Over the past few months, a few friends became papas! Speaking to these new dads spurred me to put together this simple letter. I know parenting can be confusing, but you're not alone, fathers. Here's a little something I hope will help take you through your new role. All the best!
You’re probably reading this because you’re about to welcome a new baby, or, maybe you’re already holding your little bundle of joy.
I’m sure it’s been a whirlwind of emotions for your family. After all, your wife will be experiencing/has just experienced one of the most sensational moments in her life; possibly one with an indescribable level of pain too.
For you, watching her as she pushed/get cut up in the labour room, gritting her teeth and putting those notes from antenatal classes into a real life situation - definitely life-changing for you.
So, how do you go from husband to father in an instant?
It takes two to tango
Getting pregnant was just the first step. The real fun begins with a baby. And no, they don’t come with an instruction manual.
From diaper changes to burping your newborn, these will be part of your new life as a father. They are easily learned, and practically functional. No sweat.
But when faced with a wailing baby in the middle of the night who doesn’t seem to want anything, despite trying everything, one of you might lose your cool.
It’s hard for you, harder for baby’s mother, but even harder for your baby. It’s a one-way conversation track, and new parents pretty much navigate through trial and error especially in the early days.
How can daddy help? Stay calm and cool, because mum (and her hormones) might already be closed to tears. That’s where daddy gets to step in macho and all (even if you aren’t feeling the slightest bit), but yes, taking turns to manage baby is important.
Enjoy the tender moments of a coo-ing newborn together, and embrace the tough points like a bleeding nipple. Hold her hand and dance even if it means four left feet, new papa!
Those three words
During your wife’s maternity leave, your career goes on for you as she takes time away from hers. It may seem like she’s spared from work pressure, office politics and insane deadlines, but really, that does not necessarily mean she’s having it easier.
After all, how difficult can it be to stay home with baby all day doing nothing much? Fathers, let me tell you... don’t ever say those three words to the new mum in your home.
She might have had a hard time getting a fussing baby to nap, or had to deal with a poopnami which stained the sheets and clothes (can you help with the laundry?), or had a super late lunch because the elder child beautified the walls and floors with a crayon-fied masterpieces... the least you could do is not undermine what she does with a new baby.
What you had, she didn’t have. What she had, neither did you. Undisturbed toilet visit (or maybe crazy post-natal constipation), enjoy a coffee break with an adult (feeling disappointed that she can’t pump a feed of breastmilk), or have proper adult conversations (talking to baby doesn’t count, or, help in the house is giving her more headaches than relief...). She’s learning to transit into her new role with a baby, and... things may not go as planned from the start.
It’s all normal. Just remember dads, your words and action will bring comfort to her, and saying the right things make all the difference.
Wife first, baby later
Allow me to share what my father told
us my husband: Always love your wife more than your children.
I know my dad isn’t being biased, and it’s as valid as it gets. It’s like how he will always love my mother more than my sister and I - and he should!
With the added responsibilities of a new parent along with our multiple roles, we may end up taking certain people and things for granted. Well, a smiling baby is probably much cuter than an adult face you’ve seen for a long time, right? Ha! I hope you didn’t just agree with that.
Your wife is the reason for your children, and I’ve mentioned this before, and will say it again: When you return home, always ask your wife how her day was, and kiss your wife before kissing your kids. Do this when you’re leaving the house too.
The new mum may rant or show you her ‘black face’ - asking shows you care, and that’s important as a trusted support in this relationship. The last thing she needs is to feel sidelined or less important because someone else is that shiny fresh apple of your eye.
Be the support she can rely on
If both of you are first time parents, chances are your wife is almost as green as you are. She might have bulldozed through a library of parenting guides and earned a Masters in Dr. Google’s Baby 101, but a real baby is a different story, really. Or, she might be on the other end of the spectrum too.
There may be situations she wants to be in control when it comes to baby, as her brain shuffles through all the notes and parenting tips that she’s been feeding on. Or, she might be as clueless as you are, and freeze not knowing what else to try next. Her decisions need your support, like a nod of approval and assurance. Sometimes, that’s all she needs.
Dads, it’s important for you to be her other hand, someone who can help her when she’s unsure, someone who can help her with the day-to-day’s of parenting. If she seems like she knows what to do, be her hand that helps her execute the next step. If she’s lost, be the objective leader to make rational decisions and work it together. Learning to adapt and adjust helps, and your wife would appreciate it too.
If you’re feeling unsure about how to care for baby, or what to do, ask your wife if she has any preference. If you don’t know what ‘GERD’ means, look it up. If your wife needs help deciding which baby product to get, help ask other parents or search for reviews and recommendations.
While you may not be able to breastfeed, dads can help with washing the bottles, or offer her a hot drink. Or, take the baby out for a morning stroll so she can have a short spell of alone time to get over her rough night. Be there to help, and your wife can definitely tell.
Be in the frenzy with her, so your wife doesn’t feel that she’s on this journey alone. Every little action counts, fathers. Don’t belittle the important role you play. Teamwork makes stronger parents too!
It takes time
Expectations of a well-run routine need not be a dream.
While the initial months may take some lifestyle adjustments, prioritisation and changes, having a baby need not mean everything else stops moving.
There will also be times where your wife doesn’t feel maternal, or look like she’s morphed into a different person. Birthing may be natural, but love at first sight with one’s own baby may seem more like a fairytale for some of us. Time and interaction are currencies that may help, fathers, so give her some time.
While some parents flaunt their seasoned clockwork-like routine, remember that every family is different. More importantly, every baby is different too. Do what works for your family which keeps everyone happy. Expectations, comparisons and everything else lends undue stress - there will be loads of those to come as you journey as parents, so keep it minimal.
New papas, take time and take heart to welcome your new role and little one. For he or she is only a baby for that long.
Those three words just for your wife
Humans can really be complicated, but a husband-and-wife relationship? Nah, it should not be.
Ever thine, ever mine, ever ours. Two individuals celebrated a voluntary union to be together in holy matrimony. Let’s nurture this special relationship the way it should be, and what better way than to do it with love. And yes, your wife wants to hear it from you.
Do you remember the very first time your lady said those three important words to you? It’s “I love you” just in case you didn’t get that - men don’t take hints very well, haha! Because these words are so easily said, yet they weigh so much, say it when you mean it, because your wives will feel it :)
Enjoy the new chapter in your relationships, fathers! May the bliss and joy of parenting nourish your marriage in ways that will keep your family happy!
Just another mum
Fathers, what are some of the best parenting tips you’ve received? Feel free to share them below!
A version of this post originally appeared on The HOOting Post.