Hold them firmly around their midsection
- Only toss them a few inches from your hands to avoid whipping their neck or dropping them
- Always play over soft areas like carpet or grass
- Watch for their reaction and stop as soon as you sense that they’re no longer enjoying
Rhythmic movements like swinging, bouncing, and gentle tossing are not causes of Shaken Baby Syndrome, which only happens when their head is violently whipped back and forth causing a form of whiplash.
Don’t be scared to ask for help.
Human babies require more care time than any other mammal. Much like a herd of elephants, nature made it so new parents would have to rely on a tribe. I reached out to my community and asked for help in making food, running errands, and cleaning our house. While my wife was recovering from birth, I created a spreadsheet with dates, times, and household tasks that we needed help with. I texted 40 of our friends and family asking for assistance, and their willingness to help benefited us all immensely and allowed me to work back in those key elements of my self-care.
I have no doubt that fatherhood will continue to be the most rewarding experience of my life. I can’t wait to watch my daughter grow into the amazing woman she is meant to be, and in the process help me become the man and father I am meant to be.
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Photos provided by the author