They deal with the baby all day. Don’t downplay that. Whatever kind of career you have, it’s doubtful it’s more physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting than taking care of a baby or three.
As my wife put it, “As hard as your day was … I guarantee hers was harder.”
Don’t ask what she did all day like she was sitting around - she kept a baby alive. That’s what she did. Unless you’re a surgeon, you probably didn’t have direct involvement in keeping another person alive. That’s not hyperbole, either - some attempt to overemphasize moms. I’m a dad. I’ve seen it first-hand. It’s heroic what moms do. There’s a constant risk of SIDS, not to mention that the baby can’t do anything for themselves, and moms are constantly fighting their own battle of exhaustion and self-preservation.
Ask her about how her day went - genuinely - and see what you can do to show appreciation before you start talking about needing a nap.
Five minutes of baby holding doesn't count as "parenting"
When you get home, you’re going to want to grab your baby and do some quality cuddle time… for about five minutes because you’re starving/exhausted/busy. And then you hand the baby back to mom and go about your evening, maybe helping to change a diaper or two.
You’d be wrong. Dead wrong (I’m assuming your partner murdered you in this scenario.)
Despite the fact that dads have tripled the amount of time they spend with their kids since the 1960s (now up to about 7 hours a week, according to Pew Research. Wow! Wow?), it’s still far short of what moms put in. And they need time off the clock when you get home from work if you’re doing a stay-at-home mom situation. They need you to take responsibility for child care, which means some serious clocking in. No, you’re not babysitting - and don’t call it that unless you want punched in the throat.
This is your baby! You’re raising them. You’re rearing the hell out of them. Don’t confuse the role - you’re not the fun uncle who swoops in for a few minutes of “toss the baby in the air” hi jinx, gives a kiss on the cheek, and then leaves when it gets tough. You’re the dad. You do the fun stuff. You do the not fun stuff. And your partner will appreciate that it doesn’t seem so lopsided.
Your baby? They’ll know you are there for them, and that’ll pay off as they get older. From as young as 5 months old, babies with more involved dads score higher on cognitive development. Plus they probably are less likely to become psychopaths later in life and stab you in the face.
Give her a complete night off - regularly
What if you could give your wife something so valuable that you couldn’t buy it in a store?
It’s as simple as a night off.
If you don’t make a conscious effort to give her a whole night - you get home from work, you take the baby and she’s done until the late-night feeding - it’s going to wear her down. Because, essentially, you’re just giving her short bursts of rest each night, but otherwise it’s more hours of taking care of the baby. Moms needs a night off.
The average mother gets between 17 minutes to 36 minutes a day to herself, depending on which study you believe.
A night off on a semi-regular basis (at least as much as you can if there’s breastfeeding involved) will do wonders. Plus, you’d be surprised how much you enjoy lengthy time together with your baby. Take them out to the hardware store. Wear them in a carrier. Go out to Chipotle with them. (I’ve done all three). Then take them home, give them a bath, rock them to sleep, and know that your partner was soaking up every minute of it.
Side bonus: You and the baby out together alone is a magnet for positive attention. Strangers will come up to you like you’re an endangered species. Women will circle you like bees on honeycomb.
Pick a few baby jobs that will be your 'thing'
One of the absolute easiest, foolproof ways you as a new father can help your wife is claiming a few baby tasks.
Knowing she doesn't have to ask you will relieve stress and ease tension. Knowing you already know what you've signed up for makes it easier on you, too.
Here's a sample of things I signed up for with the baby and around the house:
* Changing diapers at night
* Vacuuming, especially when my son started to crawl
* Anything with the child seat
* Bath time and bed time
That last one is crucial. It's great for me. I get uninterrupted one-on-one time with my son each night in probably the best mood he'll be in, because that kid loves the freaking bath. My wife gets quiet time.
Not that it's always easy. Sometimes it took me a couple hours of rocking to get him to go to sleep, or he wouldn't stay asleep long. But I always knew each night what I was in for, and that made us both happier.
Other things you can do:
* Take the baby and get the groceries
* Laundry for baby clothes
* Diaper duty. Here's a truth that the movies are wrong about: Changing diapers is one of the absolutely easiest and least stressful parts of being a new parent. It smells sometimes, it's messy sometimes, but mostly it's not. I had never really changed a diaper before my son was born. I've changed 1,000+ now. Not sure what will be your thing? Be the guy who changes most of the diapers.
* Putting together baby furniture/toys
* Washing breast pump supplies
* Formula duty
Getting up at night is not just for moms
It is the Great American B.S. for dads to say "Well I have to work. She can get up with the newborn."
What do you call what your wife does all day with the baby? When you see a mom posting over and over again online about how tired she is and she's desperate for more sleep - and you know the husband isn't waking up and ignoring her plight - you just want to grab him by the collar and shout, "What is wrong with you?!"
As my wife put it, "your wife has to keep your child alive the next day." That's not exaggerating. If your wife is exhausted from not sleeping all night and falls asleep in a rocker with the newborn, it is very possible the baby will slip and die from SIDS. One in eight SIDS deaths are babies who suffocated on a sofa, mostly because the parent fell asleep.
What worked for me and many I know: Take shifts. My wife got our son anytime he woke up before about 1 a.m., and I took anything after, no matter what happened. We were both about equally tired from that, and at least we got a stretch of uninterrupted sleep. In the early months, when she breastfed I took charge of diaper changes and in some cases just staying up with her watching a show so she wouldn't fall asleep on the baby.
Even though more moms than dads get up at night with the baby, by far, you can be the husband who decides to not piss off your exhausted wife because her job is just as important as yours.
Breastfeeding is something only women can do. I'll give you that. It's not the only thing that newborns need during the night, though. You can and should help.* It makes a huge difference.
* Don't be an idiot, of course. If you have the kind of job that requires extreme focus (heavy machinery, lots of driving, etc.), that's a good reason to get adequate sleep on weekdays. In that situation, maybe on weekends you take an extended baby shift after the final night feeding and do the rocking for awhile. The key is that you can do something.
The physical side of child birth doesn't end at the hospital
You’re not an unfeeling moron. You know childbirth - vaginal or C-section - is going to cause pain, discomfort, soreness and more. But if you think it all ends just because you left the hospital, you’re an unfeeling moron. Long after you cut off your hospital band, your wife still has at least some of these issues. You’d be wise to keep that in mind when you think about how you approach the new mom. It can take a new mother up to a year to recover from childbirth. In the meantime, she’s dealing with:
Vaginal soreness. Duh. Did you know she can get brush burns on her vagina? Have you ever had a brush burn? Has it been on your vagina? If the answer is yes, then I have a whole new set of questions for you. Otherwise, yeah, it hurts real bad, according to my wife.
Perineal tear. Her ass split.
Afterpains (post-childbirth contractions). These can take up to 6-8 weeks to shrink the uterus back to size. This is not like deflating a balloon. It’s like squeezing silly putty back into a smaller container.
Breast engorgement. Looks awesome. Does not feel awesome.You’ll hear women say it feels like their boobs are going to explode. This is also why they say it’s “loo but don’t touch.”
Nipple soreness. If she’s breastfeeding, her nipples feel like they are on the wrong end of a “Game of Thrones” wedding.
Keep that in mind - if you can offer a massage, do it. If you're terrible at massages and can afford to send her for one, do it. If the best you can do is ask if you can buy her some Tylenol and a heat wrap at the pharmacy, do it! Just don't let it be something you forget about - because she can't.
Do more housework than you've ever done
Other than raising a child, house work probably is the second biggest area for old-fashioned views on a man's and woman's role.
Women cook and clean. You eat drumsticks of turkey and make fire.
Many a terrible amateur stand up comic will do whole routines about this. But you're in a relationship with the woman you love, the mother of your child. You're not a bad comic. You need to forget about stereotypes and pitch in.
As much as it seems that taking care of the baby is what is going to consume you, taking care of the house can be just as big of a task. There's just so much more laundry and dishes - sweet Jesus, the baby bottles - and clutter, and if you don't help out more, there's only resentment coming to you.
One British study showed that women spend 17 hours a week on domestic chores, while men spend about six - and that's an improvement. There's a real opportunity for you to not be like other dads out there. By vacuuming or doing more dishes or making a nightly routine of cleaning up toys, you're helping to keep your wife sane. So if you are still skittish about the baby, this is a secret way to make your wife happy as a new mom.
Keep up the romance. She's a mom, not dead.
"Parents report that they ‘do’ less relationship maintenance than childless participants" says the author of a 2013 relationship study.
That makes sense. Your child becomes the focus. You stop thinking about ways to make your wife happy. You're wrapped up in providing for the family and keeping your son or daughter healthy and in some cases just trying to get through the day. Without children, you can spend any weekend on a trip or go on a date or eat a candlelit meal. With kids, that's all possible, but now it involves planning.
Romance matters, though. The woman you fell in love with may have a child with you now. That gives her the title of "mom", but she's still your wife, your lover, and your soul mate. She's a mother - but she still wants to do you, dude.
Little gestures of romance can't hurt - some flowers here, a thoughtful text there, but the study also showed the thoughtfulness behind the gesture is more important that what you do for them. It's the fact you stopped on the way home to get flowers because you know she's had a long day with a screaming baby (don't take too long at the store - that's worse!), not the flowers per se.
Be thoughtful. That's the kind of romance that keeps a marriage working even when the last thing you are thinking about is your marriage.
They are doing everything for the baby. And for their husbands. And probably family and friends as well.
What if you could change that with a simple gesture?
This doesn't have to be complicated.
Did she have a hobby before she had a baby? Find out how she can still do it, even on a smaller scale, and tell her that no matter what, you will carve out time so that she can still do her thing. You'll take the baby, send her off, and give her "me time."
Because guess what? You can handle it. You can handle a night or Saturday morning alone, especially once they can feed with a bottle. Meanwhile, she gets to do something on her own and recharge. Don't assume that it would take hours upon hours of free time for this to work. It could just be a once-a-week yoga session, or maybe she gets to just go to a coffee house and read by herself, or maybe sing in a church choir that has weekly practices. In my wife's case, she does charity work through an improv troupe, so we make sure she's available for shows.
She's doing so much to raise that wonderful kid of yours - just don't forget she was an adult who liked to go do things. The side benefit? When you want to go out for a guy's night or watch a game, she won't have a good list of reasons why you don't deserve some time for yourself.
Taling about her body is off-limits
You don't get to talk about how she used to look. She knows.
You don't get to say it's been awhile since she fit in that dress. She knows.
You don't get to say she used to do her makeup and dress up for you more often. She knows.
She knows. She thinks about more than you know.
Whether she loses weight gain from pregnancy or not isn't something you need to think about. If she asks for encouragement, give it! If she wants to exercise, help create time for it!
Otherwise, you're asking her to change something about herself that she physically might not be able to, and that's just mean. It can take awhile to get back to how she looked before the pregnancy, if at all.
You have lots of rights as a father and contributing parent in the family. You don't have the right to talk about the status of your wife's body unless it's a compliment.