You are being such a sensational new father.
That first night at home, you were anxious and exhausted, but there you were, rocking your swaddled newborn in between breastfeeding or bottle sessions. You're in love with this baby, even after worrying for months about not having a connection with the pregnancy like your wife did.
Fatherhood suits you.
Weeks go by, and man, you are so tired that you could fall asleep standing up! But you also are really embracing this whole fatherhood thing, from the late night diaper changes to the bottle feeds to the doctor appointments.
It is harder than you ever imagined, sure. Some days you are overwhelmed about how to deal with it all and by the time you get home from work, a crying baby is almost too much to deal with, but you do it because you want to take care of the baby, and who can resist that eventual baby giggle, anyway?
There's no way you can do everything your increasingly amazing wife does - she's suddenly a super hero to you - as she juggles pumping/nursing/formula mixing/extra laundry/tracking down organic baby food recipes.
However, you're still confident that you are crushing fatherhood, that you're the kind of dad other dads aspire to be.
It's the hardest role you've ever had, but damn it, you are DOING IT.
A typical day for you, attachment parenting phenom dad:
- You get up for work, and by that I mean you get up from a series of mini-naps in between soothing the baby so your wife can get some rest overnight.
- You change the baby's diaper, give her a kiss on the forehead, hand her off while confirming plans for the day with your wife, and head out to work.
- You check in on the baby all day, oohing at photos and talking about her with coworkers, because you are so proud to be a dad.
- You get home, tired, sure, but so is your wife and you gotta step up, so you do.
- You change a diaper and take the screaming baby out for a car ride to calm her down and do some errands while you're at it because you can just put her in a baby carrier. The sight of dad and baby out together on your own all bundled up undoubtedly elicits kind remarks from strangers (who would never say the same to your wife).
- Victorious at calming her down, and your wife recharged, you return home for dinner, which at this point is mostly a revolving door of one person eating and the other person feeding the baby. Phew.
- Almost done for the day, so after another diaper change and a new outfit, you spend the last hour of the night doing multiple attempts at putting your "sleeping" daughter into her crib in between nursing sessions. Eventually, it works, and you pass out beside your wife. You did it - supported the family and took care of the baby's needs as much as possible.
There's just one ingredient missing from that "perfect" dad day.
Newborn Care Consumes Your Time. Don't Let It Consume Your Focus.
Confession time: It is probably no surprise that the day I described is basically one of my own days (give or take a twin and/or a toddler). Not all the time or even most of the time. But it's happened: I'm in full dad mode and save all my mental and emotional support for the little ones and not for, I don't know, that beautiful woman who made it happen.
Having a site like this, which has grown and grown since it began in March (thanks!), means that for better or worse, I am putting myself out there as, for lack of a better phrase, a "fatherhood expert." I mean, it's a site about giving new dads parenting advice; you can't be an expert on parenting. Ballsy move, Shaw.
I do it because I feel confident as a dad and I want you to, as well. It's that simple. There are side effects, though, to writing about fatherhood all the time. Beyond the fact I clearly screw up a bunch, I am much more hyper aware of how I approach being a dad now than I was before.
I actively think about it more. I research it more. I talk about it more. I get all wrapped up in being a dad.
My wife? She is the most nurturing, caring, loving mother to my kids I could ask for. Day after day, she makes sure their needs are met, even when that most certainly means she's worse for the wear (tandem nursing twins should be an Olympic sport). On top of that, she's constantly supporting me, from my career to the site to doing little things like making me an entire sheet of cookies that I most certainly did not eat in about 24 hours.
We are best friends and I love her more every day, which means tomorrow I am going to love her like you would not believe, considering today I love her completely.
Even with all that, sometimes without intending to she gets B-Team Andy compared to the A-team I try to offer my kids.
Let's go back to that description of a perfect dad day.
I told you the logistics of a typical day of an all-star newborn dad. But if you're not meeting the needs of your wife, short- or long-term, then it's not really an All-Star caliber performance. It's a Facebook Father performance: You've got all the outward appearances of dominating the dad thing, but it's just surface level, like someone who only posts photos of themselves in ideal lighting and background.
For me, some days I feel like a...
100% Dad, 0% Husband.
I try to be the best husband I can be. We're 3+ years in, and even as we have changed jobs, changed houses, and had 3 kids in that span, we're still golden. If we weren't, I wouldn't even be writing this!
But sometimes, man, I suck. In the endless pursuit of becoming a a 100% perfect dad - the guy who is always there for his kids, who supports them and nurtures them and loves them, who is doing what everyone thinks a great dad should do - it is incredibly easy to act and feel like a 0% husband. You can't pour every ounce of energy and focus every day on one thing and expect other areas to be just fine, thanks. And when there's a baby around, the natural tendency is to put everything into the baby.
Some days? Sure. Newborns need a lot of attention! But you'd be wise to make sure it doesn't become a one-sided habit where one day you realize you're just two adults who happen to take care of the same baby together. That's why I am doing what I can to prevent it, because look how easy a day can snowball.
That Daily Perfect Dad Day Description, Now With Full Context:
- You get up for work, and by that I mean you get up from a series of mini-naps in between soothing the baby so your wife can get some rest overnight. A gesture of romance, in a way! So that's a good move. Marriage evolves with kids- romance changes, too. Downside: Now I'm exhausted, which means it's tougher being emotionally capable of handling stress, i.e. not being abrupt and terse.
- You change the baby's diaper, give her a kiss on the forehead, hand her off while confirming plans for the day with your wife, and head out to work. And I'll be so caught up in the baby stuff I forget to kiss my wife goodbye or ask how she's doing.
- You check in on the baby all day, oohing at photos and talking about her with coworkers, because you are so proud to be a dad. Years ago, checking in meant sending little love notes. Checking in on the baby is great, but it's too easy to make that the only thing you discuss. My wife is more than a mom, so it's not good to reduce her to just that.
- You get home, tired, sure, but so is your wife and you gotta step up, so you do. You're instantly focused on the baby's needs. Did I remember to give my wife a hug or talk about things other than the baby? Damn it, forgot. And on top of that, I snapped at her a little when she asked me to do something - not because it's unreasonable, but because on this kind of day, she isn't getting my best effort and I don't think it through before I say something. Real smooth, Andy.
- You change a diaper and take the screaming baby out for a car ride to calm her down and do some errands while you're at it because you can just put her in a baby carrier. The sight of dad and baby out together on your own all bundled up undoubtedly elicits kind remarks from strangers (who would never say the same to your wife). That free time after work used to go to spending quality time together, even if that meant doing errands together. It still could on some days if I found a babysitter. But instead, I just take the baby on my own, because "perfect dads" take care of the baby on their own. No one is going to chide me for spending time with my kid. Not spending a date night with my wife? I figure I can always do it later. Which is dumb.
- Victorious at calming her down, and your wife recharged, you return home for dinner, which at this point is mostly one person eating and the other person feeding the baby. Phew. As a 100% Husband, I'd maybe find new recipes for my wife to try or get her favorite takeout or take time to have hilarious conversations about some goofy we did. But on a 0% Husband Day, focusing all my energy on being a dad means dinner time is just an exercise in eating.
- Almost done for the day, so after another diaper change and a new outfit, you spend the last hour of the night doing multiple attempts at putting your "sleeping" daughter into her crib in between nursing sessions. Eventually, it works, and you pass out beside your wife. If I'm lucky on a 0% Husband Day, I make sure to kiss my wife before I go to bed.
Find the Balance of Parenting and Marriage
"Well NOW what am I supposed to do? Forget my kid? Tell my wife tough luck?" you ask, scratching your head as you look at my past articles touting ways to be a more involved, loving, caring father.
You find the balance. I can tell you right now, continuing a powerful, loving relationship with your spouse is probably one of the least focused on aspects of being a parent of a newborn. You can read book after book about being the parent of a newborn baby and not find a single word about doing all that while also having a great relationship.
There's no perfect solution. It's not feasible to think every day you can be everything to everyone, that you'll always do crazy romantic things for your wife while also teaching your kid to play guitar and coach the soccer team and book an anniversary dinner.
Romance changes for parents, and that's OK: "For every dirty diaper you change, every hour you put in at work, every time you get up in the middle of night…I'm going to remember that these are the romantic gestures right now. This is what real love looks like," one mom wrote.
You just don't want the pendulum swinging toward being all dad, all the time. Work on reducing 100% dad days when you can.
I'd like to think most days I can achieve some level of greatness as a husband and father. I can kiss my wife and tell her how she makes me smile, then hold my daughter until she passes out with her own smile on her face. I can take my son out for errands to spend quality time with him, but bring back flowers for my wife.
I don't think the goal is to be 100% Husband and 100% Dad. You'll burn out trying to please everyone.
Let's go for 100% Great Guy.