Five tips for new dads

New baby on the way? Wondering what to do? Here are five tips to being a great dad.

Parenthood presents us all with the awesome responsibility and opportunity to raise the next generation.

Parenthood presents us all with the awesome responsibility and opportunity to raise the next generation.

Many new fathers spend the nine months before their child’s arrival wondering how to tackle this fatherhood thing. It can be daunting for men who have little experience with tiny, seven-pound people and are overwhelmed with the love and responsibility of raising children. In honor of Father’s Day, Michigan State University Extension offers the following five tips to being a great dad.

1. Don’t panic, your life is not over

Sure, having a new baby changes the dynamic at home, but a new chapter in life doesn’t mean the closure of the one before. Resume your pre-baby routines – just remember to bring the baby along! The baby can come along shopping, to lunch and out with friends. While schedules and routines are helpful, do not set aside your friends and family to hold a schedule for baby. You and your partner will adjust better if you are still enjoying the things in life you did together before baby.

2. Don’t be scared of the baby

Many men enter parenthood not knowing how to hold a baby, change a diaper or install a car seat. Take time to prepare along with your partner for baby’s arrival. Chances are baby’s mom is doing research on how she wants to feed the baby, what kind of diapers to use, car seat to buy and so on. Join in those conversations, talk with your dad friends about what has worked – and not worked – for them.

Speaking of dad friends, your experienced father friends and family are a fantastic resource of information and support. Chances are they have learned how to wash bottles, they know which diaper brand is less likely to leak in the middle of the night and they have a trick or two to soothing a colicky baby. Many communities offer a “Daddy Boot-Camp” class for expectant fathers where you can learn how to change diapers, burp a baby, soothe them and more. Consider reading a book such as “The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year” by Armin A. Brott. Your preparation for fatherhood is as important as mom’s!

3. Help mom out

It can be difficult sometimes for new fathers to figure out how to help support their partner in this new adventure. Take the middle of the night feeding, change diapers, give bedtime baths. If your partner is breastfeeding, bring her water, a burp cloth or a nursing pillow to make her feel supported and encouraged. Offer to hold the baby so she can take a long, hot shower or a nap after a tough night.

If your partner will be returning to work after a maternity leave, work with her to figure out how to best make all the arrangements for childcare, be involved in pick up and drop off, packing diaper bags, washing bottles and in general, collaborating. These early months can be very challenging for new moms, and the return to work can be daunting. If your partner will be beginning a new chapter as a stay-at-home parent, this also brings its own challenges. Remember that as much as mom loves her baby, she will need a break. Be sure you are keeping your partner’s needs in mind as you shift roles into parenting.

4. Be the dad you wish you had or did have

Take time to reflect on your childhood. The ways we were raised impact our daily lives in ways we don’t always recognize. Was your father affectionate? Did he offer guidance and good advice? Are there patterns from your childhood you do not want to repeat? Take time to do your own personal work to prepare for fatherhood and continue to assess your behavior as your child grows. What do you want your children to remember about you as a father? Learn about parenting and what you can do to be the father you always wished you had or did have.

5. They are long days, but short years

The early weeks and months of parenting are very challenging. The days are long with a seemingly never ending list of things your baby needs, and limited about of time to get it all done. Try to slow down and enjoy it. When you’re frustrated at the second or third (or fourth) middle of the night waking, remember in no time at all that tiny baby who needs your love and affection will be off to kindergarten, middle school, prom and will no longer need you to soothe them at night. Take time to truly be present with your children. As they grow, think about volunteering at their school, coaching their soccer team, making your child a priority. Your children will recognize the effort you put into being present and will value those times with you. Your children want to be around you. They want your attention, your physical affection, your thoughts and your love. Make them a priority, you won’t regret it.

Sigmund Freud once said, “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” Parenthood presents us all with the awesome responsibility and opportunity to raise the next generation. Take on this incredibly important responsibility with all the pride, preparation, love and affection it deserves. MSU Extension wishes all fathers, young and old, a Happy Father’s Day!

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