15 Tips for a First-Time Father
Sometimes, it’s good to know that what you’re experiencing is normal. For that and all the other big first-time dad worries, we’ve got tips. After all, this is a time for being open to learning a lot of new things because, believe us: it’s a LOT.
Our #1 most important tip: being a dad is about guiding a new human toward a long life in which what they learn from you will support their own, individual peace. Some of that will look like what makes YOU happy, and sometimes it will look like the opposite. Either way, you’re a helper, a guide into the world.
To start, here’s some first-time dad tips to ensure that the good days are great, and the bad days are lighter.
1. If you haven’t already, make a plan for your finances.
Money doesn’t equate happiness or peace, but it can pay a sitter when you need a minute, for instance, and that’s a big deal.
Saving up for a future for you and your new family is easy if you remember to take it one day at a time. Putting away just a few dollars a day will have made a big difference 18 years from now. Just start.
2. You CAN help your partner through labor.
Seeing someone you love suffer is one of the hardest things we endure as humans, but this process prepares us and makes us stronger for all the days to come.
And the mother of your baby needs you. Being just truly present with her builds a strong foundation for your family.
You CAN help by just being you. Be present. You can do it.
3. Life won’t be taken over by your baby.
It seems that way now, but being mindful to create a big life for yourself builds a big life for your whole family. That means planning time to do things that YOU love to do (and supporting your partner to do the same).
Take good care of yourself by getting good sleep, eating for your health, staying hydrated, and being good to who you are as an individual human as much as a father.
4. You won’t drop the baby.
If you're nervous about how little they are, that’s normal, but don’t let that stop you from getting (and giving) the huge benefit of holding your baby close to you.
A few ways to overcome this fear is to 1) try to be sitting at first until you get used to holding this new little human who’s small but sturdy, and 2) try infant massage.
Infant massage is a good way to get to know your baby and how strong they really are–and the bonding benefits are off the charts.
You won’t drop the baby, dad–you’ll raise that baby up! Don’t forget what love can do.
5. If you grew up without a father figure, now’s your chance to be the father you wish you’d had.
Think about what you wish you’d been able to do with a dad, and just be that guy.
You have the power to do that for someone else now, and being THAT guy can heal the sadness and disappointment you may still have about not having the father/child relationship you needed.
Imagine your perfect dad (even if you had one whom you wish had been different, this is helpful).
Is he kind? Gentle with your heart? Supportive of exactly who you are? Excited to spend time playing with you? Then just be that guy.
You ARE that guy.
6. It’s okay if you don’t know what to do.
It’s okay! Really, it is!
Most people don’t know what to do with a baby–and men especially because we’re not often urged to play at being dads as children.
But, here’s a little secret: babies raise adults as much as adults raise babies. They teach us how to care for them if we listen carefully and respect what they’re telling us through their cries, their smiles, their changes, their humanity.
Watch carefully, and listen with respect.
And have a spirit of learning. Do research online. Connect with us here at DWALY so that when you have a question, you can ask with confidence knowing that we’re all here learning together.
You’ve got this, dad! Together, we’ve got this.
7. Your partner will not forget about you.
There’s a LOT of focus on the baby when they’re little, and that can make you feel like it’s always going to be that way.
But, here’s the thing: 1) they NEED a lot of attention in the beginning, so accepting that (and helping with what they need) ensures that your baby is healthy and happy.
2) The more you genuinely support your partner parent with everything your baby needs (see all these tips, friend), the more you become someone they WANT to spend real time with.
Be loving; be giving; be gentle; be helpful; be truly present. In the end, we always receive exactly what we give.
8. Focusing on both a baby AND a career is possible.
The key is balance. Balance builds a more healthy, beneficial career even if you’re single and have all the hours in a day to spend on it.
Statistically speaking, your career is stronger when YOU are strong, and a big part of being strong is being with the people you love and who love you.
Even if you have to schedule play time with your family, schedule it and stick to it.
Your child needs you to not just provide for them, but to be present with them. It’s not easy, but it’s also not hard. And your career will thank you.
Your child will thank you.
9. Baby things will be everywhere.
If your home has always had an “adult” look about it, now’s the time to give it up. Babies need a lot of gear, and it can end up everywhere because things move fast, and that’s just how it is.
It’s important to remember that you’ve now got another “roommate” who has lots of stuff, and you really like them, so make room for what they need. If there are toys and diaper stations everywhere, that’s what a family home looks like. Join the club!
But, you can balance things out by creating spaces for all the things and keeping it as neat as possible by donating things as your baby grows out of them.
10. Think hard about taking parental leave.
As of early 2022, New York State, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington state, and Washington, D.C. have laws in place requiring employers to provide paid parental leave to all employees, and the U.S. is considering putting federal laws in place to do so as well.
Because the majority of Americans feel strongly that new parents (both parents) should be entitled to paid parental leave from their jobs.
And for good reason. BOTH parents need time to 1) get to know the new human who will share the rest of your life, 2) rest up from the experience of going through labor, and 3) give 50/50 assistance caring for the needs of babies.
It’s important to remember that new dads are JUST AS IMPORTANT as new moms, and a society that allows for and supports that notion builds stronger families and a stronger world.
So, take the time if you possibly can. It’s important to us all. And your future self will thank you for it.
11. It’s normal to be worried about safety.
If you find yourself in a more vigilant state than before, that’s natural. Both moms and dads go through this shift into a more protective stance as you move through the world with this vulnerable little bundle.
It makes sense. There’s more to protect now.
Suddenly, you see every edge and point as a weapon, every bottle of liquid as poison.
Pay attention to that instinct, but don’t let it overtake your energy.
Instead, use the energy to baby proof your home and put things in place to protect your family that are reasonable responses to true threats to safety.
When you’re prepared for danger, your level of anxiety goes down, and you can focus on letting your presence be the safest place for your family.
12. It helps to get the baby used to using a bottle.
Feeding your baby can be a challenge, so the more you can help with that, the easier it is for everyone.
If mom is breastfeeding, that’s a big 24/7 job that needs support. It’s a healthy thing to sometimes feed baby breast milk with a bottle.
That way, 1) mom can get a rest while you feed the baby, 2) your baby is familiar with the bottle, so if mom can’t breastfeed for some reason even for a short time, the baby is prepared for that.
Feeding is a bonding experience for everyone–just as meals at the table will be one day soon–so share the experience. It’s a smart, tag team effort.
13. You’ll likely worry about your partner and your baby a lot.
When you love someone, you long for their peace. When they suffer (and everyone does), worry is very normal.
Gather a support network for the days in which you need to talk about worries like these.
One of the very best things you can do for your partner, your baby, and yourself is to find a wonderful therapist far in advance of anything ever going wrong.
The point of a therapist is to listen to your worries and take them away from you through allowing you to express them in a safe space.
A good therapist is a person who listens well, remembers what you tell them, and takes care to nurture your thoughts, fears, joys, and hopes without judgment.
The notion of a “good therapist” is very individual, so you sometimes have to visit a few to find the right person for you.
Remember, by HIPAA law, a therapist cannot share information with anyone except in drastic situations in which you agree to do so, and it’s a true relief to know that your thoughts are safe with that person.
It's the real benefit of a therapist.
Talking about your fears is incredibly important to your mental health, and having someone who literally cannot share your worries with anyone else is a healing for you.
If your family can provide this for your child and your partner, that’s even better for everyone’s mental health.
14. You’ll think more about your own mortality.
Watching your baby grow up (and big changes happen every day), is a huge marking of time. It’s okay to feel that you’re growing older when, in fact, you’re just growing up, too.
For those in the back: You. Are. Growing. Up. Too.
It’s a good thing. It’s living. It's real life. Enjoy it by living in the present moment as much as you possibly can.
15. The unexpected will happen.
Thus, tip #1. Make sure you begin building a nest of support–both financial and emotional–for things that come up that you don’t expect.
Create two savings accounts: one for the future joys, celebrations and plans and one for the scary things.
They will come in equal measure.
Building strong relationships with people you really trust is also a part of preparing for the best days and the worst days that will come.
Also, imagine yourself standing with both feet on the ground, hands on your hips, looking up and prepared for anything. This is a good stance that builds inner strength that sets you up to be unafraid–which makes for a trustworthy and loving dad.
Find support for yourself in your community so that you have support for the hard days–and so that you can share on the good days.