Now is your time to be a hero. By the time your child can talk, you might even qualify for sainthood. Being a new dad is a challenge—sleepless nights, a crying baby, and most likely, a crying wife. Admittedly, fatherhood is not for the faint of heart. But you will get through this. Here are some tips to help you survive in this new, uncharted territory:
New Dad Survival Skills
Overcome mom envy
Unless you’ve adopted, your wife has an unfair biological advantage over you in terms of initial baby bonding. After all, she carried the baby for nine months. Your baby may seem to prefer its mother to you, particularly if your wife breastfeeds the baby. Don’t feel rejected—your child will only grow in love for you. And don’t make the mistake of thinking your baby doesn’t need you as much as its mother. Fathers and mothers often have different ways of holding, playing and interacting with their babies. Research shows that babies thrive on these differences in parenting styles. Fathers’ interactions tend to be more physical and less intimate, with a greater reliance on humor and excitement. The male pattern of interacting with an infant is critical to teaching a child emotional self-control and social development.
Overcome baby envy
Even the most devoted, attentive wife can fall prey to “baby blindness”—preoccupation with her infant at the expense of everything else in her life, including her husband. Try not to take it personally. She isn’t intentionally neglecting you; she is just trying to be a good mother. While you won’t have your wife’s complete, undivided attention anymore, your relationship will eventually return to some degree of normalcy. If several months after the birth you continue to feel invisible to your wife, tell her how you feel. Let her know you respect and appreciate her devotion to your child but that you want to make more time to connect as a couple. Statistics support that a healthy marriage is one of the best gifts you can give your child.
Tackle your fears
According to a recent survey, the majority of fathers fear hurting their baby somehow. Common fears include suffocation, accidents, intentional harm, losing the baby, illness, sexual thoughts and contamination.
If anxiety is holding you back from bonding with your child, understand that such fears are common and rarely mean that you will do anything to actually harm your child. In fact, the very presence of fear may reveal a deep level of concern for your child’s well-being. Research shows that fathers who nurture and take significant responsibility for basic childcare for their children (e.g., feeding, changing diapers) from an early age are significantly less likely to sexually abuse their children. If you do feel persistent negative thoughts toward your child, seek professional help immediately. If you simply feel clumsy or ill-prepared to care for your child, relax. All new parents (including new mothers) experience these feelings from time to time. You are just as capable as your wife when it comes to learning and applying good parenting skills.
Take care of your woman
Being a new mother means living in a constant state of exhaustion. Do whatever you can to help out with feedings, baths, diaper changes, etc. This will give your wife a breather and provide you vital bonding time with your new baby. Recruit sympathetic friends and family to help with meals, errands or even housework. Most new mothers are likely to experience heightened emotions. In some women, however, extreme hormonal imbalances can result in post-partum depression. If your wife expresses thoughts of violence—towards herself or toward the baby—make sure she gets immediate help.
Take care of your baby
Don’t let hang-ups about traditional gender roles keep you from bonding with your baby. Apart from breastfeeding, a father can do every single child care task that a mother can. Looking for a unique way to bond with your baby? Consider an infant massage class. It might sound a little awkward, but it is a great way for fathers to connect with their babies. Infants receiving 15 minutes of daily massage from their fathers exhibit increased eye contact, smiling, vocalizing and reaching responses.
Take care of yourself
Before the baby comes, rest up as much as possible and check with the human resources department at work about the possibility of paternity leave. After the baby comes, grab sleep whenever you can—when the baby is napping is usually your best bet. Eat healthfully and lay off the booze (it will further disrupt your already disrupted sleep).
Brace for a (temporarily) sex-less existence
When do you get to have sex with your wife again? Six weeks after childbirth … at minimum. Sorry. Your wife is facing legitimate physical limitations, as well as exhaustion. She may also be dealing with body image issues and haywire hormones. The more you can support your wife during this time, the more sexually responsive she will be (eventually). Try to be patient and remember the situation is only temporary.
Understand your importance
Father involvement is positively associated with virtually every measurement of child well-being. It reduces a child’s likelihood of experiencing poverty, child neglect, teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency and substance abuse. Truly, fatherhood is your chance to be a hero to your child. This form of heroism doesn’t require perfection— just your ongoing presence and a sincere desire to do right by your child.