I sometimes think back to where my mind was at prior to having a baby, when my wife was still pregnant and we were in the ‘expecting phase’. At the time we were just over the moon to be having a baby, so I thought I knew what to expect as a new dad. And the challenge is that nothing can really prepare you. You can read tonnes of blogs, watch YouTube videos of peoples experiences, or even have friends tell you the honest truth. But none of that will prepare you, because you haven’t been through it yourself. You have nothing to compare those stories against in your own personal experience bank. So what your brain does compare the stories to, are experiences that it thinks are related. Let me run through some of my own personal examples.
What I Expected As A New Dad.
Being honest, I didn’t do much prep work to help me understand fatherhood. I mean, I heard stories, listened to what my wife had read about, had the usual remarks from work colleagues like ‘enjoy your sleep while you can’, or ‘enjoy going to the movies while you can’. And I’d just laugh it off, maybe ponder on it a bit more, maybe even spend a bit of time thinking on it, but overall I just didn’t think too much about what to expect as a new dad. I was more focused on my wifes’ pregnancy, preparing the nursery and following our baby’s development week by week. Plus, I thought that my knowledge into child development and my experience working with parents and families was more than enough preparation.
But what I did expect was:
- Sleepless nights. I mean everyone starts talking about and telling you how their child hasn’t slept through the night for however long, or they recall a time when they maybe got a solid 2hrs per night. So I thought I was prepared for the sleepless nights.
- They cry a lot, and you can’t do much other than check if they are hungry, tired or have soiled themselves. I mean movies and media taught me this, so it can’t be wrong!
- They are like a potato – they don’t really do much other than sleep, eat, cry or poop/pee.
- I wouldn’t have time to myself, or as a couple. Once again, I knew parenting was a 24hr gig, but that’s the sacrifice you have to make if you want kids!
- Babies are more resilient than they look. This was something I had been told numerous times, but I didn’t quite believe. I mean, they look pretty fragile and I was notoriously clumsy at holding babies and tended to avoid interactions with new babies until they could at least crawl.
So not an exhaustive list of expectations, but enough I thought to cover the basics of parenting.
My Experience As A New Dad.
Once my daughter arrived, I quickly realised that any prep I had done, or any prep I could have done, really would not have been enough. The only thing I would recommend is to make sure you know how to change a nappy and to know the colour of the baby’s poo when they first start pooping (simply so you don’t get shocked!). It’s not that there was anything outrageously different from my expectations, it’s just that the intensity of everything was more than I could have ever been prepared for (without having had a kid already!).
So my experience was:
- Sleepless nights. Sleepless days. Constant sleep deprivation for the first 6 weeks while my daughter was still sleeping for 2-3hr blocks and needed to be held to sleep. Adrenaline and caffeine pretty much helped me get through this period.
- My daughter didn’t cry a lot compared to stories I had heard. But I had never really experienced crying babies before. I mean I’ve heard a baby cry, but I’ve never needed to problem solve why they were crying. The baby was never my problem. Plus, I was never sleep deprived in the past. Crying baby plus lack of sleep makes 30 seconds feel like half an hour (I timed 30 seconds of crying – longest 30 seconds I have ever experienced).
- She didn’t do much other than sleep, eat, cry or poop/pee. Although this was accurate, she would still do ‘things’ which make you think babies are pretty damn amazing! It would be these small behaviours that get you through the tough experiences and make it all worthwhile.
- As of writing this article, my daughter is 10 months old. My wife and I usually get about 2 hours to ourselves once our daughter is asleep, which is pretty amazing really! Time is a rare commodity now, but we make the most of the time we get.
- My fear of holding and dropping a baby quickly faded within 10 secs of the midwife passing my daughter to me. 10 months in, and she’s much tougher than I ever expected babies would be.
As I said, my expectations were accurate, but the intensity was more than I anticipated. And not even the intensity of the more challenging experiences, but even the intensity of the amazing experiences. You see, prior to having our daughter, my wife and I thought that ‘lack of sleep’ was the equivalent of a few ‘all nighters’ because that is all we had experienced before. And we knew how amazing it was seeing babies of our friends and families, but we had never experienced the joy of holding our own child. And although we expected to not get much of our own time for ourselves, we just had never experienced having no time to ourselves, for anything longer than a few hours in a day. Simply put, our lack of any experience close to parenting, meant that there was no way for us to judge the intensity of this change in our lives.
Is There Anything I Could Have Done?
Short of having a baby before this one, there really wasn’t much I think I could have done to really prepare for this experience. Becoming a parent is just one of those things where I think you do need to experience it to actually understand it. I mean if you are a reader, then I think you should read up on parenting books and experiences to help prepare yourself. And if you’re a listener, then listen to peoples stories and absorb all their experience to help you prep. Just like anything worth doing in life, it is important to prepare yourself so you have some level of expectations and some idea of what you need to do. You wouldn’t go skydiving, snorkeling or learn to drive a car without some level of prep work beforehand. But at some point (aka the baby has arrived), you just need to be able to roll with it, be flexible to baby’s ever-changing needs and ultimately just trust your gut.
Reality Ain’t So Bad.
And besides, the reality of having a baby is greater than any experience I have ever had. The way I see it, even though there are some real extreme lows that make you question your decision to have a child, the highs are so extreme that you think to yourself ‘why would I want life to look any different’. So read, ask questions, do some parenting classes and prepare as much or as little as you like. Because you will know what to expect as a new dad. But be prepared to follow your gut, work together with your partner and supports and focus on the highs while toughing out the lows.
Any advice provided in this article is general in nature and does not take into consideration your own individual circumstances.