Good advice for a new dad.
June 27, 2006 8:18 PM   Subscribe

If you could tell a soon-to-be dad anything, what would you say?

My wife and I are expecting our first child (a girl) this October. Mood wise, I'm veering between excitement and abject horror. There doesn't seem to be a lot of literature out there aimed at new fathers that isn't "religious" in worldview. I've been enjoying Armin Brott's The New Father but I'm interested in what other dads (new or otherwise) have to say about this amazing life change. Any advice, practical or resource-orientated, would be greatly appreciated.
posted by joseph_elmhurst to Human Relations (61 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
Hey dad! You never used to worry about things that might happen to the world after you were dead. Now the event horizon of your worries has effectively doubled. Sleep well.
posted by Crotalus at 8:25 PM on June 27, 2006

Don't freak out.

When my wife was expecting, I was freaking out. I thought, hey, this is going to change everything - life is hereby OVER! But, I was in grad school and I asked one of my professors (Hank Wessel) what becoming a "Dad" involved for him (his son was about 14 at the time). My expectation was that he would say:
"Oh my God, everything was lost, my life ended that day."
Instead he said:
"Oh my God [or something like that] everything changed that day."
"How?" I asked.
"I finally got my shit together."
What he meant (and explained) was, he realized that life is finite and he had better make something of it. He became more efficient, a better photographer, and a better man - thus a good father.

If you are like me, you THINK you are a wild and crazy guy who spends all his time picking up chicks in seedy bars. In fact, you lead a good life producing experience you can pass on to your child. You'll do good.
posted by johngumbo at 8:30 PM on June 27, 2006 [2 favorites]

If you live in a cold climate baby wipe warmers are not something to laugh at. (And you'll get one anyway from a relative- so use it.)
posted by jeremias at 8:31 PM on June 27, 2006

You could always read The Poo Bomb. (formerly for free here). Pretty much guaranteed to be the least-religous dad book out there.
posted by brain cloud at 8:34 PM on June 27, 2006

For you: Change a lot of diapers in the first few months. It's like money in the bank.

For the kid: Spend as much time as you can with him or her. This can be simple such as getting them dressed in the morning or more involved such as coaching their team, playing games etc. Anything you can do which is ritual is an added bonus. Eighteen years with them may seem like a long time now, but it will fly by so fast. Enjoy the ride.
posted by caddis at 8:35 PM on June 27, 2006

No one in public places finds your baby's piercing screams to be funny or interesting or acceptable. If you take the baby to a movie/restaurant/store, be prepared to leave when the kid starts crying/fussing/screeching.
posted by legotech at 8:37 PM on June 27, 2006

(from a father of two kids under six years old)

Remember that nobody has ever been truly prepared to be a parent before his or her first child was born. You'll have many moments where you'll think you're a terrible parent, that you're in over your head. When you have those moments, just take a deep breath (unless you're changing a poopy diaper, of course) and remember that every other parent has had those thoughts. Also remember that it's probably the people who never think they're doing anything wrong who are the worst parents.

When your child is born, you will fall in love faster than you ever have in your life. You will have many moments, in the middle of the night, when you can't figure out why the baby is crying, when you will remind yourself how much you love him/her. You will have to remind yourself that babies start out as demanding creatures that can't even tell you what they want and can barely interact with you at all, but grow into demanding creatures who will repeatedly tell you what they want and interact with you to the point where you start to go a little crazy.

I joke. There are definite downsides to parenthood, but, in my experience at least, they're far outweighed by the upsides. I never realized how much I could love anyone until I saw my kids smile and heard them laugh. It seems really sappy to say it makes all the disgusting and exhausting and inconvenient things worthwhile. But it really does.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:38 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Make sure the car seat fits in the backseat of your car before you go to bring the kid home.

Also eat out and go to the movies as much as possible while it's still possible to leave the house without having to bring half your belongings with you.
posted by fshgrl at 8:39 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

You will discover even more about who you are as your daughter discovers more about who she is.

Life is a journey of discovery. You've got a new companion... you're just a little bit further along than she is. You'll guide her and she'll open your eyes to new perspectives. Enjoy.

And congratulations!
posted by trip and a half at 8:41 PM on June 27, 2006

Parenting is the last bastion of the complete amateur. No one can be a professional on this journey. And a short/long journey it will be.

To a child, from birth on, there is no such thing as quality time, there is only time. The more time you spend with them young the less time you worry over them old.

T Barry Brazelton is my author of choice - can't say i remember much religion in there but there sure was a lot of good advice all tied to a sense of careing and sharing.

There's more but that's what growing up is for.
posted by ptm at 8:50 PM on June 27, 2006

As far as practical advice goes:

1. Buy gas drops. Some people like Mylicon (or generic clone), and some people like "gripe water." But buy some, because some burps need serious help to come out. It saved my wife's and my sanity more than once.

2. If the baby won't sleep in the bassinet or crib, try his/her car seat (in the house, of course). Some babies really like the feeling of having something holding them close, and sleep better that way. Tight swaddling works sometimes, but the car seat can work wonders. It's perfectly normal, and perfectly safe.

3. Start reading to your child as early as you can. Don't expect them to follow along when they're infants, of course, but get them used to sitting with you, looking at books, looking at pictures, and the rhythm of your voice as you read. Trust me, it will pay off big time when they're older.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:52 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

Nappies/Diapers is nothing. Could do that 24/7.

What hits you really is the lack of sleep, (or interrupted sleep). Sleep when you can, even if it is short time. If you are exhausted, the time with your child is not as good as it should be.

It doesn't end with the birth, it begins with the birth. Get this drilled into your mind now.

Try not to compare your child to others, you will of course.

The rest, make it up as you go along :)
posted by lundman at 8:59 PM on June 27, 2006

Our pediatrician gave us some great advice. He said, "Remember, this is the baby's first time too. He does not know if you did it perfectly correctly or not. You will make mistakes. Get over it."

You will screw up somewhere somehow. Get over it. The scariest part for my wife and me was when we got the little Gunn home and realized this girl did not come with operating instructions. Trust your instincts. I heard an old (Irish?) saying, "A man is not a man until he has a daughter." My girl has made me rethink my entire world. I grew up with 2 brothers. She helped my relationship with my wife. I was starting to actually get girls. Now that she is 12, I no longer follow the same thought process, but we get along great.

I was more scared with my second kid (14 months later) who was a boy. I was so worried he would end up like me, I was scared of him. Turns out he is just like me and I love it. He gets me and I get him.

The third one (12 months after the second) was the scariest. How ere we going to give him enough time when we had two other diaper wearing ying lings to keep track of. He showed us. He raises himself. Certainly doesn't listen to me.

Before you know it, they will be grown and gone. It is all good. Don't worry.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:04 PM on June 27, 2006

Speaking as proud father of a 2-year old boy, I remember how sick we were of people shaking their head and giving us apocalyptic sentiments about how hard things would soon be. It actually pissed us off after awhile. BUT I do think it is definitely helpful to maximize your sleep as "labor day" approaches... having some reserves will help you get through that tough first week.

Other thoughts that I can absolutely vouch for:

- Sleep in shifts with your wife, if your schedules allow it. Probably not feasible, I know. For the first few months I slept mornings and my wife slept nights, so we kept each other's sleep levels way up. It wasn't necessary after the fourth or fifth month as the baby's nighttime needs dwindled.

- Figure out the car seat BEFORE the baby joins you. If you've never messed with a car seat, you'll probably find the lock/latch setups completely non-intuitive and the manuals of no help. I tried to get help on a couple of points from Austin Safe Kids, but those people were profoundly useless and did not return any of my E-mails or calls. I eventually figured it out on my own after spending a couple of hours in the garage.

- Agree on the wipe warmers... I felt that was a courtesy to the baby, and also made changing time a nonstressful time.

- Have the baby/toddler spend as much time with you as possible... daycare and sitters should be a help rather than a convenience.

- Dead serious about making sure the baby eats healthy.. try to minimize processed foods and all refined sugar. My wife and I have been kind of amazed to see that our son doesn't care much for more than a few bites of the occasional cake or ice cream. He usually asks for peanut butter or a fruit bar if he gets the munchies. We're convinced nonexposure to refined sugar keeps the sweet tooth in check. Yeah, that means you'll have to learn to diplomatically swat off people trying to hand them candy, and teach gramps/uncle bob what is acceptable to give them.

- CONSISTENT BEDTIME. We had some serious problems with the baby not sleeping at night, and my wife was going nuts. It was totally solved when we moved his bedtime from 10:30 pm back to 8 pm, and had a very, very consistent and predictable routine. I can't emphasize this enough.

As that female comedian once said, "It's hard, but it's worth it." Totally... it took many months for it to be rewarding, but it got better, and better, and better. By age 2 it's like having your best friend in the house.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:06 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you're like me, you'll find that being a parent is not as wonderful and enriching an experience as other people might have you believe. It is a dirty, smelly, thankless job, in addition to the to you already have. It is frustrating and maddening and will drive you crazy.

But it's OK because chances are it'll all be fine. Just one of those big, honest, loving grins, coupled with a breathless "Daddy!" is like the purest distillate of all good things.
posted by lekvar at 9:08 PM on June 27, 2006

For you: Change a lot of diapers in the first few months. It's like money in the bank. Caddis

I so agree. And get up at night. And carry him/her around after work whenever you can. Your bonding in the first months won't be over Hallmark moments. It'll just as likely be drudgery that will one day translate to something sublime. And your competency and confidence will help your wife immeasurably. And never, ever, ever be the type of Dad that assumes your job is to go to work. No one rests until it's all over.
posted by docpops at 9:18 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

one word.


If he's the type of person who is actually anxious about parenthood, he's going to do just fine.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:21 PM on June 27, 2006

in the delivery room: stay away from the vagina

childbirth a miracle!! a beautiful thing!!! amazing to behold!!! but dad, you don't want to visualize mom's ladyparts when they are at their structural extremes.
posted by kaytrem at 9:37 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

I had the complete opposite experience of rolypolyman, we never heard a single discouragin' word about child rearing, and were reassured daily that it was easy, nothing to it, kids practically raise themselves.

This is a lie. To wit:

1. The lack of sleep thing, especially the first 3 months, cannot be overstated. Prepare yourself and your wife for it.

2. Your sex life will be decimated the first year, probably two. Not inconvenienced, not slightly altered. Decimated, destroyed, completely obliterated. Again, both partners should be prepared for this, and not very many people will warn you about it, or will treat you like a careless jerk because you're even concerned about it.

3. Mothers and babies have a magical bond that happens instantaneously and is backed by millennia of instinct. Don't have a cow because you don't seem to be on the same level as them, especially in the beginning. You'll get integrated into the "secret club" soon enough.

4. Give your wife anything she asks for. Some requests will be ridiculous. Do it anyway. She will be concerned that somehow a vase on the opposite side of the room could somehow fall on the baby's cradle. Do not argue, just appease her thermonuclear sense of precaution. Who knows, maybe it could somehow fall on the baby, and it's one less thing to worry about.

5. Do not underestimate the amount of time a baby requires, from both of you but especially the mother. Take how much time you think it will require, then double it. Now, think about that, and double it again. That's how far off your current thinking is. The quote I remember is "How much time does a baby take? All of it."

6. Listen to the people above about the carseat. Have it in your car a month ahead of your delivery date, as people go into labor early every day.

7. Never, ever leave a child younger than 6 alone around more than a teaspoon of water. An infant could drown in a BOWL of water, much less a tub. Standing water is your enemy, and avoid it at all costs. If you have a pond or fountain (indoor or outdoor) with an accessible pool of water, cover it with stainless steel mesh/grating or get rid of it.

Everyone will tell you how great and wonderful it is, and it is wonderful. But, you need to go into it with your eyes wide fucking open.

The surprise is much worse than the reality, as the reality is perfectly manageable by two adults. But the surprise is especially shocking when "noone told us it would be like this".

It is hard, damn hard. And unless you are the most progressive couple in existence, the wife will bear most of the burden. Do everything you can for her, while she does everything she can for the baby.

Yes it's wonderful and a miracle, and I'm thankful for every day with my son, but understand it is not easy nor especially pleasant in the beginning.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:46 PM on June 27, 2006 [4 favorites]

If you could tell a soon-to-be dad anything, what would you say?

Make a list of what you'd like to teach your daughter that you think is unique to your experience (as opposed to your wife's), and tuck that list inside a drawer. Not to be morbid, but you never know which day you're going to be suddenly killed by cancer or a heart attack or a runaway truck. It's one thing to plan your family's financial security for those worst-case scenarios, but it's another to ensure that your child's upbringing reflects something of her father even in your absence. God forbid that your wife has to open that envelope, your daughter will one day appreciate it.
posted by cribcage at 9:46 PM on June 27, 2006

Make a mental list of reasons babies cry. Hunger, being tired, being cold, warm, wet, sick, etc. When the baby cries, run through the list until you figure out what's wrong. Sometimes you have to go through the list more than once.

While you should make every effort to calm a crying baby, keep in mind that crying is the only way they can communicate at that age, and a given crying incident is probably less traumatic for them than you would initially think.

Sometimes babies cry for no apparent reason. When your baby does this (she will), hang in there! It gets easier sooner than you think.
posted by Xazeru at 9:49 PM on June 27, 2006

1. This isn't difficult, otherwise there wouldn't be so many of us around.

2. Everyone, including experts - especially experts - has their own ideas on the best thing to do.

It follows that you should use your own judgement and not worry about what so-called authorities recommend.

There is a class of person who delights in telling you scary stories. Ignore them.

But one thing I wish I'd done differently was work less. The most amazing changes happen when they're youngest, and the more time you can spend at home, the better.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:12 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]

As someone who was a single father from my daughter's birth to almost 5 years of age, I second cosmicbandito's advice.

Relax, think rationally, and don't be afraid to ask your parents for advice. Everything works out in the end if you just let things flow and don't try force it too much.
posted by ChazB at 10:15 PM on June 27, 2006

Another book by Armin Brott that I liked is The Expectant Father - I haven't read The New Father so I don't know how much crossover there is.

A word about advice: everybody (yours truly included) becomes an expert when they have kids of their own. The problem is, we can forget that what we've become experts on is our children. Take all advice with that grain of salt. Your experience is more definitive than any book or anyone else's experience.

Enjoy the opportunity to freak out a little bit about the existencial hugeness of it all now: you won't have the time or energy later. But I found also generally I didn't need to: while it can be damn difficult, having a baby is so fundamental, unique and compelling of an experience that generally I'm just rolling along, enjoying the joys and dealing with the challenges. The thing that makes it resemble yet defy all the cliches and truisms is that you are truly developing an honest-to-goodness relationship with another human being. Yet your relationship to that human being - and their own unique and personal development - make it unlike any relationship you've ever had. But like any relationship there's no magic formula and no book with all the answers. 90% of the stuff that has worked for us is just pure observation and experiment and come up with what makes sense and works.

If I can now transgress everything I've just said and offer totally pragmatic advice from my own experience, pound for pound the effort I invested into establishing solid, regular sleep habits (bedtime and naps) have paid off better than any other single thing. Being a stickler about sleep can involve making some serious adjustments in your lifestyle but oh man, does it pay off.
posted by nanojath at 10:37 PM on June 27, 2006 [1 favorite]


I would say don't allow yourself to become jealous of your own child. If you're tempted to, just imagine her reciting that Herrick poem (slightly modified): "I could not love thee dear so much, loved I not our daughter more."
posted by jamjam at 10:50 PM on June 27, 2006

I'm struck reading answers by just how varied and individual experiences are. Case in point: a lot of people warned me, like Ynoxas, that your sex life is just an unavoidable casualty of the first years. I simply haven't found that to be true.
posted by nanojath at 11:00 PM on June 27, 2006

Apparently (ha!), neither did JohnnyGunn.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 11:29 PM on June 27, 2006

I found the first year to be very much like an extended acid trip. Best to go with it rather than fight it to avoid bad trip.
posted by zackdog at 11:35 PM on June 27, 2006

Congratulations. Loads of good stuff in this thread.

1. The lack of sleep will hurt. Don't be noble and try and go through it with your wife, take turns at having nights of uninterrupted sleep in a quiet room somewhere else in the house. This will make you both happier.

2. Be prepared to be Deputy Mum (in your kids eyes) for the first couple of years. It's nothing personal.

3. Have people nearby who are comfortable babysitting a tiny, so that when the real madness (first six weeks or so) is out of the way, you and the wife can go out for a pint or something nearby. You will only have the kids for 18 years, you will have her for a lot longer.

4. After the first few weeks, sex only becomes less frequent because you're tired. It's not a hormonal thing - so try and make the time to be less tired.

5. If people are thinking about buying you baby clothes, ask them for 6-12 months stuff: you will get far more 0-6 month stuff than you will need.

6. Don't worry about being perfect. You don't need to be - just good enough.

A book I enjoyed around the time my son was born was Parenting Made Difficult - a collection of humorous columns on fatherhood from the British writer Phil Hogan.
posted by athenian at 11:47 PM on June 27, 2006

if you can afford it, put away a certain amount (for instance $5k or $10k) in a well-diversified, global mutual fund in your kid's name

alternatively, or in addition, start a regular saving program putting away a fixed sum every month (i.e. $100 or $200 or so)

this will appreciate well over 20 years, and will be a nice contribution toward a college fund
posted by dagny at 1:10 AM on June 28, 2006

Congratulations! Your baby will make you lose the plot, but in a good way: if you're like me (I have a two year-old boy), you'll fall in love in a way you never thought you could.

And remember, he/she will arrive with much more of a fully-formed personality than you'll ever imagine. Learning to accept them for what they are, and learning how to underestand what they're telling you, has in my experience done me far more good than reading a pile of baby books.

Don't underestimate how little sleep you'll get, accept that you're just learning as you go along, don't compare your experience too much with other new parents, and enjoy every moment - he or she will grow faster than you can imagine.

If for some reason your partner is unable to breastfeed (mine couldn't, not for lack of trying), don't feel bad about it - if you try too hard, EVERYONE ends up too stressed to cope with what's already an intense time. Henry thrived on formula, and it didn't affect his relationship with his mum one tiny bit.*

Oh, and don't spend money on toys: you'll be flooded with presents, and if yours is anything like the babies I know, real household things (spoons, pans, and in Henry's case power tools, lump hammers and garden spades) are much more fun.

*and the little scoops you get in every tin make great baby toys!

posted by dowcrag at 1:33 AM on June 28, 2006

What everyone said about sleep. And as someone else mentioned: don't be noble. In particular, if it's nighttime, and the baby needs something, don't both get up and try to help each other. Then nobody is getting any sleep.

My wife and I used to do this: I would do the last feed around 10, and she would go to bed about 9 (or earlier even). Weeknights, she would get up and do the 2am feed. At weekends, I would do it. That worked well with our sleep patterns (I go to bed later, and I can sleep in the morning). Note that we were using expressed milk and supplementary bottles. If your wife is going to breast-feed exclusively, she will have to do all the feeds, which will be tough.

If you're lucky the baby will drop the 2am feed around 3-4 months. Could be longer, but if it's much longer, it may be that you need to think about whether you're training them to wake up (eg always responding right away to crying). I say that because you'll be tired at that point, and you may not think of it. Some babies are just cussed though.
posted by crocomancer at 2:24 AM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Don't Panic.

Make sure you know where your towel is.

Some parents have it easy, some have it hard. You won't know until you get there.
posted by ewkpates at 3:14 AM on June 28, 2006

Jump in there. Don't wait for your wife to ask you to take the baby; if she (either she) is looking/sounding stressed, say, "Here, let me take her" and go into another room. You are NOT Deputy Mom - at least you don't have to be.

Send your wife away overnight before the baby is six months old. When our daughter was four months, I went to my high-school reunion. My MIL was supposed to come and help my husband; she got sick and cancelled so he spent two and half days figuring out stuff without me. It was, without a doubt, the most important two days of both their lives to that point. He gained an incredible amount of confidence and I learned that I could survive missing a milestone (the eruption of a first tooth) and that she would be completely fine without me for a short time.

If you're not already domestically inclined, it would be great to learn the basics of laundry (so you can throw the poopy/pukey stuff in the wash while she cleans up baby, the rug and/or herself) and basic household chores.

Oh, and has anyone mentioned that your wife is going to poop while she's in labor? If that is going to be a problem for you, you might want to stay up near her head rather than down there.

Congratulations - hope everything goes well!
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:23 AM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

I had a long list, but I've edited it down to this:

If your kid is suffering from something Latin, don't google it.

Good Luck.
posted by davehat at 4:54 AM on June 28, 2006

Some practical things:
1. Zout will get out poop stains.
2. Wash your hands frequently and require that your well-intentioned relatives/friends do the same.
3. If you're like me, if something interrupts your sleep, you're up for the duration. This will change. You'd be surprised how much you can get accomplished while being functionally unconscious.
4. They make these really cute legless newborn outfits (like a tiny sleeping bag with arms and a headhole. They look soooo comfy and probably are, but they do not work with a car seat.
5. Many local fire departments will help you install your car seat. Let them help. I cannot stress how much I love the Mighty Tite for securing a carseat.
6. They make plastic baskets for dishwashers that hold binkies and bottle nipples. They cost a whopping $1.99 and are worth every penny. Three and 1/3 years later, we still use it every day.

Two mushy things:
1. Notice the peaceful, joyful, and hilarious moments and fix them in your mind, because they go by very quickly and are nice to reflect upon when you're dealing with croup or puke.
2. Separation anxiety translates to "I love you." Don't dwell on the tears, but the underlying sentiment.
posted by plinth at 5:40 AM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

When you fall asleep late one night on the couch and the baby rolls off you and falls to the floor, don't freak out. Almost everyone drops the baby once.
posted by poppo at 5:52 AM on June 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

Buy 1000 marbles and put them in a big glass jar. Every Saturday morning take a marble out of the jar (after your child is old enough to avoid the choking thing, you can give them to him/her). That is about how many Saturdays you have to spend with your child before they are off on their own. It's a great visual reminder to take advantage of the time you have together. You will be astonished how quickly the marbles disappear.
posted by cyclopz at 6:06 AM on June 28, 2006 [14 favorites]

Congratulations! This is an exciting time in your life! It REALLY is a great thing. Lots of good ideas here.

Not that I have any real answers, but my philosophy for my kids has always been that I can't be there to protect them all the time - but I will give them the tools to know right from wrong and they can determine if their decision has been correct. In others words, that there are consequences for decisions that they have made.

GET LIFE INSURANCE. Get a will made out.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 6:13 AM on June 28, 2006

Wow. There is a lot of good stuff here.

I just want to chime in one thing: prepare to be tired ALL THE TIME.
We have a 4 month old. I work, the wife is in school full time, so it's not that we are tired from watching her all day, but rushing in the morning, driving her to and from grandma's, spending the evenings with her, it's A LOT and it's tiring. I rarely get 8 hours of sleep but even when I do I'm still tired all day.
But the truth is, I don't care. I want to be with my little girl every moment I can, even if it means missing sleep. I also need time when she is asleep to do my own thing, and that causes sleep to be missed as well.
posted by bradn at 7:01 AM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, do not ever buy a toy with batteries (TWB) in their first 3 years. TWB make sounds that will drive you crazy and cannot be turned off by anyone over the age of 5. Elmo is cute and furry, but when he is cute, furry and loud, you will learn to become the grouch.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:08 AM on June 28, 2006

Remember: You know more than you think you do about raising this child. Trust yourself and your partner

As your child grows, make sure you know the response your child's question has received from your partner. Back it up. This way, your child will learn that if Mom says No to something, Dad will too and that you two can not be played against each other. (Our son has not yet figured out to ask the question when we are in different rooms. He'll ask one of us and get an answer he does not like. He'll immediately turn to the other and repeat his question. We now just respond with "Did you not hear your Mother/Father?")
posted by onhazier at 7:41 AM on June 28, 2006

Best answer: Ynoxas writes "The quote I remember is 'How much time does a baby take? All of it.'"

That's brilliant.

This is an excellent thread and I agree with pretty much all of the advice offered so far. My [on preview, copious] thoughts:

Brott's Father books are all pretty good, but The Expectant Father is the best, and certainly a better book for you right now than The New Father.

Be careful reading those post-birth books to take anything they say about ages with a grain of salt. Even the best of them are guilty of the crime of telling you what your baby should be capable of doing at a certain age. Don't get hung up on this. Your baby will probably be later than average on some things and earlier than average on others. Every child is different and averages are just that. If she isn't crawling/standing up/talking/getting teeth yet and you're really concerned then talk to her doctor about it. Exactly when these things happen can vary by a year.

Other parents will also set weird expectations or manage to say things in thoughtless ways. "You're still breastfeeding?" and "What do you mean you couldn't nurse?" are common examples. Learn to let this stuff roll off of your back. Lie if you have to. You are not obligated to debate your own valid choices.

Non-parents will always ask you "is she sleeping through the night yet?" Ha freaking ha ha. For most of the actual parents I know this was a myth for quite a while. She'll sleep very well, and get plenty of sleep overall. Don't set unreasonable expectations about eight and nine hour stretches. Some kids do this early, others don't. It doesn't matter. Again, lie if you have to.

If you care about breastfeeding get all the help you can. Take a class before the birth. Dad should go too. The new mom should talk to a lactation specialist as soon as possible after the birth (preferably when you're still in the hospital) because this can make a world of difference. She may want to meet with other nursing or working mothers; support her in this. Keeping a baby on breastmilk after going back to her job is a ton of work. Respect that.

If you can attend a car seat safety class before the baby is born, do it. If there is a resource in your area to help you install the car seat, go there. Until you've seen it done right you will not believe how tightly you can and should crank those straps, and how hard you have to do so in order to really make that seat secure. I'm talking kneeling-on-the-kid's-seat, back-against-the-ceiling hauling on the strap.

Contrary to the advice above we were told you should ignore installing mechanisms that help you tension the belt. The reason for this is that these devices are not subject to any strict safety standards, unlike the seats themselves. They might work great, but the seats are designed to work correctly without them, and you don't want to introduce something else that can fail in an accident. The only case I can see for their use is for those who are disabled and simply cannot do it any other way, and even in this case you should probably just have someone else put the seat in for you. Plus the seats are quite complicated enough without another gadget on the belt.

Consider taking childbirth classes. Any time you spend preparing yourselves for what will happen that day is time well spent. We did the Bradley classes ourselves and they were really good, but there are plenty of perfectly valid approaches. Your hospital or birthing center probably offers classes, or your midwife or doctor can direct you to these. Go to the classes. Practice with your wife. Go to the birth. Though the mother obviously has the hardest job (bar none) during childbirth you will be surprised how grueling the father's job is. You don't get to complain about this, but it does deserve acknowledgement and respect. I may be the only person who's going to offer it to you, so here you go!

Start thinking now about the bag or bags you'll want to have ready to take to the hospital. You won't have time to pack them when she goes into labor. My wife was having contractions five minutes apart when we left the house, and there's no time then to go looking for your cell phone charger. To that point remember that you won't be allowed to use the cell phone in most if not all of the hospital. Pack a calling card and a roll of quarters. You will thank me. Pack a list of the numbers you'll want to call.

Have a plan for what happens immediately after your daughter is born. At our hospital after introducing our little boy to his mother they took him off to the nursery for his first checkup. Because my wife was doing ok at that point I went with our son and was allowed to watch (through the glass) while this happened. You can report back on what happened. You might have the opportunity to take a picture or two.

Have a plan for what happens if your wife needs to have a c-section. After the delivery do you stay with your wife or go with your daughter?

Most importantly, as everyone here is saying, spend as much time with your baby as you can. Rock her, carry her, change her, feed her. It doesn't matter. Just take the time. You will be glad you did. Given another chance I'll take more time myself.
posted by Songdog at 7:52 AM on June 28, 2006 [3 favorites]

As a father of 4, 3 of whom are triplets (now just over 2 years old):

pre-1: Make a list of all of those things you wanted to do. Travel, skydive, build a project, and GO DO THEM NOW. (Stop reading the rest of the list and go do them. The list will be here when you get back.)

1. Sleep: It's gone. You'll see it again in around 18 months.

2. If you don't already have a TiVo, get one. That way when you're up for the 3am feeding, at least there'll be something to watch to stay awake.

3. As much as possible, understand the baby's schedule. (If you're having multiples, this rule's importance also multiplies)

4. Wipe-warmers are good. Ones purchased by someone else are even better.

5. The first time you are able to tickle your kid and get a laugh, it all becomes worth it. There's no drug around that beats being able to make a baby laugh.

6. Get ready for an avalanche of stuffed animals. Every relative loves to send the stuffed animals. We quickly created a 'no stuffed, no plush' gift rule. It's been working pretty well.

Being a father is simultaneously the hardest thing and the coolest thing I've ever done.

If/When people offer to help, find something that they contribute. It may be picking up a pack of diapers at the market, or just watching the baby long enough to get a shower for yourself.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:00 AM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

that they /can/ contribute.

Ugh. Need. more. sleep.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:01 AM on June 28, 2006

Nothing new here, but I'll echo what's been said already:

Trust. Yourself.

No one -- not your day-care provider, your pediatrician, your folks, your in-laws -- no one is going to know your daughter better than you and your wife. So trust yourself. And know that you're gonna screw up. The very fact that you're asking these questions is a great sign that you're not going to screw up anything permanently. Kids are pretty resilient critters.

The sleep will work itself out in a few months, and around seven months or so your little one will start responding to you. And you to her. It's effing magic, pal. Even in the middle of crappy diapers and crying jags and (as in the case of our nearly 5-year-old daughter) stomach bugs, there will be moments of pure, unadulterated magic. Savor them.

Congrats, and good luck!
posted by shallowcenter at 8:09 AM on June 28, 2006

I'm struck reading answers by just how varied and individual experiences are. Case in point: a lot of people warned me, like Ynoxas, that your sex life is just an unavoidable casualty of the first years. I simply haven't found that to be true.
posted by nanojath at 1:00 AM CST on June 28 [+fave] [!]

I'm glad for you. I wish my mates had warned me like yours did.

While every experience differs, of course, I have found this circumstance in my circle of friends to be universal. Also, many formerly strong marriages can become shaky in the first few years of a new baby, and for reasons I don't fully understand, they can be even more affected by a 2nd birth.

I've been told by all my male friends about the complete destruction of their sex life after children, and 2 psychologists and 1 psychiatrist I have asked about this (friends, not personal therapists) say it is "common, completely normal".

Also, prepare yourself for the possibility you may loose interest or actually be repelled by your wife in the later stages of pregnancy. This caught me completely off-guard as I find my wife one of the most enchanting creatures in the entire world. I think she is, literally, beautiful. But pregnancy strongly repelled me, and we did not have sex after the 20-week ultrasound until well after delivery. It was NOT about body shape... it was about her having another creature alive inside of her. The mere thought is still disturbing to me.

This I did seek "counsel" over, and was assured this is something that is, again, very common, pedestrian even. The psychologist said it affected up to 75% of men, which my "friend polling" has revealed to be just about 2/3 or 66%, so pretty close. Of the friends that thought it was fine, 1 had a strong preference FOR pregnancy. He'd prefer his wife be pregnant forever. Another saw it as a total non-issue. Not favored, but not abhorred either. They had sex mere hours before the delivery!

Again, I'm just telling you the things noone told me until afterwards. It bordered on a cabal, and I felt betrayed by some friends for not "telling me everything" and leaving out key details beforehand.

Your mileage may vary by vast amounts either direction. I am only testifying to my experience and those of my friends.

Hopefully you will have an experience like nanojath above and all my dire predictions will be unfulfilled. I deeply hope this is the case.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:52 AM on June 28, 2006

Being a very new father myself, I have little substantive to add, except this: be grateful if everything turns out pedestrian. Remember that while the strains on your sex life and your sleep schedule and your wallet are very real concerns, those (yes, like me) who have babies with major health and developmental challenges (or none at all) would love to have these problems.

Congratulations, and remember to be happy and thankful.
posted by norm at 9:14 AM on June 28, 2006

1. It gets better and better. You may not feel you "connect" with your child the first months, even the first year: the mother has a so much more intimate bond. But at some point you and the child will begin to know and love each other.
2. Make sure you get involved in the intimate details of looking after baby: cooking, bathing, changing etc. Make sure the mother lets you get involved. Make it clear to her you want to be involved, from day one (not all mums appreciate this, actually, but I feel you have the right).
3. As someone wrote: read to them long before they can even apparently understand, and do all the other things you want them to "get": play music, play ball, sing, dance, whatever.
4. As they get older: give all you can, but don't pressure. I've seen "first-child syndrome" time and again: the poor kid who ends up doing extra lessons in music, drama, art, languages from circa age 5 (or earlier). I don't believe there is anything to be gained by the child from this if they don't clearly enjoy it. And the benefits of "boredom time" are significant.
5. As far as you can: make sure your romantic/sex life continues: after all, you have to be happy with the mother long-term to make a happy family long-term.
6. Babywipes can provoke eczema.
7. Have another one to keep it company ;-)
posted by londongeezer at 9:36 AM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

BTW, this may sound extreme, but the one thing I'd avoid is a TV: my children never had one, they still don't (and they've never accused their parents of depriving them of anything.) They've had to make their own entertainment, or we've made it for them, and I believe this has helped them develop their creativity, independence and personality.
posted by londongeezer at 9:43 AM on June 28, 2006

norm's words are sobering. It is sometimes assumed everything will be okay, and of course, that is not always the case.

Something you (original poster) may want to consider is speaking to your OB about testing for genetic/chromosomal disorders. Some people will foam at the mouth if you suggest you are even considering it, but it is something you and your wife should at least educate yourselves about. If your OB will not discuss it with you, find another one who will. I have no idea if you are already too far along in the pregnancy (4 months?) for it to matter or not... I've forgotten most of that info since our birth experience.

Best to your family norm.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:05 AM on June 28, 2006

There's a lot of good advice up there already. I usually tell this to new moms, so use it or pass it on to your wife, whatever:

ilsa's one and only bit of advice: It is ok to ignore everybody's advice, even mine.

Oh and this won't be an issue for a couple years yet, but as far as I am concerned, the best parenting book ever is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.
posted by ilsa at 11:14 AM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

a lot of people warned me, like Ynoxas, that your sex life is just an unavoidable casualty of the first years. I simply haven't found that to be true.
Seconding this. I think The Good-Lawd-Above invented naptimes to give parents a chance to reconnect. Sex is a major stress-reliever for me and Mr.Sahen and I would be in the madhouse without it.

Adding another voice to the chorus that says: every case is different, and you know better than anyone else. Stay away from parenting books. I've had much better luck asking a busy online parenting community for personally digested information than reading one carefully structured point of view.
posted by Isabeau Sahen at 11:28 AM on June 28, 2006

(Ha, crossposted with ilsa. I should have said "infant parenting books," actually, since I'm eagerly awaiting "How to Raise an Emotionally Intelligent Child" myself.)
posted by Isabeau Sahen at 11:29 AM on June 28, 2006

Know that sleep deprivation plus industrial scale hormonal floods may leave your partner unrecognizable, scary even, at times. She'll never be precisely the same, but she'll be pretty normal again - in some ways even more fascinating - in a few months.

The gestation/birth process seems to rewire women's synapses in fundamental ways, i.e. hearing gain that now has them waking up when a baby cries on a TV set two houses away.

Some new moms are so burdened by their self-image of motherhood that they can't just wake up a partner and hand them a screaming kid at 2 a.m. and say, "I've had all I can take."

Maybe that'll never happen to her and you, but you ought to keep an eye out for chances to bring all the reassurance and compassion you have to support her. Maybe you'll just have to take the baby and say, "Go to sleep," and push her toward the bed.

For the birthing itself, consider hiring a Doula. A birth coach. Best money I ever spent at a hospital. For $150 we got an RN with 25+ years experience in birthing rooms as a coach/consultant in the room with us through the process. It was our third child, and I kicked myself for not getting doulas earlier.

She cut through the crap the (overburdened) floor nurses tried to get my wife to put up with. She was an instant resource on snap decisions like epidurals, appesiotomy (sp?) and Pitocin dosages and timing. She was a pro to discuss c-section with who didn't care about the hospital staff's shift changes or profit margins.

I'm saying all this was a comfort for me. (So selfish.) Your wife might like it too.
posted by sacre_bleu at 12:05 PM on June 28, 2006

Great advice above. Mine are 22 and 23 so I've forgotten any little tips I may have once known. There is one thing I didn't see anyone mention. Under all the strain that comes with parenthood there may be moments when you want to strangle the little darling. If you ever approach that point put the bundle of joy in her crib and walk away until the feeling passes. Continue to follow some variation of this process for as long as those feeling come over you. At this point in my children's lives I sometimes go as many as 8 to 12 months without having to do so. My sons have been the biggest joys in my life but there are those moments.
posted by Carbolic at 12:27 PM on June 28, 2006

It was not my intent to be raining on anyone's parade at all; I just know that when I hear people complaining about their kids and the impact on their life I get a little bristly about The Ungratefuls out there who take their good fortune for granted. And I still think my kid is (eventually) going to be fine, he was just very very premature and life in the NICU was not something I was prepared for.

The OP will, I'm sure, have one of those 'normal' pregnancy/childbirth experiences like most of the people who have posted here. Just take the time and reflect on how great it is to be worried about heated baby wipe dispensers, because it could really be so much worse.
posted by norm at 1:05 PM on June 28, 2006

On further consideration, a tip I shouldn't have edited from my earlier post.... when/if your kid gets attached to a particular soft toy, buy another one EXACTLY the same.

Do this before the lable is destroyed through twiddling/sucking/chewing/repeat washing.
posted by davehat at 1:18 PM on June 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: There's a lot of good stuff here, and I've been sharing this thread with my wife. It's good to see what's popping up consistently (car seat, no sleep, wipe warmers). There's such little information out there for dads and I'm glad y'all have been able to help me break through that. Cheers and keep 'em coming.
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 2:05 PM on June 28, 2006

As a father of 3 kids under 6 here is my short list:

1. Assemble the crib in the baby's bedroom, not down the hall.

2. Listen to what your wife is telling you; Post-partem depression can happen to anyone and it can be very serious. Be aware.
posted by greedo at 9:26 AM on June 29, 2006

cyclopz, your marble tip rocks.
posted by greedo at 9:27 AM on June 29, 2006

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