Tags: Featured Story, Infant & Baby, Parenting
Parents everywhere seem to nod and agree when it comes to one key parenting principle: the days are long, but the years are short. Father’s Day is Sunday, June 21, and dads too know all about long days, longer nights, and how fast time goes by with little ones at home, especially as a new parent.
Managing a changed routine, a relationship, and how to be a great father are important issues new fathers face with answers that can feel uncertain. An abundance of information and an almost equal variety of opinions exist on social media, with its odd mix of community and divisiveness, but few would argue against new parenthood’s unique blend of exhaustion.
Despite collective advice, there is simply no rulebook for how to be a new father. Bringing home Baby also means a new family dynamic, often rife with sleepless nights.
While there are many kinds of families, and some may include relatives or paid staff who also provide reprieve, having a newborn at home is a uniquely challenging phase of life. Mom’s role is often clear, even as she adjusts and heals, but Dad’s role may be less apparent.
“The new dad’s job is to be there and be helpful,” said Ruth Klein, time management expert, author of six book, and mother of three children. “The more a new dad helps the new mom, the happier Mom will be. Because the mom is physiologically healing and has this whole new emotional world, the mother seems to have a deeper level of connection with the child for obvious reasons. A new father thinks he’s helping and he is—but he needs to do more.”
Klein is a renowned productivity coach with degrees in psychology, clinical psychology and spiritual psychology. Her advice has reached national audiences through outlets like Oprah’s “O Magazine,” “Readers Digest” and other standout media, but she calls California home.
“Being there and being helpful is what Dad should do to bring harmony,” said Klein. “He will have a ridiculously appreciative wife, but this is a time when real patience and compassion from Dad with Mom has to happen.”
Simply not knowing how to take care of a newborn and what is happening with the mother’s postpartum recovery may be part of the challenge for new fathers.
“Many times, men freak out in this situation because they don’t know what to do so they keep their distance so as not to upset mom or hurt the baby,” said Klein. “Mom may also be a bit temperamental and moody. She may be upset in ways that Dad is not used to or those ways are bigger and more in your face than what he’s used to, which is normal. Hormones are trying to get back to homeostasis and normalcy, and for some women, it takes longer than others.”
Newborns are known for keeping parents on a limited sleep schedule, usually waking every two hours to eat for at least the first month of life.
“The baby is going to cry a lot. Mom is exhausted, Dad is exhausted. The last thing you want is to listen to, much less deal with, a crying baby,” said Klein. “Unless the new father has been around babies a lot in the past in a caretaker role, it can be a whole new life.”
Ways to Help: Ten Tips for New Fathers
1. Go with the flow and expect the unexpected:This is Klein’s number one suggestion. “Be grateful for it. Just that intention will make life go so much more smoothly. Even second children are a once-in-a-lifetime event because you’ve never had this same baby. Look at the child in awe and stay in there.”
2. Make a plan:“Just as a family plans their financial life, I think it’s really important that a husband and wife plan what it’ll be like once the baby is born,” said Klein. “Chart a path for the first three months of a newborn. It would at least help to define what Mom and Dad want and need. Our needs must be met. Our wants are nice if they’re met, but in this critical period, get through the needs. Mom will have more needs.”
3. Be present for Mom and participate: “Dad just knows, when he comes home from work, he is going to be participatory until the child goes down for the night,” said Klein. “Somehow, we’re able to muster those last vestiges of energy, because when we know that it’ll last for two hours or whatever, then you can relax.”
4. Know that a baby’s crying has a purpose and pay attention to what the baby needs:“There are only so many reasons a baby is crying: colic, indigestion, hunger, being tired, needing a clean diaper, or being in pain,” said Klein. “What if instead of just being annoyed with the crying, we had a new perception and said ‘Okay, Baby isn’t hungry, so let’s see if she’s dry and clean. It could be colic. She could be needing to be burped, or she’s tired or possibly in pain for another reason.’ Go from there.”
5. Accept that nights will be difficult: “Just know going in that the first four weeks are going to be tough,” said Klein. “This is where it really helps for men to help out. Men have got to get up. Bring the baby to mom to nurse or give the baby a bottle. Mom needs you to do that, not only for herself but for the baby. It is what it is. Mom dealt through the whole pregnancy. You deal now. It’s four to six weeks of bad sleep, barring complications, generally speaking. You know what you’re in for; recognize that.”
6. Take a ride in the car: Klein suggested taking a break by getting everyone into the car, a step that often lulls newborns to sleep, too. “Sometimes, going for a drive is absolutely not what you want to do, but it gives you two time to talk,” she explained. “That’s quality time even though you’re exhausted. This magical thing happens where the baby drifts off, and you can reconnect with each other. Then you can figure out which of the two can put the baby down without waking him up when you get home.”
7. Buy a rocking chair:“Babies love that motion,” said Klein. “A rocking chair can help you both get sleep in the long run, because it creates a routine before the baby goes to sleep. And it’s the closest motion to the car you’re going to get in your house.”
8. Manage communication: “In the long run, managing time is really about managing energy. Communication is energy,” said Klein. “Life goes better when we have more loving communication. Ask Mom what she needs and do it.”
9. Expect the relationship to change and let go of obsessive thoughts:“There is another person taking your wife’s attention. She’s tired, he’s tired, they’re cranky. Expect these kinds of things,” Klein confided. “Obsessive thinking like ‘I don’t know if this relationship is going to work now.’ What if, what if, what if…’ Just let it go.”
10. Give her a Father’s Day experience: “ What is the best gift a baby daddy can give a baby mommy? And how can you get a happy husband?,” she said with a laugh. “By having a happy wife. Be participatory. Connect with the child.”
Find more advice from Ruth Klein at www.ruthklein.com.