By tomorrow I will have been a father for 15 months, and a stay-at-home dad for about 10 months. So I suppose that means I have some kind of wisdom and experience to share with some new parents, expectant parents and maybe even couples who are trying to avoid parenthood. Maybe. I’m just a guy. And like most people, I really only have experience raising my own offspring which makes for a pretty small sample size… so what do I really know? But anyway, let’s get started.
1. Every baby is different
As new parents you are going to get buried under a barrage of unsolicited advice from every imaginable direction. Friends, family, strangers, and now including, well, me. Much of this conflicting advice will be useless to you because every baby is different. As different as any two adults can be from each other, that’s how different babies are from each other, too. Babies are people. People have different personalities, preferences, body types, everything.
Yet for some reason so many people speak so authoritatively as if whatever worked for their baby would naturally work on every other baby. “Oh, your baby has trouble sleeping? Just do what I did, it works every time…” yeah no, my baby has hated sleeping since day one and nothing works. Usually these are people who only have one child. Once they have two I’ve noticed that they quickly realize just how different two babies can be.
But when you first start out you might be desperate and you listen to everything. And then you end up with a huge pile of useless gadgets and swings and bouncers and bottles and pacifiers and blankets and whatever else that worked on everyone else’s babies but definitely do not work on yours.
So take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt. Once you start to get a good feel for your baby’s personality feel free to just nod your head and say, “oh that’s interesting,” and then promptly forget about it. Your baby is not the same as their baby and you just gotta find what works for you.
2. Everything you heard about (lack of) sleep is even more true than you imagined
Sleep as much as you can, whenever you can because it’ll never be enough. “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” is the old saying that makes so much sense and yet is so hard to follow. She’s down for her nap but you just want to go do some of the old “normal” stuff you used to do. Or clean the house. Forget about it. Nap when she naps or you will die.
3. Those first several weeks are super rough on mom
Especially if they’re breast feeding. My wife is a strong and independent woman and that is one of the things that I love most about her. But baby wants milk and she wants it all the time, 24 hours a day. Mommy is reduced to being little more than an all-you-can-drink milk fountain with one very thirsty and angry customer and there’s really very little you can do with a baby attached to you like that all the time. You can’t do anything you want to do, you can’t even really do anything you need to do. Even something as basic as getting up to pee is near impossible. All you can really do is watch Netflix all day and night. It’s very dehumanizing and you don’t really hear too many people talk about this, especially dads. Maybe they are oblivious. Maybe they don’t want to discourage you from having kids, haha.
Dads, you gotta do everything you can to make mom feel loved and appreciated. You should of course already be doing this all the time. But especially during this particular time you gotta work hard just to make mom feel like a human being. And I’m not saying this because I did such a great job of this. I’m saying it because I totally didn’t.
4. Yes, your old life is over
This is probably the one thing that scares couples away from wanting to have children more than anything else. But on this point I’m really talking to the expectant and brand new parents (dads, mostly) who are still clinging to some hope that they will get to retain some bit of their old life even though their new little one is here. Forget about it, especially in the first few months. You are responsible for the survival of a completely helpless being that you brought into this world. Whether you planned for it or not, you did it, you’re responsible. So forget who you were. Your old life is gone. This is your new reality, this is your new identity.
Even if you’re lucky enough to have both parents staying at home for the first few months as we did, it’s a ridiculous amount of work. Any alone time or other time either spouse lets the other one go do something on their own needs to be looked at as a most generous gift, not as something you’re entitled to. Spend too much time away doing your own stuff and I guarantee you will just be obliviously breeding a huge amount of resentment against you. Singlehandedly taking care of a kid is a huge undertaking, you need to weigh what you’re asking for when you blow off that responsibility. Single moms and dads doing it all alone, I salute you.
5. But your new life is just beginning
And new it is. Everything is new. Literally everything your baby sees is the first time they’ve ever seen anything like it in their life. Everything they do is the first time they’ve ever done it. Everything is new and for someone like me who is always seeking out new experiences it has been exciting and even exhilarating to get to experience everything for the first time again alongside my daughter.
I hear some people say they want to have children because they heard it means you get to experience and understand love in a new and deeper way and that is what makes it worth all the work and the lack of sleep and everything else. Maybe it is for them but this has definitely not been my experience. Maybe I already knew what love is. Maybe I still don’t really know what love is. But either way, experiencing love is not what has made it all worth it, for me.
As mentioned above, everyone is different. But seeing everything new again… that’s definitely one of the things that make it all worth it for me. My eyes are new(er) and I’m not quite as much of the jaded old man I was before.
Bonus unsolicited advice:
Today just happens to be my 40th birthday. At this point a lot of my high school classmates have 15 year olds. I have a 15 month old. God willing, I’ll be 56 by the time she graduates high school. If she waits as long as her mom did, I’ll be over 70 at her wedding. Nothing wrong with that I guess but if you want kids and you have a choice about it, I’d say try to get through the no sleeping stage while you’re still young enough to have the physical stamina to handle it. Yeah maybe you are young and want to enjoy being young but you’ll enjoy getting no sleep even less when you’re old.
Or maybe it’s not about having fun. Maybe you’re waiting until you think you’re going to feel more financially stable. Financial stability is an illusion. Nobody ever truly feels secure and if they do they are just naive to the fact that no matter how well you’re doing the rug can get pulled out from under you at any time. Whatever stage you’re at, when the kids come out you just start doing whatever you can with whatever you got. That’s all you can ever really do. Money comes and goes but time only runs out. So get while the gettin’s good!
Having said all that, I’m not worried about getting old. Today I may be 40 but I’m in the best physical, mental and spiritual shape I’ve ever been in my life — I’m ready for 40 more! And I’m just so curious what Sasha’s going to be like when she’s grown. I can’t wait.