When my wife and I announced we were having a baby, our family and friends were extremely happy for us. At the time, I was 40, and my wife, 36 years old.
After the announcement, we shared this little inside joke with each other after visiting friends and family. We marveled at how so many people, even strangers we might not know at a dinner party, or people who weren’t parents themselves, loved offering advice on a variety of parenting topics.
Don’t get me wrong, as parents, we need other parents to swap stories with, confide in, and find solace. But some of those stories were dark! At least with dads, there’s little advice, but rather a lot of gloom and doom.
“You aren’t going to get any sleep.”
“Say goodbye to any free time.”
“You will be broke.”
This isn’t advice.
Here’s what I learned. After our daughter was born, everyone meets the challenge of being a parent differently. So be skeptical when people give you advice. Be skeptical as you read this blog. You may have a better idea than I do. And more than likely, my challenges may not be your challenges.
The following 6 tips, while based on my experience, are not foolproof. They might not work for you, or you might just flat out disagree with my advice. But they do reflect the most useful insights from my past seven years as a Dad or Dad-to-be.
Tips for New and Soon-to-Be Dads
Parent Tip #1 Pay Attention When Being Taught to Swaddle
There is a good reason why I listed this tip first. Because it works. Or, it worked for us. And the science around swaddling your newborn is fascinating.
When your nurse brings your newborn to you, the newborn will be wrapped tight and secure in a thin cloth blanket. How the baby is wrapped is called a swaddle. In a swaddle, your child will look like a burrito, or a dosa, for my friends in India.
Basically, swaddling helps your newborn feel secure, similar to how he or she felt in the womb. Swaddling also keeps their arms and legs from flying around, which can trigger their startle reflex, which often wakes them up. The swaddle also helps the child feel warm, just like mom.
Go online, check out one of the hundreds of instructional videos on YouTube, or find another parent to show you how. Trust me, it’s incredible how well it works. Or, should I say, it worked for us with our daughter.
Parent Tip #2 Step Outside Together
I stumbled upon this tip out of desperation. Our daughter couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old when one day, nothing worked to calm her down. The swaddle failed, she was not cool with the swing, and holding her so she could stare at the ceiling fan (yes, she loved watching the ceiling fan) wasn’t working either.
At the time, we were living on the second floor in a small two-bedroom apartment in Washington DC. We had a small balcony that looked out to a patch of grass and few bushes, nothing special. Like I said, out of desperation, I took her out to the balcony with me. Little did I know, taking her outside was like magic.
Something about shifting her environment was just what she needed. I don’t think she was bored. I have no idea why she was crying. Babies just cry sometimes. But when we sat together on the small bench we had, she immediately stopped crying. I’m serious, I remember very well how she just stopped. Looking around, her face scrunched up a bit when she felt the fresh air, and her head swiveled around when she heard the birds. And she stared, just stared up into the sky. It was like, all of a sudden, all her senses turned on, and a wave of quiet, peaceful curiosity permeated her being.
Ok, I don’t want to make more of this than what actually happened, but it was such a sudden shift that it has stayed with me now six years later. There are many times even today if my daughter is upset, I’ll suggest we go outside for a walk. Doesn’t always work, but more often than not, going outside calms both of us down.
Tip #3 Pay Attention During the Birthing Classes
Here’s the thing: When the contractions begin, especially if this is your first child, you will be spending hours with your partner. As the pain transforms from an “Oh, I felt something, I think my contractions have started,” to the most intense pain you’ll probably ever see your partner in, keep your cool and, as Anna and Elsa say in Frozen 2, focus on your partner and “Do the next right thing.”
During your birthing classes (we opted for Lamaze but there are many options), you will learn a variety of strategies to help your partner through childbirth. I found the advice and massage techniques our instructor taught us very helpful. If you have an opportunity to take a pregnancy massage class, go for it. Your partner will be thankful, and you’ll feel better having a way to contribute.
My wife went through contractions for two days before they were frequent enough to go to the hospital. This is not unusual for first births. The specific massage that gave my wife the most relief was for her to stand, bend at the waist, balance herself with her hands on a stool in front of her, and apply pressure to her lower back, which helped relieve some of her pelvic pain. If I lost you there, don’t worry, take a class, it will make sense. To this day, I’m so thankful I remembered that specific massage when my wife needed me.
Tip #4 Find a Stroller that Works for You
There are a few items I would suggest you spend extra money on. The stroller is definitely high on my list. You will be using the stroller so much, it’s a lifesaver. More than anything, that first couple of years, it allows you to go most anywhere together as a family. Here are a few tips to find the stroller for your new born:
- Figure out how big your car’s trunk (or boot) is. The worse thing in the world is to return a super deluxe stroller that doesn’t fit your car.
- How heavy is your stroller? How does it fold up? How easy is it going to be getting it in and out of the car? Can you hold your child in one arm, and with the other, open the trunk, grab the stroller, and unfold it in one swoosh? These are important questions you need answers for.
- Find a stroller with a storage compartment under the seat. I would go a step further and suggest you find a stroller with a built-in cup and phone holder (for the parents!). Used ours a ton.
- The stroller must have a sunshade. I would also suggest a stroller with a reclining seat so your child can nap while you sip on a cocktail at a restaurant or go for a walk for a bit of exercise while the kiddo naps.
- Buy second hand. The really good strollers can cost hundreds of dollars. Where we lived in Washington DC, there were a couple of second-hand shops that bought and then sold used clothes, toys, and equipment, including strollers. Check out what’s available close to you. If it’s quality, you can save a lot of money.
One last tip, for the most part, I am describing what would be your primary stroller. We visited Paris, France, when our daughter was just two years old, we went ahead and left the big one at home. Instead, we bought a used, smaller cheap stroller that I could more easily pack up, took up less space, and was easier to maneuver than our primary, bulky stroller. In Paris, we knew we would be navigating narrow streets with lots of people, popping up and down curbs to cross a street, and visiting cafes with limited space.
Tip #5 Buy Secondhand/Used Items if Possible
As I mentioned when it comes to buying a stroller, there really is no reason not to buy quality second-hand clothes, toys, and equipment.
Most of the larger cities in the United States will more than likely have such a shop. Not only did we find deals at the shop we visited often, but we also sold several items once our daughter had outgrown them. In this case, they offered cash or a more significant store credit.
From my experience living in Delhi, we don’t have the same type of shop we had in Washington DC. But a Google search brings up several online sources for used and refurbished kids’ items in Delhi. Also, check out any Facebook groups where parents sell their outgrown items all the time. If you have access to a local Facebook or What’s App group where families often need to sell their furnishings. Most any large city will have opportunities like these.
Tip #6 Don’t Give Up Your Hobbies
While whatever free time you had before adding to your family will be reallocated, for sure, don’t listen to Bob, you don’t necessarily have to give up your interests and hobbies. Both you and your partner need to find time to destress.
I like to cook. My daughter, since she was a few weeks old, has watched me cook her entire life. At six, she still wants to sit on the counter and can now stand next to me when I’m cooking on the stove. I also love sports. I’m from the Dallas area, so I love to follow my Cowboys, Rangers, and Mavericks teams. Just this past fall, before the pandemic, our daughter started to show interest in the basketball games, and soon knew who all the players are. When we visited the family at Christmas in Texas this year, we watched a game in person.
While there are some activities you won’t be able to include your toddler in before they are older, spend some time and really think through what you love to do, and be creative in figuring out is there a way to include them or have them safely close by while you work on the car, plant tomatoes in the garden, or grill chicken for dinner?
Tip #7 Think Ahead—Help Your Partner
I’m still working on this one.
It’s easy if you’re a guy to look to your wife for direction on what needs to be done and when. But seriously, spend some time each week to check in with yourself and your partner, to see what is happening now that can be improved on, and what’s coming up in the future the family needs to be thinking about.
Most of our challenges center around me waiting to be told what to do around the house or to manage our household. While I’m fine with doing what I’m told, I really have to work on being proactive. This dynamic is common in most households, but it’s even worse when it comes to raising children.
The bottom line is, no matter how much you think you’re helping your partner, or working together, it’s a good idea to check-in. Especially the first year when so much is new and more labor intensive (pun intended) who’s doing what is easy to get lost in the doing. At least once a week, take a moment together, share a glass of wine or your favorite tv show while the kiddo is sleeping. See how the past week was, what’s coming up, and most important of all, how each of you are feeling. Then make any changes you need to make.
If you have any advice or tips for new dads, please share them in the comments below.