>> Thursday, April 1, 2010

Your baby just arrived - and now the real fun begins. And maybe the toughest thing for NEW DADDY to accept is that absolutely none of this is about you. You're definitely a part of it, and it's absolutely about you, and the NEW MOMMY and the BABY becoming a family together. But you're not the center of attention here.  On the other hand, you should know that you have the capacity to completely ruin the experience for your wife. The way you act over the next several weeks (or few months) will determine whether you are her hero for life, or a total idiot.

And every good husband wants to be his wife's hero, right? These pointers will take you a looooooong way in that direction.

(NOTE: A friend pointed out to me that without some context, this post might sound like it was written out of bitterness or frustration at my own husband, which couldn't be further from the truth. So here's the context: the majority of these are things my husband volunteered to do or instinctively understood. I didn't make him do them. Neither did anybody else.
All I can say is that he is one amazing husband and an incredible daddy, and he has the beautiful gift of empathy. So while he definitely put out tremendous and intentional effort, some of these things came pretty naturally to him. And he helped me think of things to include in the list so other new daddies could have an easier time of it.)
  1. Tell her she's wonderful (and beautiful)! No matter how puffy and worn out she looks, she's just brought life into the world. And that life is your son or daughter. So don't hold back - say it over and over. She's incredible.
  2. Be her bouncer. She's too tired, and probably too polite, to make visitors leave. It's your job - and your privilege - to protect her and your new baby. When your wife is looking tired, gently urge guests to the door, whether its your home or the hospital room. Never invite anyone over without specifically asking your wife first. Don't assume she has the energy just because she finally got a shower today. Protect her interests over everyone else's, even your own.
  3. Don't categorize how tired you think she is (or isn't). You'll never do anything as hard as what she just did. Check your ego at the door and get over it. You will never be this tired. You will never have this many hormones flooding through your system at once. She has got you beat, and no matter how much you might think you can relate or compare it to your own experience - you can't. Say: "I can't imagine how tired you must be, baby!" NOT: "Wow, you must be almost as tired as I was when I did that triathlon!"
  4. See if you can take off work. Did you know that most states have laws mandating paid paternity leave for up to 2 weeks? If your state does, check with your boss to see how much time you can spend at home right after the baby is born. It's a great time to just be with your wife and the new baby and bond together. If you can't take much time off, ask to bring work home with you so you can still be around for a few days at the very beginning.
  5. Don't lie there snoring while she's up with the baby. Unless it's because you plan on taking the next 8-hour shift so she can sleep too. You helped make this baby, you help care for it. Even if that just means sitting up with her during night time feedings so she doesn't feel utterly and completely alone.

    But you have to work all day tomorrow? Boo hoo. Guess what, so does she. While you're away at work, she'll be doing everything BABY needs. While producing breastmilk (which burns the same calories as running on the treadmill for a full hour). While healing from the delivery process. While recuperating from making a baby for 10 months. The least you can do is get a little tired with her.

    (Especially if you're a guy with a desk job. However, if your day-time job is heavy physical labor, or particularly dangerous - this might not apply to you.)
  6. Don't ask her to do ANYTHING for you. Not cooking. Not your laundry. Not rubbing your back or playing with your hair. Don't ask her to lift a finger on your behalf. This is a time (for at least 6-8 weeks) where she needs to feel free to bond with the baby, get lactation established (if she's breastfeeding) and figure out mommyhood. Later, when her energy's back, she'll have time for you again. Until then, be a big boy about it and take care of yourself.
  7. Keep comments about her size to yourself. Baby belly doesn't disappear overnight, no matter what celebrities say. It'll take her time to lose the weight, and if you want to help her out the best thing you can do is put daily babysitting on your calendar so she can get away for some exercise. But it'll take her a little while to even have enough energy for that. Don't push her, don't tease her, don't bug her about it. Do tell her that if she wants to go to a gym or get other exercise, you will: 1)pay for it without complaining, and 2)make every possible effort to help with childcare. This may mean that you don't get to the gym yourself for a little while. You'll live. If she's going to lose the baby weight, the best time is in the first year - after that it tends to stick around. But let her decide when she's ready to start working out again. 
  8. Whatever NEW MOMMY wants, you make sure she gets it. No, I'm not saying you should enable narcissism. But most new mothers are entering the most selfless phase of their entire lives up to this point. It's time for NEW DADDY to be selfless too. If she needs water at 2 AM, go get it. If she wants to go for a walk and you don't feel like it, suck it up and tag along. If she's been walking the baby, give her a foot rub every night for a few nights. Things will balance out later. For now, just go out of your way to fawn over her. It'll come back to you in very good ways later on, guaranteed.
  9. Don't question her decisions about BABY at first. Her instincts are good. Trust them. Ask her how to do things and then try out her instructions before experimenting. You may be an expert in many areas, but this is her turf. If you have a good idea, ask her what she thinks, but don't argue if she doesn't agree. She might be touchy right now, she wants everything to be perfect, and she's probably spent weeks reading up on parenting resources that you haven't even heard of. Trust your wife. And when you follow her instructions, you're proving to her that she can trust you with the baby. Later on, when everything settles down a little, you'll have plenty of time to develop your own style as a dad!
  10. Bring BABY to her at night, especially during the first few weeks. It's a simple way to show her you're a partner in this exhausting journey. And don't complain about how tired you are. She's doing everything you are, plus healing and breastfeeding. When she's done breastfeeding, you can change the diaper, and put baby back to bed so NEW MOMMY can fall asleep faster.
  11. Swap nights when baby is a little older. After baby has started sleeping a few more hours at night, take one night on and one night off. That way each of you can look forward to a full night of sleep every other night. (We did sleep training, so for us this only lasted about three weeks; by the time Little Man was 6 or 7 weeks old he was sleeping 6-8 hours a night already.)

    This is easy if you're bottle feeding. If baby is breastfed, invest in some wide-base bottle nipples that mimic the breast. That way you can get up and feed baby with pumped milk while your wife sleeps. Good rest is essential to keeping up her milk supply, as well as helping her have the patience and alertness to be a good mother.
  12. Read parenting books your wife likes. If you want to be any kind of dad at all, you and your wife need to be on the same page with parenting philosophies. If you're smart, you've been showing an interest in parenting books long before now. But this is no time to slack off. There's more to raising good kids than just making sure they are fed and bathed regularly. When you intentionally invest time in reading and talking about your parenting plan with your wife, she knows she's not alone. That means she can relax about the future, which is good in all kinds of ways - particularly in her trust and admiration for you.
  13. Remember that NEW MOMMY tires quickly. She might start each day with all kinds of plans, and then be prostrate on the couch by 11 AM. Don't panic. This is normal. It's your cue to either 1) step in and do those things for her, or 2) gently remind her that they weren't so important in the first place and she's still an amazing woman and mommy even if it doesn't get done today.
  14. Understand NEW MOMMY's sleep deprivation. You might be able to lie down and fall deeply asleep - but your wife most likely can't. Not that she doesn't want to. By the time BABY is two or three weeks old, your wife would probably give her right arm to be able to fall into deep, restful sleep. But it just doesn't work that way. NEW MOMMY will probably not be able to truly sleep for another few months. She's like a momma deer, always with one eye open. She's ready to scramble into full-care-mode in 2 seconds if baby needs her. Which is murder on her own ability to rest. So just because she fell asleep, doesn't mean she's rested. Remember that, when you want to make some smart crack about how tired YOU are.
  15. Get some other daddy-friends. If this is your first baby and all your friends are single or childless, the transition can be tough. It might be hard to want to spend a family evening at home when your buddies are heading out to do something you would normally join. And it can be hard to be positive about all the changes if your pals are ribbing you about all the "freedom" you've lost by becoming a dad. Their teasing can rob you of the joys and amazement of daddyhood if you let it. Find some other dads your age who love being involved with their families. Swap stories and do things together - you'll feel less frustrated about being "tied down" (if that's how you feel right now), and you'll pick up some great tips from guys who've been there.
  16. Watch for signs of post-partum depression. It's pretty normal for a NEW MOMMY to barely even shower or remember to eat in the first few days. But if that pattern goes on for a while, or if she continues to seem discouraged or to doubt her ability to be a mother, have a heart-to-heart with her about how she's really doing. (Or ask a trusted friend or relative to do it.) NEW MOMMY doesn't want to be seen as a failure, and she definitely doesn't want anyone to doubt her ability to be a good mom. So she's not likely to come and spill it out. You can help by observing her and making sure she gets the rest and support she needs.
Some guys reading this are thinking "No way, man! I'm not gonna be subservient to my wife like that!" But this isn't about subservience, it's about servant leadership. It's not about submitting to your wife, it's about not demanding anything from her while she's so fragile. It means you're making a conscious choice to be spectacularly unselfish during this period of time.

And it's not about being controlled by your wife. Rather, it's about being compassionate and sympathetic to what she's going through. She has just given you a child that will carry on your name into the next generation. That's huge. This whole period of time is an opportunity for you to express over and over to her how much you love her, in ways that remind her how blessed she is to have you as a husband.

It'll all get back into balance sooner than you think. Especially if you do any kind of baby sleep training so the whole family can get some rest. Sleep deprivation makes everything worse, for everyone. And if it seems like the exhaustion will never end, just hang in there. Millions of other parents have made it through to the other side, with only a few less brain cells to show for it. :)

(next post: biblical instructions for NEW MOMMY to rest, and for NEW DADDY to share the burden...)

© Sarah K. Asaftei, 2009 unless otherwise sourced. Use allowed by express written permission only.


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