New Dad Survival Guide: The Mindset

by Brett on December 12, 2013 · 50 comments

in Fatherhood, Relationships & Family

New Dad Header 1

Yesterday we talked about the “skillset” needed by new dads. Things like changing a diaper and burping a baby will come pretty easily with practice. Keeping a positive mindset is harder, and much more important. Here are my suggestions for maintaining a healthy perspective and preserving your sanity after a baby bomb drops from the sky and blows up your old life.

New Dad Survival Guide: The Mindset

Realize you were made to do this. There’s a popular perception that being an involved dad is an entirely modern phenomenon — and that primitive men just deposited their seed and went on their way. But recent research on the neurological and physiological changes men experience before their baby arrives shows that male parental involvement is in fact deeply ingrained.

Three weeks before your baby is born, your testosterone levels will fall by about a third in preparation for you taking on a more nurturing role. (They’ll rise back to pre-birth levels about six weeks after your baby arrives.) At the same time, your brain will actually change too – becoming more adept at homing on a baby’s cries. As the researcher who discovered dads’ drop in T put it: “Raising human offspring is such an effort that it is cooperative by necessity, and our study shows that human fathers are biologically wired to help with the job.”

Contrary to the popular cultural stereotype of the bumbling dad who has to constantly be rescued by Mom, men can be just as competent at childcare as women.

Realize there’s no “normal” way to feel. People love the image of the man — especially one who’s typically tough and stoic – who cries upon first seeing his progeny. And guys will often talk about the overwhelming love they felt for their newborn as soon as it emerged from the womb. And if that happens to you, great. But realize there’s a whole host of different emotional reactions you might experience. I didn’t cry when either of my kids were born. I was just like, “Whoa, cool, there’s my baby!” I did feel a surge of love and pride when I first held them, but you might not even feel that. Instead your baby might seem like a weird stranger — a tiny alien that suddenly beamed down into your life. That’s okay too.

The feelings you have for your baby can be compared to a romantic marriage versus an arranged marriage. In the former, you fall in love first, and then make a commitment; in the latter, you make the commitment, and then fall in love. Both kinds can and do work just fine. So don’t worry about or think something is wrong with you if you don’t feel over the moon about your kid right off the bat – as you involve yourself in his life, your love for him will grow deeper and deeper with time.

It’s also very normal to have fluctuating feelings about your child after you take her home and as she grows up. I feel like there’s this idea out there that you’re going to love your child intensely every moment of every day. That’s decidedly not the case. You’ll always have a steady, unchanging love for them, but sometimes you’ll feel incredibly angry at them or just plain ambivalent. You’ll even have moments where you don’t really like them. Your love for your kid is like a little ember that’s always there, and sometimes explodes into a fire of overwhelming joy and pride, and sometimes smolders very faintly. All very normal.

Get hands-on right away. If you’re feeling awkward or unsure about being a dad, the best thing you can do is to ignore that feeling and spend as much time with your baby as you can. If you heed that awkward feeling and avoid the kid, it turns into a cycle where you feel more awkward so you avoid him more, making you feel more awkward, and so on. On the other hand, the more hands-on you get, the more comfortable and bonded you feel with the baby, and the more time you want to spend with him, and that becomes a virtuous cycle that keeps on increasing your confidence.

Be empathetic. A crying baby can be incredibly frustrating. One of the things that helped me stay calm was trying to put myself in my baby’s tiny, tiny shoes. I would think about the fact that these were their very first moments, days, and weeks on this planet, and that every single sight, sound, and smell was brand new. There’s plenty for a baby to be disoriented and upset by.

Even more importantly, I’d think about the fact that when something was bothering them, they had no other way to let us know except crying. Imagine if you felt sick or had an itch or had something scratching you, and you couldn’t do anything about it or ask anybody for help. It’s hard out there for a baby.

Realize they only get more and more interesting. Ernest Hemingway once said, “To be a successful father . . . there’s one absolute rule: when you have a kid, don’t look at it for the first two years.” Now I don’t endorse Papa’s tip, but it is true that while many women love babies, men generally enjoy their children more as they get older. Babies are cute, and sometimes I even have those moments where I wish I could keep them that little forever, but let’s be honest, they’re kind of boring. They’re these cute, but super stoic, unsmiling creatures who only sleep, eat, and poop.

But the good news is that they steadily get more interesting by the week. It’s amazing to watch them gain a personality and begin interacting with you bit by bit. The more they’re able to engage with you, the more enjoyable they become. (On the downside, the more they’re awake, able to control their body, and verbalize, the wider their arsenal of exasperating antics!).

Manage your expectations. Anger and unhappiness of all kinds generally have one root: a mismatch between expectations and reality. The more you think fathering is going to revolve around happily tending to a calm, smiling baby, the more frustrated you’re going to be every time she starts hollering. The more you set your mind that it’s going to be tough, the more you’ll be able to calmly roll with the punches.

This is especially important when it comes to their sleep schedule. Once they start sleeping through the night, it’s tempting to think, “Whew, this is great. Now things can get back to normal!” All goes well for a few months…then they wake up in the middle of the night because they’re teething or sick or who knows why. If you’re not prepared for this to happen, it can really bum you out. Count on it, and you’ll find it easier to deal. Don’t worry, they’ll get back on track again. (But don’t count on it!)

Embrace the challenge. I’d recommend going even further than the recommendation in the point above; rather than just accepting that it’s going to be hard, relish that fact a little. There are so few challenges in our modern life, that I really enjoyed and appreciated getting to weather this one. The more you see fatherhood as a challenge that will test your mettle and give you a chance to rise to the occasion, the easier it will be to maintain a positive mindset, and the more satisfying the experience will be.

Perspective 2

We’re you’re feeling tired and rundown, it helps to keeps things in perspective. Being a new dad is hard, but it’s not say, Iwo Jima hard.

Keep it all in perspective. While it’s good to expect the worst, also realize that in the grand scheme of things, it’s really not that hard. There will definitely be times when you’re going to feel super tired and rundown from the late nights. To keep myself from sinking into despondency at such moments, I would think something like, “Well, at least I’m not tired from trying to stay awake in a freezing cold trench at the Battle of the Bulge….Right, this isn’t so bad. I can do this.”

Embrace this season of your life. When it comes to minimizing your frustration and maximizing your happiness with fatherhood, I cannot emphasize this point enough. It’s completely normal to have moments where you miss your childless life after you have a baby. But the more you concentrate on what you can’t do during this season of your life, instead of what you can do, the more unsatisfied and restless you will feel. Sure, you can’t go out with your friends as much, and doing pretty much anything involves a lot of rigmarole, but, you get to watch a human being’s development moment by moment and play a role in shaping that development. You’re holding a living legacy in your arms. That’s pretty awesome.

Realize that your kid is not going to “make” you happy. Studies showing that having a kid decreases your happiness get passed around a lot these days, but other research has in fact shown the opposite, and the results are actually inconclusive. If you’re worried about how your new baby is going to affect your happiness, keep two things in mind.

First, happiness is overrated. I realize this is a loaded statement that requires a lot more unpacking than I have room for in this post, but suffice it to say that your moment-to-moment feeling of well-being is much less important than your overall sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. If you asked a man who was in the middle of climbing Everest – a man in the midst of an incredibly painful and strenuous challenge — whether he felt “happy,” the answer would probably be no. But despite the pain, the climb is probably bringing him a deep satisfaction, and for the rest of his life, he will experience the fulfillment of being able to say, “I climbed that mountain.” Such is parenting.

Second, happiness is a choice, not something compelled by circumstances or your children. Blogger and dad Matt Walsh recently penned a brilliant piece on this truism. The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a choice excerpt:

“My kids don’t make my happiness. That isn’t their job. My happiness isn’t a responsibility that falls on their tiny little shoulders. Kids come into this world helpless, naked, and needing, yet so many of us immediately shove them into the Happiness Factory and bark commands. “Get on the assembly line and build me some happiness! Quick! Do your duty, sir!”

The joy and happiness of parenting is like the joy and happiness that can be found in many good things: it comes from sacrifice, self-denial, and self-giving. It comes with work and effort. I have to be the sort of person who finds happiness in giving, and I will not automatically be that sort of person just because I had sex and made a couple of babies. In other words, my kids don’t make me happy to be a parent; I have to make me happy to be a parent. And I am. I am beyond words. But that happiness will decrease if I become more selfish, and it will increase if I become less selfish. If you want your kids to make you happy, you are asking your kids to make you less selfish. That is a demand that is, all at once, incredibly stupid, laughably absurd, and profoundly abusive.

And then maybe we should stop worrying so much about this happiness thing, anyway. I think the happiest people are the ones who spend the least amount of time whining about their desire to be made happy. They do a thing because it’s right, or because they have a duty to do it, or because it is interesting, or beautiful, or enlightening. They choose to find happiness amidst it all, but that was never the point. They aim beyond mere enjoyment, pleasure and satisfaction. If your own happiness is the Alpha and Omega of your life, you’ll never do anything important or become anything significant in this world. Ironically, you’ll also never be happy.”

Keep doing the things you love. While trying to replicate your childless life once you have a kid is a recipe for frustration and poor parenting, you shouldn’t entirely give up the things you once loved either. Have a couple non-negotiables that you make it a priority to keep up, at least after the craziness of the first few months subsides.

Last month when I was rock climbing I saw a couple who brought along their 2-month-old and were happy as can be. I felt like shaking their hands.

Fitness has been something I’ve taken a lot more seriously this year, and I was back going to the gym every day two weeks after Scout arrived. I was super tired from the late nights, but it’s something I love to do and hate to miss. It helped buoy my sense of well-being, and it gave me a small sense of routine when the rest of my life was a little chaotic.

Isolating yourself in your house with just your baby and your wife and a cabinet full of junk food is not going make you feel good about life or fatherhood.

Keep up your relationship with your significant other. Speaking of holding on to the things you love, don’t let your relationship with your wife/girlfriend go to pot either. Your energies will definitely turn away from each other and towards taking care of the new arrival, and you won’t have much time to just hang out and enjoy each other’s company. And because much of your willpower will be depleted in restraining yourself from throwing the baby out the window, you’ll have less of it for controlling your behavior towards each other. You may find yourselves bickering more and being more prone to losing your patience with each other.

So it’s important to empathize with your partner’s state of willpower depletion, be more tolerant of their foibles, and carve out time — however short — to re-connect each day. If you work and your wife stays home, take the baby off her hands as soon as you come in the door. Watch some TV and do some cuddling and talking when the baby sleeps at night. Remind yourselves to stop and hug. Once her doctor gives her the greenlight after six weeks to resume sex, try to fit that activity in when you can. After a couple months, find a babysitter and have a date night.

The best possible thing you can do for your kid is to have a good relationship with his mother. Don’t neglect it.

This too, shall pass. Adopt this as your motto during this time. When you’re in the trough of the newborn phase, it can feel like the tiredness and stress are going to last forever. But of course it doesn’t.

A child demolishes the old structure of your life — the one that revolved around you — and it takes some time to build a new structure in its place – one that revolves around your child. Until the new structure is complete, life can feel a little shaky.

For my money, the lowest time is around the 6-7 week mark. You’ve had a month and a half of greatly disrupted sleep, the rush of having a newborn that kept you going the first few weeks has evaporated, and while the baby requires a ton of care, she isn’t giving much in return, unless you count blank stares and dirty diapers. You really have to run on duty and commitment rather than pure affection during that time.

But then things turn a corner. With any luck, your baby will start sleeping through the night around 8 weeks. Once you start consistently getting a full night sleep, you can handle any fussiness that arises during the day. She’ll start smiling around the same time too, and the first little hints of personality will emerge.

Around 6 months, the new structure of your life will have tenuously been erected. You feel much more confident and less awkward. Being a dad starts to feel like your new normal.

A year out, you feel like a pro, and being a dad is your new normal. As more and more months go by, you, your wife, and your son or daughter find a really happy groove and routine.

But by that time of course, it’s time to have another baby, throwing everything back into chaos! But next time around, you’ll be a seasoned veteran.

Best of luck to you on this incredible journey.

 

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

1 JonMarc December 12, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Ha! Awesome. Great stuff.

2 Bryan J. December 12, 2013 at 5:42 pm

This is excellent Brett. Falls right in-line with everything that I’ve experienced and am still going through at this moment.

Thanks for a great read and motivational step in fathering my children.

Bryan J.
(Lacey, Wa)

3 Shojahon December 12, 2013 at 5:43 pm

I may be only 16 years old, but this site has taught me so much over the past year and a half. I want to thank you guys for everything and this article is no different, these tips will stay in the back of my mind for a long time. But they will be there.

4 Jusenkyo Guide December 12, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Very good points. The only one I’d add in is “Realize it’s ok to wing it”. I didn’t have a father through most of my childhood (He passed away when I was young) but it always seemed to be that my mother knew exactly what to do. Now that I’m a parent myself, I realize now just how much she was making it up as she went along… And honestly, that’s ok. It’s ok to not know the exact solution to the problem your newborn just handed you. It’s ok to not know the perfect schedule, it’s ok to make it up as you go along if you have to (Research is great but kids just love to throw monkey wrenches in everything). The trick is, as always, don’t panic and don’t let them see you sweat.

5 Alex K. December 12, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Hey Brett, nice piece. Your argument that we should preference what you call satisfaction instead of happiness is actually very close to Aristotle’s conception of the good life in the Nicomachean Ethics. His conception (and that of many ancient Greeks) of true “happiness” was that of feeling satisfied and fulfilled over time: this concept was called “eudaimonia.” What we refer to as happiness in modern times, in comparison, is more of an intense but short-lived kind of emotion. The comparison is often framed as eudaimonia being a steady candle flame and our current conception of happiness being a flare-up. Aristotle, and much of ancient Greece, thought the former was the superior way to gauge the good life. Eudaimonia is often loosely translated as “flourishing happiness.”

Just wanted to let you know that you are treading the same steps as some very cool dudes!

6 Michael December 12, 2013 at 7:17 pm

I am only 19 years old, so I’m not planning to have children before a couple of years (at least not as long as she’s in school), but I’m really enjoying this serie, it touches my deep fatherhood instincts.

What’s great about AoM is that your articles are not only great to read, but they give me interest to read and learn even more. And since you published the first one, I’ve been meditating a lot about fatherhood. Well, I’ve always had, but more intensely these days.

I never realized that some people may think having children as potentially making them less happy. It’s a thought that never crossed my mind, and when looking at what makes those people unhappy, it’s always the same list of chores “bring the child to his piano lessons, bring him to his soccer league, force him to do his homeworks and study so that he becomes the best in the class, etc”. It seems people pass so much time “for” their children, but they never allow time “with” their children.

Who cares about all these? Sure, in some ways, all of these are benefict for the child, but we must relativise. Playing piano or being a good soccer player won’t make you a good happy person. And grades stop to matter as soon as you get a diploma, it’s your personnal traits, your ambition that will get you far. Those are things you can’t bring your child to a class for.

People put so much emphasis on having a “better” child than others, on being “better” parents, it’s all a big competition. That’s not how parenting should be.

That your child goes to Yale shouldn’t be a source of pride. To educate him or her with your values, to see your child become a good, moral person, that is something you can be proud of.

My father once told me has has been a very good father to me because he has always supported me in everything I wanted to do. I replied that sure he has brought me to some hockey practices, but he was never there with me. I grew up without getting close to him, and I nowadays I don’t share any of his values.

It’s better time spent playing soccer with your child rather than watching your child play soccer in a league.

Fatherhood is first and foremost about being a mentor to your offsprings.

7 Brett McKay December 12, 2013 at 8:02 pm

@Alex-

Indeed! Eudaimonia is one of my favorite philosophical concepts and exactly what I had in mind when I was writing that section. Figured I’d keep it simple here, but I’ve been meaning to do a series on happiness and eudaimonia for a long time. I need to get on it! Thanks for the comment.

8 neal December 12, 2013 at 8:04 pm

I didn’t see my daughter’s birth. I was in the room. Just a foot or two away. When my wife made that final push, I was holding her hand, my head close to hers. When I think of it now, it reminds me of a moment we’d had together years before, before we were married. We were sideways in her car, held in place by our seat-belts, cocooned in crumpled metal, bleeding. Emergency responders scrambled about, spreading an opening here, cutting a piece of metal there. A helicopter settled nearby, its rhythmically thumping blades like a manic heartbeat.

I know that there are parents, both men and women, who find the birthing experience exhilarating. But during my wife’s labor I was as anxious as I had been so many years ago when I looked over at my girlfriend in that mangled vehicle, and saw how the car roof was caved in, pressing down on her head. She’d ask if I was okay, get confused, and thirty seconds later ask again if I was okay. Over and over. When the paramedics tried to test her responsiveness, she only answered when I leaned in close, gripped her hand, and repeated the question. Four years after that roll-over accident, and here I was squeezing her hand again, my face inches from hers, asking her to focus, telling her she was doing a good job, praying that it would all end well. Inside, I was tied in knots.

When they asked me if I wanted to cut the cord, I was done. No thanks. I just wanted to slump next to my wife, and stroke her hair, and hold her hand — gently, this time. She was okay. Our baby was okay. It was like a ray of light burning away a sky of storm clouds. It was a miracle. It was the end of a race, that moment crossing the finish line where your muscles don’t just relax, but become quivering mush. We cried. Our little girl cried. Everyone cried, breaking the dam of so many hours of frustration and pain and anxiety and determination.

It says a lot about the worth of a kid that we go through so much to get them here. I’m gonna say “we” here because even though what my wife did was much harder, what I did is still probably the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. Hardest and best. That kind of trial is like a purifying fire; it’s a scorching baptism that, should you make it through to the other side, burns away all the chaff and leaves only the things that matter. It gives you a chance to start over, to plot a direction with the incredible momentum of a birth to spur you on your way. Of course, the distractions of life come sneaking back soon enough; but that’s why I like to take a moment to look back and remember that moment I became a father. Putting words to this stuff helps me see the path I perceived then, and the path I’m on now, and try to nudge them a little closer together.

9 Joey E December 12, 2013 at 8:05 pm

I’m a blessed husband (14 years this week) & father (of 3 kids). You could not have written a better summary of the proper mindset for a new dad.

Some of these things I did as a new dad — some by chance & some I was taught. But a bunch of this I wish I knew 13 years ago.

I especially love the tip to get hands-out as quick as possible. I held 1 baby before I held my daughter, & never changed a diaper. But I was all in from the day she was born.

10 Matt December 12, 2013 at 8:13 pm

I love the truth in this writing. Modern Entertainment often tells us that being a dad is being a goof, but this writing explains so much more truth. The the fictional media all around us. Too many kids in our society grow up without fathers, but this writing definitely bucks the trend.

11 Luke W. December 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Gahhh. I feel exhausted just reading this. I suppose that’s normal. I’m not even in a relationship at the moment, but I’ve never been more glad for us separating now. Not because I don’t *want* a kid, but ultimately because it’s literally just occurred to me that I wouldn’t have wanted a kid with her after reading this. Actually thinking about the way we interacted, there is no way we could have built a healthy environment for a baby, since we had so much trouble between ourselves anyway. Here’s to finding the right person to climb the mountain with, eh?

12 Brandon F December 12, 2013 at 8:55 pm

As someone who has their first child due in February (a boy) these posts couldn’t have been more timely. Thanks for the perspective. Here’s to hoping I can live up to the challenge that awaits!

13 Quan Mcfall December 12, 2013 at 9:00 pm

I’ve had plenty of experience with babies and children, but I am a new father, and I have been following this blog for a while now; bit I just wanted to thank you for the personal experiences that you share with males or people in general.
It’s always refreshing to hear other fathers tell their own stories, and advice.

14 Alex K. December 12, 2013 at 11:55 pm

@Brett McKay

Great to hear. Aristotle has unfortunately gone by the wayside in many philosophy circles these days, but I still think he was spot-on about eudaimonia. I look forward to reading your article on the Ethics!

15 Marcos December 13, 2013 at 6:02 am

Great post and helpful tips.

16 Ethan December 13, 2013 at 6:22 am

Bret, thanks for these two posts. I already get grumpy when I don’t sleep well, so this will be something I need to work on. As mentioned yesterday my wife and I are having a baby in March. I’ll make sure she reads these articles.

17 Erik December 13, 2013 at 6:57 am

I’m more of the Hemingway-school that you mentioned. When I look around society today it is evident to me that not having proper masculine fathers around have been detrimental to both sons and daughters. Especially sons.

What I can do for my children as a man increases as they grow older. Therefore I wish to progressively become more involved as they age. Not become more mommy-like and focus much on the beginning. I will leave most of that to the mother while I instead ease her burden by taking larger responsibility for the income of the household. Classic with a modern twist perhaps.

The problems I see today are not caused by men not being female enough. Quite the opposite. Men today are a sorry excuse for what they have previously been. And so are todays women, who’ve become jaded, unhappy, arrogant in getting what they thought they wanted but actually didn’t.

Sons and daughters do not need an additional mommy. They already have one. Many problems have been caused by children growing up with only a mother. What they need is a father. A real masculine father who counterbalances the mother’s (and mommy-like dad’s, I’m looking at you) tendency for curling the children to extreme degrees.

I usually like this site and there are tons of good things here, but a few times the ideas are just a male eqvivalent of feminism and feminism is, especially from the second wave forward, a horrible horrible ideology.

18 Erik December 13, 2013 at 7:04 am

Matt:

Indeed, modern entertainment portrays dads as goofy clums that can’t do much right. Like lesser moms all in all I’d say. What they need to portray is a more authentic masculine father image.

Yin and Yang, not Yin and lesser Yin.

19 Walt December 13, 2013 at 7:48 am

You will want to help but there is precious little you can actually do for the baby as a father. The kid wants its mother and mother only for the first 6 months or so. It may get to the point that you actually feel rejected by your new family because you cant breast feed. For me, I just said to Mrs. Walt, if you need me, I will help. Holler. I didn’t know I fitted in the family anymore so I decided to back off a little. My wife was good about it and asked that I focus on taking care of her. That I could do.

The little man is now two years old and thinks I am pretty awesome. My wife is now all about adding another one to the collection, so I guess everything worked out.

20 JJ December 13, 2013 at 8:47 am

Awesome article. I agree 100% with everything that you wrote. Especially the parts about how you should feel when the baby is born. I cried like a baby when my nephew was born, but when my daughter was born (2 months ago) I didn’t shed a tear. My wife had a pretty hard time delivering and I was so worried that I didn’t take time to soak it all in. After the baby was out I highfived my wife…

21 Brandon R. December 13, 2013 at 8:49 am

Without telling an exceedingly long story, my ideas of fatherhood and becoming a parent were absolutely shattered into tiny little pieces when my little brother was born. I was 13 years old, and all I recall from that time was misery, pain, and frustration. Until he himself was about 13, I had little interest in him: he was an annoying, needy, fussy little brat. As he entered his teen years, he mellowed out and became easier to get along with; it also helped that he started developing interests that I shared with him. However, his childhood years–a whole bunch of reasons to never had kids of my own.

It didn’t help that my family expected me to be the perfect male role model for him, when I was still learning and growing myself. That was a serious cause of frustration.

As a recently married man, of course kids are something I’m considering. I love my wife and know that she would be a great mother, and we agree on a lot of child-rearing philosophies. Still, however, I’m not sure if I’m willing to risk reliving the horror that was my teenage years.

The past couple of articles haven’t helped me make up my mind, but they have driven home two points that my wife has presented to me:

1) Having a child isn’t impossible, and the hardest part of the ordeal is actually a relatively short time commitment, and

2) If we have a kid, we’ll be in charge, so there’s no way we have to create the same kind of environment that my family did.

Also, as an addition, I’m growing sick of the portrayal of the man as a bumbling fool–especially when it comes to fatherhood. Pop culture is a large part of the reason why men don’t want to have children, self-included: we’re convinced we’ll fail spectacularly.

22 Jack December 13, 2013 at 9:08 am

Wow. These two articles could not have come at a crazier time! I’m getting married in March. Although that’s not exactly having kids in March, we both want kids. The articles help give some perspective, and reinforce the ideas that I have about having a kid. It’s not about me, it never was. The commitment to bettering myself as a person is my motivation for doing everything I can for wife and baby.

23 Jonathan December 13, 2013 at 10:07 am

Brett – great article. I would, however, like to emphasize one part: “With any luck, your baby will start sleeping through the night around 8 weeks.”

LUCK – damn straight! Our little girl is 18 months old and has only recently started sleeping through the night. Born 6 weeks premature @ 4lbs, with 2 weeks in NICU – she’s been a handful from the start. Of course we’ve tried it all, and of course there are many that have made us feel that we’ve surely been doing something wrong. Preposterous! I’m just now getting to catch up on sleep and enjoy my first few nights of full sleep in a couple of years. Hopefully we’ll be doubly as lucky as others the next go-round.

24 Logan December 13, 2013 at 10:10 am

Really enjoyed this post. My wife and I are about 3 months out form having a Scout of our own. She will be Penelope Scout. I couldn’t be more excited, but this was a much needed post with this being our first. Thanks for all of the insight into what is to come.

25 Chad December 13, 2013 at 10:11 am

I have truly enjoyed reading these. I have a 21 month old and we are expecting another next July. I feel like a seasoned veteran for sure. And like you, this second one, so far, has felt like, “Okay, cool.” Not quite as much excitement as the first, because I guess I know what to expect now. Can’t wait to meet the little one, regardless, it’s going to be just as awesome as our first!

On another note, I agree with these points and I would like to point out that, in my experience, the single most important point made has to be structure. My two older sisters had children way before I did and they both led very different lives. One was a college graduate that teaches elementary school, the other got “knocked up” at 16 and graduated high school a year early. The child of the teacher has always been extremely calm, well mannered, and well behaved, whereas the children from my other sister have always been, shall we say… a bit more wild.

I asked my older sister (the teacher) what her secret was, and she said, “Honestly, structure.” And I agree 100%. As soon as my baby was here we began implementing structured routines for feeding, changing diapers, and sleep, and I was amazed at how well behaved she was. We came into thinking it was going to be crazyness, and it took very little adjusting because she was so well behaved. We get compliments all the time, from family and strangers alike, at her behavior, and it can all be traced back to structuring everything.

With structure, you have to know that sometimes things don’t always go as planned, but that’s when you just roll with the punches and things will settle back into routine eventually.

Structure is the most important also, because if your child can have routines, they don’t really get the chance to have a “need” because it’s met before they “need” it (i.e. food, diaper, sleep) then you will have a very peaceful child, and that in turn will make everything else fall into place. You will be able to spend time with your wife/girlfriend, you will be able to do the things you love, and you will definitely be able to remain “happy” because you feel like you have the best behaved baby in the world.

Again, this is just from my observation and experience, but it has definitely worked for me.

26 Rory.Average December 13, 2013 at 11:10 am

Mr. McKay,

As a brand new father, (3 weeks old today), I am very happy to have read this series.

I assisted in the delivery, was me and the midwife only, was the first to hold him, first to change his diaper, and first to cry. I was never overwhelmed with emotion, like everyone made it out be, but I have relished the challenges he has brought to us. And apparently I have some strange gene that makes me impervious to crying.

Thank you for your inspiring, motivating, and thought provoking site. It has put me on the path to being a better human, and for this I sincerely thank you.

27 Kevin December 13, 2013 at 11:20 am

Thank you! This makes me feel so much more prepared to be a dad.

28 Mitch December 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Thanks for this post! My wife is due in 4 weeks and I needed a little guidance.

29 Jim December 13, 2013 at 2:00 pm

My wife and I have four children together. My oldest is 13 and the youngest is just two weeks old. Through four children and the body fluctuations, my wife has never been more attractive. At every stage of the pregnancy, I would look at her and see the same woman I married 15 years ago. Do not forget that the mother of your children is still your wife. Take time everyday to remind her how attractive she is.

30 Pura Vida Nick December 13, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Great articles, Brett. I especially like the “Embrace the challenge” advice. Simply changing our mindset from feeling irritated to seeing it as a challenge to overcome, can drastically change things. I look at many of my relationships this way!

31 Asriel December 13, 2013 at 2:35 pm

All of these “new dad” posts are coming at a perfect time, as my wife and I are having our first baby in May! Were having a little girl and i want to ensure i am the model Man and Father for my child!

32 mattoomba December 13, 2013 at 3:47 pm

My new father years are more than a decade behind me, but the challenges continue even with older kids. Good article.

I particularly enjoyed the section on fulfillment vs happiness (and the comments regarding eudaimonia, Alex).

33 Chickasha Hoolba December 13, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Great post (as usual for this site)!

I would add, keep a sense of humor. Easier said than done with sleep deprivation, a messy house, and piles of nasty diapers. The ability to still laugh is critical.

Take lots and lots of pictures. When you’re in the middle of things it feels like life has slowed to a near stop in a decidedly not-so-fun rut, but babies grow FAST. Not only will the pictures be great keepsakes, but when your kids get old enough to start exploring and getting into/creating fantastic messes, you will be provided with endless blackmail material for when they start dating…

34 Jarred December 13, 2013 at 3:53 pm

I’m far from being a father but these articles are great. I think the headings for these suggestions could be applied to a wide variety of situations with a couple tweaks/

35 Blayne B December 13, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Great post. I have 2 week old twin boys and everything you wrote about is spot on. Thanks for this post… A lot of good things to keep in mind.

36 Scott S. December 13, 2013 at 5:14 pm

“Happiness is a choice”

So glad you said that. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who thinks this is true. The others think that it is the rest of the world’s responsibility to make them feel happy when they are the ones who decided otherwise. I don’t see how anyone can say “its going to be a bad day” when they have only been awake for an hour without admitting to themselves that the day is going to be bad because they wanted it that way. I choose to be happy because I don’t like the alternative. I’m not even sure if I know what unhappy is. Good to know that there is at least one other person out there that can relate to my odd way of thinking.

37 Jeffrey Kaplan December 14, 2013 at 10:27 am

So glad you wrote this article, and so timely in my personal life as well. I am a father of a beautiful almost-3 year old daughter, and we have one on the way due in January. I echo so many of the sentiments expressed here, including the importance of being a Dad who is all-in. Parenting is not a spectator sport. And as difficult and frustrating as it can be at times – and oh, it can be- I’m gratified to know that in all likelihood, the kind of man and father I am now will likely be the kind of man (or woman) my daughter choses to marry one day, and hopefully have kids of her own. Those values are lifelong and transgenerational, and if that is the one and only legacy I leave in my life, I will be completely satisfied with that.

I do wish though that you would have expanded on this article. You summed it up with the idea that having the 2nd child is a piece of cake after having been through it once before. Am I naive, or is my pending stress of awaiting our next child and addition to the family just balking at that statement being true? I certainly do not believe having another child changes the dynamics as much as the first did – going from a family of 2 to 3 is virtually unparalleled in how much it changes things. But I have to think that caring for 1 kid is paltry to caring for 2, and that it does not become twice the work, but rather exponentially more challenging. And, of course, rewarding.

38 Eric December 14, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Thanks so much for your post. I’ve been reading your blog for a while, but this post really hits home. My daughter was born this past Monday. Hearing how other men think and feel about fatherhood is incredibly reassuring. Thanks!

39 JohnnyB December 15, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Ill be a father soon… great articles, its great reading from a mans point of view

40 Simon December 15, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Hi AOM – reader from Australia here – just wanted to say thanks for this series – as an expectant father (13 weeks to go) these articles make for excellent reading and perfect timing… Thanks again.

41 Jon December 16, 2013 at 4:56 pm

A new father friend noted that his wife’s experience during the first 8 weeks seemed very similar to being incarcerated at GITMO.

1. You can’t leave the compound (house).
2. Everything smells like a toilet.
3. You have no say in what or when you eat, and it all tastes like crap.
4. You can’t drink alcohol.
5. You will be allowed to sleep but no more than 4 hours at a time.
6. Your captors cheerfully point out everything that is wrong with what you are doing and put you in solitary if you tell them to shut up.
7. You will be woken up at odd intervals of anywhere between 15 mins and 4 hours. You never know how long any period of rest will be.
8. When they wake you, you will be yelled and screamed at and no matter how much you might want to, there does not seem to be anything you can do or say to make it stop.
9. Once the screaming has stopped and you try and take a shower, the screaming and yelling will start again so you give up and always smell like crap.
10. Eventually the only way you can make the screaming and yelling stop is to voluntarily (after being bullied by the nipple nazis) attach nipple clamps to yourself and allow them to be twisted until your nipples crack and bleed.
11. There is no hope of escape.

42 Nicholas F December 19, 2013 at 7:14 am

Great set of posts. As father of two girls under 3, I’d have to say this is right on.
The only thing we do differently is me not taking the kids as soon as I get home from work. Normally I like having time to change and freshen up before taking the kids for the evening. Helps create a separation between work and home life.
But fatherhood is a joy. As someone once told me, you can either think of having another child from the perspective of more diapers to changers, or another smiling face at the table for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s your choice on the attitude you want to have toward fatherhood.
Working in the courts every day, I can say that a present, involved father who does his best to be in the life of his children is such a gift, and that many of those who frequent the justice system did not have this gift from their dad.

43 Nicholas F December 19, 2013 at 7:23 am

@Walt, I hear where you’re coming from. I read somewhere before the birth of my first, when the baby is born, take care of the mother so that she can take care of the baby.
That means getting her a cup of water when breastfeeding, being attentive to her needs, walking and holding the baby when possible to give her a little break.
But yes, nature is set up to have a strong mother-baby bond at the start, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get involved. Anyone can change a diaper, dad or mom ;)

44 Nicholas F December 19, 2013 at 7:27 am

If someone wants a good read that touches all aspects of early parenting in a balanced, easy-to-understand way, I highly recommend “The Baby Whisperer.” This was our “bible” pre and post-baby, and are so happy it was recommended to us by a young dad friend of mine.

45 Shannon -jj Behrens December 20, 2013 at 10:15 pm

I have 7 kids. This post is well written and mostly spot on. Nice job ;)

46 Althing January 8, 2014 at 2:47 pm

Being a good father is the manliest thing any guy could ever do. We just welcomed our 2nd boy into the world just after Christmas and it’s been just as wonderful and mellow as the first one. My 4 year old loves rare freshly shot duck meat, won’t even flinch as you pluck out a palm full of splinters and can deliver a right hook that actually kinda hurts. Maybe they’ll both follow in my footsteps and carry on my profession as a bearded professional grizzly bear wrestler and weekend enthusiast water buffalo taunter.

47 Jorge January 15, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Great article. We are expecting a baby boy in March 2014. This article has given me peace of mind, awareness and great expectations of what it can be… Thank you for sharing.

48 james January 29, 2014 at 11:57 pm

Thanks man. Best page I have read so far and this just helped me feel a little more relaxed and have a slight idea whats gonna happen . Today is my daughters due date and I have been excited scared nervous and everything in between. But I will come back and read again if things start getting to crazy.

49 Frustrated February 4, 2014 at 1:17 am

I read this article right when it came our, grateful for the info as my daughter was due a month later. Now that she has been here for three weeks, I have to say that I really wish this article would address colic.

At this point in my life, you could never convince me that there is anything in the world more frustrating than colic. The baby cries and cries, and there is nothing you can do to relieve it. I used to read articles that would constantly warn about shaking babies and wonder why it would need to be said. Now I understand just how thin your patience can wear as a new father with a colicky baby.

Add to this the fact that my wife is having a terrible time breastfeeding – complications are arising from cracked nipples, poor latching, and the baby swallowing so much air that she spits up five to seven times after each feeding over a duration of about an hour and a half.

I think our tendency as men to seek out solutions can create some mental and emotional danger in early fatherhood. I am educated enough to understand that there are some things that cannot be controlled and that you simply have to wait them out. My experience as an exhausted father has taught me that knowledge of that fact does not always make coping easier. I would love some advice on how to mentally overcome these challenges. If I turn my attention outward to my wife, I feel terrible because I can’t manage the things that truly cause her distress. I am not in the healthiest mental state for calmly approaching these challenges and nothing I read or hear seems to really help.

The big question is this: How do you actually develop enough patience to be mentally healthy enough to support your wife and child?

50 Garrett February 25, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Thank you for this brilliant post. I have been a father now for over two years and a father of two for almost six months. It is good to see that more or less everything I have felt as a father thus far is a similar experience to most men out there. It has been a truly fantastic experience so far and I feel incredibly blessed to have had two healthy boys. It is an honor and a privilege to be a dad and I relish every little change in my sons whether it is my oldest sleeping in a “big boy bed” or my youngest having his first bites of baby food. I just recently found this website and I am really enjoying reading the articles. Keep up the good work and thank you!

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