Reflections on the First 30 Days of Parenthood From Dads Who’ve Been There
Fatherhood is an amazing experience … but it doesn’t always start out that way. That’s as true for first-time dads as it is for first-time moms. The moment your child comes into the world, you’re responsible for the survival of a living, breathing, constantly excreting creature.
Between the jarring change to your everyday routine, the sleepless nights, and the nagging suspicion that you’ll never be even remotely as important as Mom, most new dads experience at least a few moments of “What the hell did I just do?!” in those first weeks.
Meet the dads
Parent Co. Studio recently spoke with five dads: Mike (five-year-old son and a new baby arriving any day), Andy (10-month-old daughter), Don (two-month-old son), Jon (five-year-old and two-year-old daughters), and Ben (13-month-old son).
What was the most unexpected thing about becoming a new parent a.k.a. what freaked you out the most?
There’s a popular stereotype about dads being these big dumb oafs who are simply too lazy, too stupid, or both to worry about the myriad dangers facing their babies. (A Google search of “Don’t Leave Babies With Dad” yields 155 million results.)
The dads we spoke with, however, were not only hyper-aware of the sheer responsibility of their new role; they were worried about EVERYTHING. The temperature of the baby bottle, the security of the car seat, the minefield of that first bath, and, of course, the innumerable dangers out of their control all registered like a 7.0 earthquake on the Dad Richter Scale.
Each of these dads also cited the challenges of their limited role in those early days, especially if their partner is exclusively breastfeeding.
But the doubts and fears do eventually fade. One response perfectly illustrates the reason for the anxiety – and why it doesn’t last long:
ANDY: You ask yourself a million questions constantly in the beginning because you don’t want to screw the baby up, but the good news is, you go from knowing nothing to being relatively confident fairly quickly with a new baby.
Parent Co. partnered with Babybay because they know the role of Dad is one you grow into.
How did you cope with the crying and the sleep deprivation?
When you combine a wailing baby with the interrupted sleep that accompanies an infant’s constant feeding schedule, you tend to feel pretty crappy.
One of the dads we spoke to was lucky enough to have a unicorn baby – a rare, mythical creature who sleeps soundly from the get-go. This outlier dad wisely didn’t talk about his good fortune around his fellow fathers.
For the rest of the lot, sleep deprivation is very, very real. Yet it was also the one thing they’d been most prepared for in anticipation of their new baby. As a result, they either pushed through it like a marathoner whose feet start to ache around mile 11, or they leaned on their community and slept whenever they could find a couch and fit it in – even if only for 10 minutes here or there.
Jon: I think the sleep deprivation thing is a bit overblown … there was so much build up to it, so many people saying how terrible it was, that I didn’t think it was all that horrible by the time I got to it. Kind of like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
The crying was harder to handle for the new dads, which kicked their problem-solving, stress-reducing instincts into high gear because there is simply no worldly equivalent to that nails-on-the-chalkboard screech-howl:
Don: For the crying, I rely on my fitness and my breathing to help keep me calm and composed. Box breathing is a great technique to add to your daily routine. (Don is the owner of Bucktown Fit, a personal training business that specializes in physical and mental strength training.)
Ben: You learn very quickly what’s going to pacify your baby in that first month. Whatever works, just give it a whirl. Usually, it was the boob. The boob is the greatest pacifier ever.
What was your role in the breastfeeding process during those first 30 days? How did that make you feel?
Due to the insane demands of breastfeeding, the dads felt a lot of pressure to make life a little bit easier for Mom.
They made themselves human gophers (“I’ll do it!”), they jumped at any opportunity to give the bottle, they took on all the household chores…. In short, these guys tried their darndest, tapping a level of empathy that would make even the most demanding psychologist proud.
They also struggled mightily in the process, experiencing feelings ranging from guilt and anxiety to a tinge of jealousy.
Mike: The hardest thing for me was trying to make myself feel useful. I had a difficult time connecting with my son, and I felt like the third wheel. I was there in a helper capacity as opposed to feeling that it was our family we just created.
How did the baby change things between you and your partner? How did your perception of your partner change after seeing her as a mother?
As the saying goes, “having a baby changes everything” – for better and, at least temporarily, for worse.
While one of the dads met his partner just three months before she got pregnant (for these two, their love was never stronger than the 30 days of the new baby’s life), the rest of group weren’t so lucky. Relationships were tested, fights ensued, and roles shifted dramatically. One dad said it feels like they’re exclusively their son’s parents now.
At the same time, seeing their wives and partners give birth and step into the role of a new mother was an amazing experience for the new dads. Phrases like “awe-inspiring” and “life-changing” were used to describe that feeling, and many said it reminded them of falling in love with their spouse all over again.
Ben: Taking an A/B relationship and adding C – and C just happens to be something B grew in her body for nine months – your A/B relationship gets put to the side, and you have to accept that.
Mike: Your relationship is tested. You’re not doing the things that made you a couple, and the experiences that made you a couple are stripped away, so you’re bound to ask, “Is this gonna be okay?”
Jon: My wife’s instincts – she’s incredibly nurturing and warm – are so strong, and she’s also smart, hard-working, and competent. These are things that attracted me to her in the first place, but I realized after we had a baby that I couldn’t live without those attributes.
What advice would you offer new dads for those first 30 days?
Mike: That vision you have of being a dad – of running errands and going to the park with your little guy or girl by your side – that takes a while to happen. Hang in there. Time is what makes the bond. By the time my son was a year, it was all dad, all the time.
Andy: Whenever you can, bring your child into your life instead of trying to completely bend your life to your child’s.
Don: Communicate with your wife/partner in a 100 percent open and honest manner from the start. You’re going to need to look out for each other more than you ever have.
Jon: Whether it’s changing diapers and swaddling or just preparing bottles, take pride in everything you learn. I was eager to prove that the stereotype of the helpless dad is lame, sexist and, in most cases, flat-out wrong.
Ben: The routine WILL become second-nature more quickly than you think. But be careful: Time speeds up when you settle into a routine. If you’re not careful, all the magical moments blend into one. Take it slow, enjoy every milestone, and break the routine when you can.
There’s a saying about becoming a new parent that goes something like this: Before you have your children, all your friends with kids tell you about how amazing it is. Then, when you finally do have a baby, those same friends say, “Don’t worry, it gets better.”
For many dads trudging through the muck and mire of those first 30 (or more) days of fatherhood, this saying may hit a little too close to home. If you’re in that boat, remember the words of the seasoned dads we spoke to. After all, each of them not only made it safely to the other shore, but they also made it there a little wiser – and were more than willing to share their wisdom.
While each of these guys has a vastly different background and story, they share many common sentiments about becoming a dad. Perhaps the most important of all:
It only gets better – much, much better.