When a new baby comes home, they’re always going to be the star, with mum in the supporting role – but don’t worry dad, we haven’t forgotten about you!
Now that we’re on the home straight towards our baby’s very first birthday (yay, we survived the first year!), my husband and I have finally had a chance to debrief on those first three months, and pick through the emotional rubble.
We believe our experience was fairly typical; hordes of visitors occupied our home for the first few weeks. They came from the world-over, brandishing gifts of all shapes and sizes, flowers and congratulatory cards.
By the time the crowds dispersed, hubby was back at work full-time and it suddenly seemed there weren’t enough hours in the day. Anything non-essential was cut from the routine.
Intimacy was one of the first things to go. I’m not talking about sex, but the deep and meaningful conversations that often happen thereafter, where you get a handle on how you’re both really feeling about things.
Now the dust is starting to settle, and we’re reconnecting, I can pause to ask, how did my husband feel in those early months? There were moments of joy, many of them, but there was also a sense he was shut out of the experience in some ways.
A dad’s guide to newborn life
It’s a common theme, anecdotally at least, that many dads report feeling unsure about how they can help, how they can best support their partner during this time, and how they can successfully juggle career and parenthood.
Read more about dads:
- Dads share on the double parenting standards that get them riled up
- Sobbing dad watches baby’s birth on FaceTime at airport
- Practical advice for new dads from an appreciative mum
I asked my husband if he could share the pearls of wisdom he’s gained over 12 months of parenting, and give fellow first-time dads the head’s up. Here’s what he said …
Mate, I’m here to manage your expectations right now! For better and worse, life is about to change for good. Many things that you take for granted, like having lots of spare time, making decisions based on your own needs, and consistently getting a good night’s sleep, are in fact, rare and special privileges.
The good news is, you don’t need all these things anywhere near as much as you thought, and in exchange for basically being less selfish (go on, the sooner you can let it go, the better), you’re going to gain a new addition to the family who, when he looks deep into your eyes and smiles for the first time, will fill you with an as yet un-experienced and profound sense of joy. But you know he’ll just be smiling because he passed wind, right?!
You’re also going to meet loads of great new people who are going through exactly the same experiences as you are – go and join a dad’s group ASAP!
Get involved! Be ALL in!
In every measurable way, going to work all day is roughly equal to looking after a baby all day. So on the way home from work, mentally reset, and be ready to start your day over.
Pick the low hanging fruit from day one: offer to take bub off your partner’s hands when you walk in the door. Apart from giving you a few precious moments of bonding, this will elicit immeasurable gratitude from you-know-who. Hint: She probably hasn’t had her hands free all day!
Bath time is such a joy and your baby will love it – make it yours. After bath, if you get straight in and start making dinner, while your other half feeds, pats and shushes bub to sleep, that’s a good deal. Just don’t forget to clean up. Quietly.
Try and negotiate to sleep in the spare room on particularly rough nights and get up early with bub in the mornings, it will be a game-changer.
You don’t have to do everything yourself
In many ways, doing stuff is the easy part. Put an Airpod in one ear, load bub into the cot and take a walk, while your wonderful wife gets a much-needed hour to herself – everyone wins.
But don’t get caught up just doing. Stop and think, and realise, you can only do so much yourself. Sometimes, just listening can make a world of difference; you don’t have to have the answers. In fact, sometimes it’s better not to talk.
Remember you’re not alone, and be on the lookout for opportunities to get family involved. More often than not, they will be only too happy to help in a whole myriad of small ways, if you ask.
Beyond family, don’t forget professional help. Whether it’s a counsellor, or a masseur, pick up the phone, make the appointment. Return the favour, stepping in with the baby so your other half can go and focus on herself too.
Crystal clear communication is key
Talk about yourself, how you’re feeling, out loud, every day. Don’t be so self-conscious. This simple act, even if you’re not particularly good at it, will save you so much heartache.
Just because your wife is more tired than you, doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to say you’re tired, too. Recognise that it’s not a competition; that having a new baby is challenging, with continuous uncertainty, but you’re in the same leaky boat. Together.
The more you talk to your partner, openly and honestly, the better you will get at expressing your feelings and understanding hers, and the more things will just work on a daily basis.
Not every day, but most.
If you’re talking to each other regularly, I can guarantee you won’t feel locked out of the experience.