Man Up, New Dads

It’s time to man up, new dads.  I know that you’re struggling to have it all, to get good sleep with your infant in the house, to juggle the million responsibilities of career and fatherhood and being a good husband / friend / sibling / son / etc., to dealing with your emotional wife (she’s emotional, get over it and deal with it!), to wondering when your life will get back to normal.

This post is for husbands and new dads, who are just figuring out the incredible highs and amazing challenges of parenthood.  Here’s my message for you: man up and take care of your partner.  She needs you, more than 50/50.  You need to do what you can, when you can, however you can.

Think your sacrifice is a big one?  Try carrying the baby for 9 months, then having the baby, then breastfeeding, then feeling self-conscious about your body, and, then, if she’s lucky, having to / getting to take time off from her career for maternity leave.  You’re working hard, no doubt, but her contribution is bigger.

So what’s a new dad to do?  Here are some tips for how to man up and take care of your partner:

  1. Let her sleep.  She’s probably waking up at night to feed the baby.  And you’re right: you can’t help with that, biologically speaking.  But that means she’s probably up more hours of the night than you are.  In return, it’s your job to take care of the baby on Saturday / Sunday mornings and let her sleep.  Let her sleep as long as she wants, or until the baby needs her again.  If I had just one piece of advice for you as a new dad, this would be it.  One more time to make sure I am being super clear: let her sleep!
  2. Go get the baby.  Whether you’re co-sleeping or whether you have the baby sleeping on the other side of the house, it’s your job to get that baby when it cries.  Get up, get out of bed, and bring that baby to Mom.  Once Mom takes over breastfeeding, you can fall back asleep.  But for solidarity, you need to show her that you’re in this together.  If she’s going to feed, you’ll get the baby for her.
    • Important sidebar: I know several new dads who decided that they would sleep in a separate room from baby and Mom.  “After all, why should both of us suffer?  One of us should be well-rested, right?”  My response: absolutely not!  This is exactly the kind of pig-headed, old-fashioned, the-way-your-father-did-it excuse to give up on your duty as a new dad.  You’ve got to show your wife that you’re in this with her.  And what better way than to stay with her, go get the baby, and let her sleep!  You’ll be exhausted, of course, but there will be other times in your life when you can be well-rested again.
  3. Change the diapers.  Since you can’t help with the feeding, you’d better help with the diapers.  When the baby poops and you look into each other eyes, wondering who will move first, volunteer to change the little bugger.  It’s the least you can do.
  4. Get her a push present.  Push presents aren’t old-fashioned; they’re meaningful and they’ll last a lifetime.  Jewelry is preferred, if you can afford it, but something simpler can work too: a gift certificate to her favorite clothing store, a new bag / purse, a framed picture of your family.  Try to get her something that she will treasure and will be reminded of you and your beautiful child every time she sees it.
  5. Appreciate her sacrifice.  You have no idea what it feels like to get morning sickness, to grow a small watermelon in your tummy, to have an infant bite your nipple, to have cracked nipples (this is for real!), to feel wave after wave of estrogen and other chemicals coursing through your veins.  You can’t join her (damn!), but you can appreciate what she’s doing for your family.  Tell her every day how much you appreciate her.
  6. Appreciate her body.  She’s gone through a lot, and you need to be nurturing.  Tell her how beautiful she is (she’s the mother of your child, of course she’s beautiful!).  Tell her how sexy she looks.  Tell her how nice her boobs look (they will probably look super, but hands off for now!).  Help her feel good about her body and her recovery.  She deserves your support!  Bonus points: you may be rewarded for this in more ways than one… eventually…
  7. Show her you’ll do anything for her.  Pregnancy and immediately following the newborn are the two periods of time in your life when you have to show your prather that you’ll do anything for her.  No excuses.  She wants popsicles from Whole Foods at 9pm?  You’re on it.  She needs another pillow?  You’ll get two.  She needs you to rub her head?  You sign up immediately.  Your job is to make her feel good, given all the hard work she’s doing.

In the long run, you’ll have plenty of time to receive.  But for now, at least in the short run, your job is to give and provide.  Your partner and new baby both deserve it.

I always tell new dads that having a baby will make you realize two things:

  1. Caring for a new baby is harder than you can imagine
  2. The love you feel for your child is greater than you can imagine

In the end, it’s totally worth it.  There are upsides: you’ll smile when you see other bleary-eyed dads at the morning park session, you’ll make your sister-in-law and mother-in-law insanely jealous with how supportive you are (score!), you’ll get that once-in-a-while moment with your son or daughter that makes you appreciate the beauty of what it means and feels to be a dad, you’ll feel deep gratitude for just how lucky you are, and you’ll start to develop a bond with your child that will last a lifetime.

But you need to make sure that your partner is taken care of.  As a man, it’s your responsibility.  Besides, you want to build up your capital if you ever want to negotiate for another child.*

Yours truly,
— Thriving Dad

* I know it seems crazy right now, but you’ll forget how hard this is and will want another before you know it.  The memory lapse of how hard parenting is has been critical for the history of the human species.  That and no birth control for most of human history…

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