As he reflects back on being dad to four kids, Mike Smith, the Sunshine Dad, found ten undeniable truths. He shares them with the men who face fatherhood for the first time in their lives.
Dear Dad To-Be,
Congrats! Your life will never be the same. For better or worse, the birth of your first child is an event that will forever change you. So much of becoming a new parent focuses on moms. There is good reason, moms do all of the hard work for the first 9 months, but once your baby is born you are just as much a part of the action as mom. Dads have an important role to play. I have decided to share some of my experiences in raising my 4 kids so you can have a little glimpse of What to Expect When You are Expecting…to be a Dad.
You are about to experience a love you have never known before. The love a parent has for a child is unlike any other love. You don’t love your wife the same way you love your parents or the same way you love your siblings or the same way you love your best friends. I could try to explain it to you but I would fail. Just like you would never be able to explain what a rainbow looks like to a blind man I will never be able to explain to you what the love you are about to experience is going to be like. It’s going to be unlike anything you have ever felt and it is going to fill you to the top of your soul.
DRIVING MISS BABY
When you drive home from the hospital with your baby you should pay close attention to the speedometer or you are going to drive home at 12 miles/hour. Never in your life will you be so nervous driving as those first moments with your precious cargo. Don’t worry in short time you’ll be weaving in and out of traffic and having your usual road rage. But that first drive will be a slow cautious trip where every car you pass will make you white-knuckle grip the steering wheel with nervousness.
FIRST NIGHT ALONE
At some point you and your spouse will have your first night alone with your new baby. You will be out of the hospital and all your family will have left. You will feel slightly helpless and mildly scared. There is something comforting about staying your first night or two in the hospital where at a moment’s notice a doctor or nurse could come help. When you finally do get home your mom or mother in law will often stay over for a few nights. Even if you think she is annoying and you just want her to leave, in the back of your mind she is a safety net. After all, she already raised at least one child so she should know a thing or two if something goes wrong. But eventually everyone will leave and you will have that first moment of “it’s just us now.” Babies don’t come with an instruction manual and you won’t always know exactly what to do, but just take a breath. It’s not as scary as you think and your baby is probably not going to spontaneously combust, so you should be good.
It’s hard to imagine but this tiny little thing is going to need you to do everything for it, not least of which is dressing it and changing its diaper. You would think it shouldn’t be a big deal to dress your tiny human but for whatever reason, more often than not, they fight you on every step of the process as if their life depended on it. Suddenly they will refuse to put their arm into a shirt and you will have a hard time making them. Babies can be deceptively strong when they are angry. It just comes with the territory and you’ll figure out your own ways to get your baby dressed. If you want to read a more in-depth coverage of this topic you can read The Scary Truth About Kids’ Clothes.
KNOW YOUR BABY’S AGE
If you are planning on leaving your house with your baby you should practice saying how old he is. The first thing people are going to ask you is “How old is your baby?” If you studder or hesitate, it makes you look like a moron and a bad parent. Also you should practice converting weeks into months in your head because after you answer with “My baby is 4 months old” and return the question out of a sense of obligation, you will likely get the response “Oh, she’s 33 and a half weeks.” In no other area of your life would anyone ever say 33.5 weeks instead of “a little over 8 months”
LOVING YOUR SECOND CHILD
If you end up having a second child: It may take you a moment to love your new baby. Your heart is so full of love for your first child it will seem like you have no more capacity to love any other child. You might even initially feel a hint of resentment toward your second child, thinking that he may be stealing love away from your first child who you’ve poured out your love on for months and maybe years. But you have the capacity to love your second…and third…and fourth child with just as much love as your first. Somehow your heart just finds a way to expand.
No matter how funny you think you are or how silly you think the faces you are making are, you will never be able to compete with a ceiling fan for your baby’s attention. There is something magical about a ceiling fan that can capture a baby’s attention for what seems like hours. Don’t take it personally.
DEVELOP SOME TYPE OF ROUTINE
Call it a routine, a schedule, a daily timeline, whatever. You need to have at least a vague idea of what your day will look like and roughly when your baby should be napping or eating or being awake. There are plenty of ideas out there about what a “perfect” day might look like for a baby. I’ll leave the particulars up to you but I will say you need to work out some sort of pattern or you are going to lose your mind and feel like you never know what should be going on or have any idea why your baby might be crying.
YOUR KID WILL WATCH YOU
As your child grows he is going to notice and mimic everything you do, whether you realize it or not. He will start to talk like you and pick up your behaviors and attitudes. Your example will be far more influential than anything else in his life, so live the life you want to see in your child.
BALANCE YOUR OLD LIFE WITH YOUR NEW
Becoming a parent will affect your identity, it’s unavoidable. But don’t totally abandon who you were before. Your life will change, that is to be expected but don’t change so much you are no longer recognizable. Find ways to continue hobbies you enjoy, hang out with your old friends and go on dates. You will be a better parent for it.
These are a few of the things I have learned to be true for me as well as true for many other dads I know. Being a father is one of the most amazing things you’ll ever get to do. It has blessed my heart beyond words. The early hours and days of being a first time parent are filled with so many wonderful and almost surreal moments. If you are able, I’d encourage you to write down some of your early thoughts and experiences as they happen. It will be fun to go back later and relive those moments again and again. I wish you well on your journey and I’m excited for you as you embark on the greatest adventure of your life.
Do you have any advice for first time dads? Feel free to chime in below.
Originally appeared on Sunshine Dad.
Photo: Flickr/Richard Leeming
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