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Parenthood is the most challenging and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. If you had asked me a year ago if I was ready to be a father, I would have said yes. I would have been wrong. I don’t know if anyone is ever truly ready for this adventure, and that’s okay. We just celebrated my son’s first birthday and we’re all still standing. However, it made me reflect on the lessons that I learned in the last year. I realize that there are some things I wish I had known from the get go. Here is my list of the most important lessons I learned in my first year as a father.
1. Support Your Spouse/Partner
Becoming a father puts a weight of responsibility and pressure on you that is hard to cope with. That goes without saying. However, as fathers, we need to remember that our spouse/partner is feeling the same pressure. They also have a new life that is dependent on them. They also have this new responsibility. We have to be cognizant that the most important person in our life is struggling. Often times just as much if not more than we are. We have to check on them, and ensure that they are getting the support that they need.
This is especially important during the postpartum time period. Postpartum mood disorders such as postpartum depression can creep in at any time, unannounced. Modern mom’s are constantly being told “it will get better” and “you can do this”. They often feel guilty because they think they should be happy because they have a little bundle of joy. It’s imperative that we take an active part in ensuring our spouse/partner’s mental health.
Between 70 and 80% of women experience postpartum mood disorders according to postpartumdepression.org https://www.postpartumdepression.org/resources/statistics/. That’s a prolific number, and one that we need to be aware of as dads and husbands/spouses/partners. Expect an article that dives deeper in to this topic soon.
2. Slow Down
This is a lesson that I have learned repeatedly over the last year. Until you have another baby, you are experiencing the current phase of your baby’s life for the last time. It can be hard to put aside our excitement for the future to enjoy the current moment. I often caught myself saying “I can’t wait until X happens, it’s going to be awesome!” However, the first time my son rolled over, it was the end of him laying next to me on the couch. It was the end of knowing that he was safe and sound in one spot when he started crawling. Baby’s develop in phases, and each phase is special in it’s own way. Treasure the time in each phase, because things will never be the same with that little one when it ends.
3. Ask For Help
I don’t know what I would do if it weren’t for the people in my wife and I’s life that came to our aid. Shoutout to our family, because you guys are the best. Without them, the first few weeks of my son’s life would have been much harder. Here’s a story to demonstrate the importance of asking for help:
My parents have an RV and live three states away. We were lucky enough that they could come down and be there for the birth of our son. When we came home with Ollie, we didn’t know what we were in for. I was used to sleeping 6-8 hours a night and despite pregnancy and our very active baby growing with her, my wife was too. So the first 3 nights were a total shock for us.
Waking up every 3 hours was rough (side note: dad’s should wake up too, see above tip on supporting your partner). I had never changed a diaper before, so you can imagine me trying to change one at 3am. I was trying to get my son’s clothes back on and the buttons just weren’t lining up (see the bonus tip below). This left me frustrated and sleep deprived, and my wife wasn’t having a much better time. We decided to call my parents and ask for help. They came and stayed up with the baby giving us some time to rest. Without them, the night would have been a disaster.
I know not everyone has parents close by that can help, or has the relationship with their parents to ask for this kind of help. However, it’s important to find people in your life who could lend a hand, whether that be family or friends.
4. It Is Never too Early to Babyproof
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“Babyproofing,” is going to become your new best friend. It’s the process of making your home safer for your little bundle of joy. It is never too early to babyproof. Rounding off sharp corners, attaching furniture to walls, locking cabinets, and plugging electrical outlets are just a few examples of things you can do to make your home safer.
I’m going to recommend a few products here that have been huge in helping my wife and I keep our home safe for our son. You can click on the image if you want to pick any of these up for yourself. They are:
Furniture Straps:Buy On Amazon
Furniture straps are extremely important for anyone who has a little one. When your baby starts climbing and pulling on furniture, you’ll need these. Otherwise, the baby’s weight could bring that furniture down on top of them and cause injury or worse. These are easy to install, and the straps that hold the furniture to the wall can be removed or adjusted so you can fasten your items in the perfect position.
Plug Covers:Buy On Amazon
Wall plugs are a classic baby proofing device. I’ll bet that you had a version of these in your house growing up. This particular model is beefed up a little bit from your traditional cover. It includes a lever on a hinge that allows parents to remove the plugs while preventing your baby from doing the same. I always wondered how important these really were until my son went mobile. One of the very first things he tried to play with was a wall outlet, so I’m very glad we got some of these covers.
Cabinet LocksBuy On Amazon
Cabinet locks are important for those kitchen cabinets that have dangerous cleaners/chemicals/kitchen utensils/etc. that your baby shouldn’t have access to. If you’re like me and you really don’t want to see your pots and pans dragged around the kitchen, you can lock up all the cabinets except one or two to be safe. It’s a good idea to set up one unlocked cabinet with some play food or kitchen toys so your baby feels like they can explore. However, for the rest, these will do the trick. They use adhesive and magnets, so there’s no need to drill in to your cabinets. The company also sent us a letter thanking us for our purchase which is how we found out they are a small, family owned business.
5. Self Care Is Crucial
No matter what phase of life you’re in, self care is of the utmost importance. However, this becomes ever more crucial for new parents. Self care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health according to psychcentral.com https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2/. This is so important to new parents because we get caught up spending all our time and effort taking care of someone else. We need to remember that we need to find time for ourselves when we can to recharge our batteries.
You may be saying, “Ryan, I don’t have any time to recharge, I have a new baby.” We’re going to get in to ways to find that time in the next tip, but let me give you an example of myself finding that time to recharge.
Every morning I wake up at 5am. Now this may sound crazy to some of you, but let me tell you why. My wife doesn’t wake up until 7:30 and my son doesn’t wake up until 8. This means that I have two and a half hours every day to recharge my batteries in my own way. Usually this involves playing a video game or scrolling through Reddit. During this time, I don’t have to worry about my son or my wife. It helps me get nice and relaxed before my day starts, which makes it easier to rise to the challenge of being a dad.
6. Routine Is Everything
As I said in the previous tip, you may not think you can find time to get some self care in. You may feel like you don’t have any alone time to check in with your spouse/partner like I wrote about in the first lesson learned. However, there is a way to get that time that also happens to benefit your baby significantly, and that’s the routine. I didn’t put these lessons in any particular order, and I have to say that this is one of the most important ones.
My wife and I were really worried about our son’s reflux and how it was affecting his sleep. We were having sleepless nights and we didn’t know what to do. Now, sleep training is a topic that deserves a whole article of it’s own, so to keep things short, we signed up for the Taking Cara Babies Newborn Class (https://takingcarababies.com/). While the class was about sleep, Cara taught us about keeping our baby on a daily routine, and how it would change our lives. The stability of a routine helps with your baby’s sleep, mood, and development, while simultaneously helping parents find more consistent time for themselves.
Like sleep, this is a topic that deserves a whole article written about it, but I needed to put it in this list. The routine is so important.
7. It’s Not a Competition
Parenthood is joy. It’s also a trial, a journey, and so much more. However, the first thing that comes to mind when I think about being a father, is joy. An easy way to taint that joy is through comparison. We are not in some secret competition for best baby. This is not a pageant. However, when other people we know have babies close in age to our own, we can’t help but notice when developmental milestones are met slower or faster. This is a double edged sword, and it can be very unhealthy for new parents.
As an example, my son is now 1 and has been walking on his own no problem for about a month now. I would say that’s pretty good. I have this pride about it and I think my son is amazing. However, he only has 3 teeth and hasn’t said his first real word yet. My wife and I see other babies on social media have said some words and their tooth count is already breaking in to the double digits despite being close in age to Ollie. This makes us wonder if we’re doing something wrong, or even worse, if there is something wrong with our son. The reality is that babies hit milestones at different times. It’s not a race, it’s not a contest, and it’s best to focus on the accomplishments your baby has made as opposed to hasn’t.
8. Your Baby will Return your Love
This one is the lesson that was the most personal to me but I’m sure I’m not the only one who could have heard this. Your baby will return your love. Many people told me this in the beginning, but I had to realize it on my own. When your baby is born they have a connection with their mother that is undeniable. In the minutes following birth, that baby will seek out mom by inching up her chest and snuggling close to her for warmth and the first feeding. It was in that moment that I realized I didn’t have that level of connection.
As my wife continued to breastfeed and nourish our child, I felt like I was along for the ride. My son would only let me hold him if I was bouncing him up and down in my arms. Otherwise he would get fussy. I was emotional and sleep deprived and I thought that my son didn’t love me. I didn’t feel like my son knew I was his father.
Fast forward to now, a year later. My son can be a total daddy’s boy sometimes. I’ll come down from a call in my office and he’ll rush over and hold his arms out for a hug. He’ll follow me around the house and even insist that I feed him from time to time. I wish I could go back and tell myself that it’s going to work out. That’s why I’m writing it here now for those expecting or new fathers out there who aren’t sure. Your baby will return your love.
Bonus Tip: Zippers Beat Snaps
What’s a list of lessons without a bonus tip? This is for those of you who are expecting little ones soon. Zippers beat snaps. If you’re already a dad, you know exactly what I mean. Your little one’s clothing will be put together in one of three ways: pullover, snaps (buttons), or zippers. The clothes that zip make life so much easier. Most of the time the baby clothes that have zippers are pajamas, but if you have the choice to get zippers, do it. It will save you the hassle of wrestling with your squirmy little one while you try to line up the correct snaps on some weird, overlapping, layered onesie.
Thanks so much for reading. This is actually the first article on this site and it’s been a dream of mine to get this project off the ground for a while now. I’m going to keep writing articles for my fellow dads. If you have a topic you’d like me to dive in to, feel free to shoot me an email at email@example.com. If you like what you read today and you want some bonus content, you can sign up for our monthly newsletter on our homepage here. Until next time, father on.