I get this question a lot. And the title is full of confidence...but the truth is...I don't think I was ready to be a dad. What I was ready for was a challenge, but even still I think I severely underestimated that challenge. It's so hard to explain. And I received a lot of advice from others about what the first few months of fatherhood would entail. Heck, I even took a Father's Class to prepare. While information is good, there is absolutely no substitute for on-the-job training.
There were many challenges I faced over the first few months of being a father, and they all helped me grow and become a better person. Yet, in the midst of the challenge, it really seemed that there was no way out. Here's a look at a few of the challenges and what I learned along the way.
On the first night in the hospital, we opted to send Rooney to the nursery to get some rest. We actually had a pretty smooth delivery, but it was an emotional day, and we were zapped. We settled in and were sleeping instantly. And just as swiftly as the Sandman came, we were awoken by the nurse for the first night feeding. We had been sleeping for maybe two hours.
You hear about sleepless nights and night feedings, but until you experience interrupted sleep from someone who 100% depends on you to tend to their every need, you don't have a clue what it means to be a parent. And that was night one, with nurses keeping our daughter company between feedings. I learned that night that I was going to have to learn how to function without a full night's rest.
How a Father Deals With Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is a real thing. My wife had it. And that's not a knock on her. She's a strong woman, but she couldn't control how her body's chemicals reacted to having a baby. It was rough for her; it was rough for me. The challenge of having a baby sounded like a fun adventure to have with my best friend. But, in those first few weeks when my best friend wasn't herself, I didn't know what to do.
I felt alone, probably similar to what my wife was feeling. I didn't know how to take care of my baby, and I didn't know how to take care of my wife. I felt useless. So, I did everything I could to keep myself busy: cleaned the house, washed the bottles, put up a storm door, bought some patio furniture, planned a big landscaping project, bought a minivan, and trained for and completed my first 20K. No joke. I did all of those things in the first few months of my baby's life. I ended up spending a lot of money and getting a lot of things crossed off my to-do list. I needed something to do while my baby and wife were resting. I'm not very good at resting.
I learned from those first few weeks that it's OK to sit around and not accomplish anything other than time spent with family. It's hard for men to do that, but hopefully next time (if there is one) I will be ready.
After the first three months, the hazyness of being a new parent started to lift. Not completely, but I could at least see my hand in front of my face. And just as soon as we started to hit a stride and develop a routine, it was time for a growth spurt, sickness or teething, which meant more night feedings, clueless new parent situations and uncertainty of what the new normal would look like.
Maybe I'm just a naive man who doesn't think about these types of things, but I appreciate routine in daily life, and there is a theme of parenting which directly contradicts routine. I think it's God's way of reminding us that we're not in control.
I've started to anticipate transitions and try to adapt quickly, but I'm not sure I'll ever completely get used to the constant change that comes with parenting.
Formula, diapers, baby food, table food, vaccinations, flu shot and the list goes on and on and on...
We find ourselves huddling up to call the next play multiple times a day. It's kind of exhausting. And with sites like Pinterest, and a wife with a board dedicated to our daughter's first birthday party, we spent countless hours deciding what cupcake liners we were going have at Rooney's party. This included no less than five trips to the local party stores and scanning dozens of sites.
In all seriousness, though, we try to weigh the options of the serious stuff heavily to make the most informed and best decision for our family. In doing so, we've also learned not to take ourselves too seriously. There are two sides to every decision and in hindsight, we turned out OK, right?
Parenting is tough stuff. I don't anticipate it getting any easier anytime soon. If we ever add to our family, that will only create a new dynamic. As our children grow, new challenges will arise for sure. Heck, Rooney can't even talk back to me, yet...
One of the biggest decisions you will have to make as first time parents will be selecting a daycare! And I recommend all expecting moms to start looking right away and secure a spot.
I will share a little bit of my experiences along with a few tips. Please let me start by stating, every family has to be comfortable with the place they choose and some of my must haves might be completely different from what your family's needs are. There are some really awesome homes and centers out there, as well as some not so great ones! This article will lean more towards centers because that is what my experience is, not because I think one is better than another.
When we started our daycare search, we lived in Minnesota. Instantly, I was a bit surprised that I was on a waiting list! The second thing that floored me was the expense, as we paid more towards daycare than we did our mortgage. Luckily, Iowa is a bit more forgiving, especially with three kids in a center. We selected a center there because it worked best with our work schedules and being a big city, we didn't know any home providers personally.
A few reasons that pointed us towards centers:
- We did not have family around, so we liked that a center had longer hours and was always open. Generally, centers start drop off at 6:30 a.m. and pick-up by 6 or 6:30 p.m. Not that I like being away from my kids that long, but sometimes you have work meetings or travel.
- We really like the consistent hours, they always have a bigger staff so if a teacher is ill others can cover. I quickly found we were missing plenty of work with the kids being sick, it would be hard to take additional time off if your provider was ill or on vacation.
- I always feel more comfortable having more people around - an example, when Dylan was just 11 months he broke his arm at daycare, so one teacher stayed with him and held him until we arrived and took him to the hospital.
Here are a few things to consider when you start your search:
- A great resource to start your search is www.iowaccrr.org, they can help you find a licensed home daycare in your area as well as many other helpful information.
- Home or Center, ask around; I find referrals go a long way. And if a person has negative feedback, be sure to learn why because that may or may not impact you or your child.
- When you do secure a spot at a place you really like, be sure to have a back-up in mind. I've heard several stories of last minute switches.
- Determine your comfort level with your child being transported. Centers often times do bus trips, some home providers may do school pick-ups/ drop-offs or other trips.
- Location: Generally, I really like close to home, and this is what our family does because my husband and I work opposite directions and we like that our children will go to school with some of the same kids. However, at this baby stage, it would be nice to have my baby closer to my work, which is right by our clinic. So, think about if your child has a doctor's appointment, how long will it take you to pick them up, take them to the appointment, drop them back off and go back to work? If that takes a half-day, you might run out of vacation time fast.
- I ask how long the staff has been there, lots of turnover might indicate issues.
- Learn how many other children will be there. I believe all centers follow state guidelines, which is a 4:1 ratio for babies.
- Ask what is provided. Some daycares provide formula, food and wipes.
- What are the activities your child will be doing? One fun thing about our daycare is they participate in a Jump Bunch program, which basically a PE teacher is coming once a week. They also have a drama program and go on a few field trips each year (these are generally in addition to your weekly fees).
- Do they provide pre-school curriculum? Ours does, which is great so we don't have to worry about a mid-day pre-school drop-off.
- In general, homes are more affordable and may give you a more warming feel for your baby, opposed to the center.
- Are you comfortable with the playground area? Our daycare has a gym, which I love since it is too cold to go outside many days of the year.
- What are their discipline strategies? Believe it or not, those sweet little babies tend to get into mischief.
- Ask about vacation policies, most will give you one free week for vacation each year.
- Be sure to check into dependent care credits, so for us, we are able pay the max of $5,000 towards daycare, income tax-free.
Overall, I recommend checking out a variety of places, go on tours and above all, use your instinct! I usually either walk away strongly disliking a place or feel really good about a place.
In my slow and steady march toward a more holistic, healthy life for our family, I've found a fun recipe I thought I'd share with you!
When the pink slime fiasco hit the proverbial fan about a year ago, my dear husband was one of many people who were very concerned about what is in the food we eat. Upon his insistence, we stopped allowing our kids to eat processed chicken nuggets. As you can imagine, this news did not go over well with our 5-year-old, 3-year-old, and 1-year-old children. We nearly had a nugget riot on our hands.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I am not a good cook. There are a few things I know how to make, and can make very well, but in general, don't ask me to cook for you. It's just not going to turn out well for you. One of the few exceptions to this rule, however, is my answer to our chicken nugget conundrum.
To make chicken nuggets out of actual whole parts of a chicken (not bits and pieces, or, heaven forbid, pink slime), I start by cutting chicken breasts into nugget-sized chunks. Then, I dip them in a bowl of milk, and then into a breading mixture. I just use a purchased-in-a-box breading, but I know many people who enjoy making their own from crackers or stale bread. (I have neither the time nor the patience for making my own breading. If you make your own, I am in awe of you.)
After the chunks have been tossed and coated in the breading, I lay them on a cookie sheet that I've covered with cooking spray. I used to fry the nuggets in a skillet, but I've discovered that baking is easier (plus, I'm less likely to burn them, which is always a plus!) and healthier since I'm using cooking spray on a cookie sheet rather than oil in the frying pan.
I cook the nuggets at 375 degrees in our oven for 15-20 minutes, flip all the nuggets over, and cook for another 15-20 minutes. In the end, they come out golden brown and oh-so-tasty! They have received the seal of approval from my husband, all three of my kids, and even my son's BFF and her siblings. I'd say that makes these nuggets a winner in my cookbook! Bon appetit!
Well, we did it. We survived the first year with a baby! And we definitely are celebrating. It certainly wasn't easy, and we certainly didn't do everything right, but we're all still alive and well, so we'll call it a success. We may even do it again some day!
Looking back at the past year, I can pinpoint a few things we did right, and also a few we did wrong. Some things we knew were wrong immediately (like forgetting to buckle her into her car seat on a 20-minute car ride...) and some things we didn't realize were mistakes (or successes) until much later on.
Please note that there is rarely a right and wrong that spans all families. Some of the things we did right for our family wouldn't be right for yours, and that's totally fine!
Things We Did Right:
- Waking Roo up to feed her during the day while I was on maternity leave. Sleep deprivation was one of the worst things for us with a newborn. I knew it was important for us to stabilize Roo's metabolism and encourage her to eat during the day. For us, it was easier to discourage night eating when we knew she had eaten enough during the day. Don't get me wrong -- it was zero fun waking a sleeping baby. But, I really think it worked! Rooney was sleeping two consecutive six-hour sessions (with one feeding in between) at 6 weeks, and sleeping through the night (9 hours) at 7 weeks.
- Not rocking her to sleep. I love my daughter, but rocking her to sleep was not something my husband and I enjoyed doing. I remember trying to do it once, and it didn't even work. Maybe that's just her temperament. She never liked being snuggled. If she was tired, she wanted to be left alone. As a result, Rooney learned at a very early age to put herself to sleep (which is a totally great skill!).
- Used a pacifier and taught Rooney how to keep it in her mouth. I remember the moment we decided to use a pacifier. I set Rooney down in her papasan chair and she started crying. It was sort of the "Are we going to use a pacifier?" moment for Eric and me. It was time to make a decision. My mom was there, so I looked to her for advice, and she told me she recommended it. So we did, and I have been thankful so many times that Rooney enjoys her pacifier. I also highly recommend watching The Happiest Baby on the Block DVD for tips on how to teach a baby to keep a pacifier in their mouth (you try to knock it out so they tighten their grip, rather than hold it in their mouth with your finger!). (Please note: we haven't had to wean her of the pacifier yet. So maybe I will retract this statement then.)
- Switched from physical therapy to chiropractic for her neck issues. Rooney was diagnosed with torticollis (a tilted head due to uneven neck muscles) at her 2-month well-child checkup. We were referred to a physical therapist, and we gave it a try with weekly visits. We followed their instructions and stretched her neck at each diaper change, but after a few weeks we didn't see much improvement. After researching it on my own, we decided to switch to a chiropractor, and only then did she get better. We went with our gut, and it proved to be the right decision.
Things We Did Wrong:
- Let the doctors and nurses freak us out about Rooney not getting enough breast milk from me and losing 10% of her weight before we left the hospital. I'm not saying they weren't right, but it gave us high anxiety, and that was one of the factors in our decision to stop breastfeeding very early (4 weeks).
- Used an elevated sleep device. She slept great in the rock 'n play sleeper, but we later learned that it probably contributed to her torticollis. Next time we will get a flat bassinet instead.
- Fed her at 5:00 am when she cried. Around 4-6 months, Roo started waking up at 5:00 am. Because she was sleeping such long stretches (12 hours at night), we would get up to feed her. Well, eventually she was used to getting calories at 5:00 a.m., and it became her normal waketime. Which was way too early for us! Even though Eric gets up at that time during the week, we'd much rather her wake up at 6:00 or 7:00. Luckily, it really only took one day of making her wait until 7:00 a.m. to get her first bottle to break that habit. Still, it was a rough couple months til we got the courage to make her wait.
- Gave her the hepatitis B vaccine in the hospital. Rooney has reacted to vaccinations by sleeping a lot. We obviously didn't know she would react like that, but I've read recently that babies who are given the optional additional hepatitis B vaccination in the hospital are more likely to sleep when they should be learning how to breastfeed. Plus, let's be real, hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease, so I don't think my newborn baby needs it on her first day of life.
There are also things we'll probably never know if we made the right decision or not. Rooney was born tongue-tied, so on her sixth day of life we had her tongue clipped. We've come to peace with our decision, but I suppose we'll never really know what things would have been like if we didn't do it. I've also researched vaccinations multiple times and although we've decided to do them, I'll probably never feel 100% comfortable with it.
Making mistakes isn't fun, but there is definitely value in learning from our failures. As hard as we try to not make mistakes, we simply can't prevent them all. This seems to be a normal part of being a parent. Luckily, I have my faith to fall back on when I get anxious of the responsibility of parenting.
As a parent, it seems you are always in a rush trying to get through all the required nightly tasks - dinner, play, bath, books, brush teeth, get in bed and stay in bed (as if that is all and it actually happens that easily). As you are trying to get it all done, sometimes it's hard to let your kiddos get involved and do a thing or two for themselves.
After completing my boys' Valentine cards - I kicked myself a bit for not being more patient. We started to do their friends, and they were doing a really good job trying to write all their friends names and their names on the cards. Unfortunately, our cards were tiny and they write letters really big, so we would be squeezing all the letters to fit onto the card - then their names too! I just did not have the time or patience to sit through all 48! This - being VERY patient so your child can learn - happens often!
So, my advice today might be, let your kids spill a time or two, get messy, have fun and learn! My boys could feed themselves and easily drink out of sippy cups before they were one - because I let them. We had many messy dinners, sometimes things took a little longer, but they learned! They can pour a huge jug of juice into a small little cup - because I let them! Sure we have had spills, but they become more independent, they have fun and they learn these skills!
Have a little fun from time to time! Let them put the tooth paste on the tooth brush, let them use the tape, let them wash their hair, let them put the chapstick on, let them cut the wrapping paper, let them dress themselves, let them zip the coat and put the hat on. YES, it takes MUCH longer, but that is how they learn, and they might appreciate your trust in them to be "big" kids and do "big" kid things!