I’ve been a dad for 8 years now, and as of this writing, I have two girls — 2 and 8.
In that time, I have learned a lot. And it seems that, somehow, I have more and more to learn each and every day. New mistakes to make! New ways to screw up!
As a first time dad, I knew next to nothing. The amount of responsibility in front of me was totally overwhelming.
It would be impossible for me to write an entire manual of everything you need to know as a first time dad.
But here are just a few simple first time father tips I picked up that I wish I knew from the very beginning.
Let’s get right into my list!
1. Get your hands dirty
Tackle those late-night feedings and early wake-ups and blow-out diapers head on. Don’t shy away or try to pawn them off on your partner.
First, it’s a major part of your duty as a father. But second – this is the good stuff! Yeah it sucks, but it’s a rite of passage for every parent. You don’t get to enjoy all the perks of being a dad without putting in the work first, and even if you did, trust me, it would feel hollow.
Grinding through those early baby days makes you a stronger and better person. Don’t skip out on it.
2. Prioritize your relationship
Kids are hard on a relationship or marriage. The first year with a new baby, in particular, is brutal.
Satisfaction in a marriage almost universally goes down after a baby is introduced into the family, all the data says so.
But there are ways to mitigate the stress, you just have to make it a priority. Think of your wife or partner and yourself as being on the same team. Oppositional thinking and “keeping score” (who has changed more diapers, etc.) is a fast-track to conflict and arguments.
Work together and make time for each other, even when you don’t feel like it. It will pay huge dividends down the road.
3. Take care of yourself, too
You’ve heard the whole “put on your own oxygen mask first,” thing, right?
It’s a cliche now, but it’s actually true!
Taking care of babies and young kids will pretty much completely suck you dry, so it’s critical that you find ways to refill your cup, so to speak.
Exercise is a good one, it energizes your body and mind. Sticking with hobbies that you love, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day. Getting some extra sleep, maybe trading off with your partner so each of you can have a sleep-in day here or there. These little things really add up and they give you the energy to get back in the fight when things are tough.
4. Don’t leave pregnancy and birth up to mom
A lot of first time dads get the idea that their work doesn’t really begin until baby arrives.
For starters, any good dad worth his salt will be heavily involved in designing and building the nursery.
But even beyond that, you should know what’s happening with mom and the baby in the many months leading up to the birth. Do you know what’s going on during each trimester? Do you know what happens in the delivery room? Have you talked about breastfeeding or formula?
A lot of moms end up feeling very alone in this process. Don’t let that happen in your household. Read the books, ask her about what she’s going through. It’ll be good practice for your nurturing side when baby does arrive.
5. Don’t be an alarmist
Making new parents scared of everything is big business.
Yes, there are a lot of legitimate risks for first time fathers to worry about. SIDS is real and very scary, for example.
But, at least in my opinion, you don’t need one of those expensive nighttime SIDS monitors. They’ll drive you completely nuts.
You don’t need to be overly paranoid about sterilizing every surface. Handwashing bottles is fine!
You don’t need to panic over every cough or sneeze or cry.
It’s normal to worry as a first time dad, but eventually, you’ll learn to relax. Babies are a lot more durable than you think. You’ll get there in time, just try to remind yourself that things are going to be OK. You’ll sleep better at night.
6. Take lots of pictures and videos
One of the greatest joys you’ll get as a parent is reliving the baby and toddler days down the road.
Me and my kids LOVE watching old videos, we have a few favorites we watch over and over. Especially when your kids are just learning to walk or talk, you’re going to want to capture those moments to relive again!
It’s hard to remember when you’re in the moment and it feels like nothing is happening, but in a few years you’ll absolutely treasure a long video of the baby, even if it seems uneventful.
(Some of my favorite videos to watch are from when I was a kid when someone was filming for no reason at all, and the video went on forever. It’s an amazing view into a slice of life, the way things used to be.)
Try to remind yourself to take lots of pictures and videos, especially if you’ve got a free hand while your partner is taking care of the little one.
7. Let Some Things Go
Once baby arrives (and in particular, when baby starts crawling, and then walking) your house or apartment will be a wreck.
It’ll get harder and harder to keep up with the dishes. Toys and baby seats will make everything feel cramped. Clutter will become the norm.
This is OKAY and NORMAL!
Remember the whole thing about taking care of yourself? Using every free second to clean and tidy the house is going to make you miserable.
In the same vein, you may have to put certain friendships and relationships in your life on the back burner. Some people or activities you used to do may go into maintenance mode. You might pick them back up later on. Or not.
Letting go of things that aren’t completely necessary is a huge part of how you survive the early baby years.
8. Count to 10
I asked some readers on Facebook for their best first time dad tips, and this one was one of my favorites, from Louis.
“Count to 10.”
Simple, effective, easy to remember.
This is basically the key to staying calm under pressure and chaos. The longer I’ve been a dad to my two girls, the more my patience has eroded and the more prone I am to get frustrated.
Taking a breath and counting for a few beats before you react is one of the most effective ways to keep from losing your temper. You can even walk away for a minute if you need to!
We all get angry, frustrated, and more. It’s the way we handle those emotions that makes or breaks us as parents.
By no means does that cover everything.
The full manual for a first time father would be thousands of pages long!
But these are some of the lessons that have resonated with me the most. I sure hope a few of them are helpful.
And while you’re here, don’t miss some of my favorite pieces like:
- How to be a better dad according to science
- The worst parenting advice that you should definitely ignore
- The best books about dads for fathers and dads-to-be
Hope this helps!