Welcome to Fatherhood! It’s new, it’s exciting, and there is going to be a lot of poop.
I’m sure you’ve read a lot about how to feel, how to support mom, and how an epidural isn’t covered by health insurance. Then all of a sudden, you are booted out of the hospital with your new bundle of joy. On the ride home, it hits you: I have no idea what I’m doing. Don’t worry, those feelings are completely normal and they never go away.
But let’s see if we can at least start you off on the right foot. I’ve been an at-home father for eleven years, and I’ve picked up some tricks along the way to help make this next three or four months a bit easier. Why three months? Because that’s usually when your new kid starts sleeping through the night.
It’s different for everyone, so my first piece of advice is to not pay too much attention to the “shoulds” that a lot of books tell you. Go with the Barbosa approach from Pirates of The Caribbean: they are really more guidelines than actual rules. Side note, your new baby will never want to parley with you.
Tips For New Fathers
- You are the cavalry. Yup, that’s you. You are the last line of defense. Throw out any thoughts of fair and unfair. Those no longer exist when it comes to your new kiddo. You do what you have to do. That’s it. The sooner you realize that the better off you will be. You are the absolute hero of this story so getting up in the middle of the night to feed the baby is just what heroes do.
- Sleep when the baby sleeps. This sounds like a no brainer until you start going to bed at 7 pm on a Friday night. Don’t worry, you’ll be up two hours later. And then another two hours after that And probably an hour later as well because baby’s love dads and want to spend as much time with you as they can.
- Take the middle of the night feeding. This is your time alone with your baby. This is your bonding time. And it’s the time when no one else is up to say “You’re doing it wrong,” or “Here, let me take him/her.” No, screw that. This is your time. And it’s beautiful and wonderful all rolled up in a puddle as you watch your recorded football game from last Sunday that you didn’t get a chance to watch. My point is that here you will not be interfered with or condescended to. It’s a rough go at first, but it’s so worth it in the long run. Breast milk or formula, whatever. You do you. Soon, you will figure out everything you need to know, and how to do it without grandma telling you to give the crying baby a shot of whiskey.
- Before going to bed, wash the bottles! Hard to wash a bottle when a newborn is screaming at you in the middle of the night.
- 2319. This is your code phrase for when you need all hands on deck. Normally, this occurs when a new baby has pooped out of its diaper, puked on you when you picked him up, and then shot a stream of pee in the air. The point is, scream 2319 (from Monster’s Inc, watch the movie again and you’ll get it) and everyone that hears it drops what they are doing. No questions asked. This is about getting the job done.
- He who diapered wrong, diapers again. Look, sometimes you are going mess up and the diaper is going to be more a wedgie. That happens. But when it does, the poop blow out is gonna be spectacular. No matter if it is your turn to get up or not, if you put the diaper on wrong, you get the mess. This works both ways. Remind your wife of that as your diaper changing skills become legendary.
- No arguing after 10 pm. People who believe that a baby will save a marriage are idiots. There, I said it. A new baby brings a whole new stress level to a marriage. Is the baby eating enough, is that poop the right color, where did I put the extra wipes. Do you have extra wipes? Throw all that on top of getting absolutely no sleep and you and your significant other are going to be on edge. So whatever the disagreement, swallow it until the next morning. You’re not thinking clearly that late at night and especially when the baby is crying. So no arguing at night. Get sleep, it’s worth more than being right about something trivial.
- Paper, Rock, Scissors for conflict resolution. When you fail at number 7, now is the time go with the age-old proven method for who’s arbitrarily right. Is it your turn to change the baby or your wife’s? Do you want pizza for dinner or delivered soup? Who’s going to go get it? Count to three and then throw your rock, because that is what you are. First, almost all the arguments you’ll have during this stage are trivial. Whose turn is it do what and when? Does it matter? So cut out all the drama and trust the game you learned when you were five.
- Clean sheets. When everyone has about had it, put on fresh sheets. They make everyone feel better.
- Does someone want to get you a baby gift? Diapers and Wipes! Look, I know mom gets most of the baby shower stuff, all the cute outfits and little swell stuffed animals. Those are fine except they don’t actually do anything. Sure, you can take them to get their newborn pictures. That’s one day. If you are lucky enough to have a baby shower of your own, I did, then tell everyone to just bring diapers and wipes. Your buddy wants to buy you something to celebrate the occasion? Sure, how about the giant pack of wipes from Costco. Your goal is to have six months’ worth of wipes before you even come home from the hospital. Nothing sucks like needing diapers or wipes and not having either. On the plus side, you’ll discover that the night clerks at the gas station are pretty cool people.
There is going to be a lot more than this post can cover, of course. New babies are as complicated as they will be when they are teenagers, except they don’t talk back as much. I would highly recommend you get the book The Baby Owners Manual by Joe and Louis Borgenich. It absolutely reads like stereo instructions, and this is one time in your life you’ll need that. This practical advice book skips all the flowery language and tells you exactly what to do. Of all the books on fatherhood that I’ve had, this is the one that I wouldn’t loan out. It was my bible. I finally gave it away to a new dad when I saw that confused look in his eye.