Sage Advice For First-Time Dads from More Experienced Fathers
Written by Erin Feher
This past Father’s Day was an extra-special one for a certain exclusive club of dads: first-timers. Whether blearily getting used to life with a newborn or waiting on pins and needles for a new baby to make its big entrance, newbie dads are typically existing in a blur of excitement and nerves. And while wisdom and advice for new moms is plentiful (sometimes too plentiful), it’s more rare to hear been-there, done-that fathers school the next class on what’s coming their way. So, we asked ten dads who have been in the game a while what advice they would give to new papas. From intel on what to expect in labor and delivery to tips on dealing with stubborn toddlers to how to make sure sex doesn’t disappear from the relationship, our dads didn’t hold back.
Advice for the Big Day: Labor and Birth:
“Be open to supporting her in every sense of the word. Every birth is different. Be present. Harness every bit of research or info that has been gathered for the big moment and tailor it all based on what serves momma best, moment to moment.” –Jon Jackson, dad to Jax, 12, Jedi, 4, and Jupiter, 7 months.
“Your partner needs you even when they say nothing. During labor they are in another dimension. I kept asking my wife if she needed things for our first and eventually she cry/screamed at me to stop asking her questions. Offer water or coconut water, and easy to eat foods, and don’t feel bad if they say no most of the time. Be present with her, whether rubbing her shoulders and low back or being a physical thing for her to lean into during labor. When that baby comes, get your shirt off and put that dear one on you as much as possible between feedings. It’s magic.” –Nick Grover, dad to Mikio, 5, Isao, 1, and Mas, 6 months.
“Going into labor was honestly scary because I was worried about the complexities of my wife delivering the two kids and their collective health. One thing I, or we, might do differently is have a birthing coach or midwife present as an assistant through the process, and an advocate to deal with hospital staff.” –Ibrahim Baaqee, dad to 10-year-old twins, Mingus and Phoenix.
“Try to load up on as much sleep as you can before you go to the hospital. And try to do one fun outing with just you and your partner before she goes into labor. That will likely be the last time you two will experience that carefree life before becoming parents.” –John Lee, dad to Theo, 9, and Fiona, 6.
“Listen to what your partner says they need, and provide all of that and more—food, music, massage, SPACE. My role was to be a support and follow her lead, so sometimes I would be massaging my wife—which you should be practicing and doing every day before the big day!—other times, I’d be helping out with the breathing, providing encouragement, and physically being there during labor. Do whatever you can to prepare for this experience mentally, because you’ll need to be steady and encouraging while your partner experiences all of the waves of childbirth. Lastly, throw out all of your expectations about what this experience will be like—you won’t know until it happens, so all you can do is prepare, be kind to yourself, and get ready to experience one of the most formative events of your life! You got this.” –Joel St. Julien, dad to Olive, 8, and Jean-Michel, 1.
“Be mentally and physically present for your partner. Be an advocate. She is one of the most amazing creatures on this earth and you need to bear witness to the power she holds.” –Danny Montoya, dad to Orion, 5, and Vega, 2.
“Pack ahead and listen to your intuition and those who know you—not those who don’t. Keep your keys where you can find them, because I couldn’t find mine the night her water broke! Be nice to the doctors and you get perks and better assistance. Get rest and allow the mother’s intuition to kick into full gear. Support support support. And it’s o.k. to say no to guests, even friends and family, until y’all feel content to.” –Julian Prince Dash, dad to Isis, 5, and Akari, 3.
“Labor could be short, it could be long. Prepare for the latter so you have everything you need for hours or days. For the actual moment of birth, if you’re going to be in the room and you’re not a doctor, stay above her waist.” –Tobi Adomolekun, dad to Rayo, 5.
“Get a doula who can be there with you. It takes a lot of stress off, and they act as a very well-informed advocate.” –Roland Palmer, dad to Vivian, 4, and Vera, 6 months.
Secrets to Caring for a Newborn:
“The baby doesn’t really need you—accept it, but don’t take it personal. But that shouldn’t stop you from being involved from day one as much as possible. The more involved you are from the jump the better an experience it is, and the more connected you are. And when you can’t do anything directly for the newborn, try and do things for mom and the home.” –Tobi Adamolekun, dad to Rayo, 5.
“Sleep when they sleep! Avoid having them sleep in bed with you and sleep train as quickly as possible.” –Danny Montoya, dad to Orion, 5, and Vega, 2.
“Take your shirt off and hold the child. A mirror to the face when sleeping will allow you to see if they are breathing while sleeping, a.k.a alive. It is possible to change a diaper one handed while on the phone.” –Julian Prince Dash, dad to Isis, 5, and Akari, 3.
“Presence. The more present you are, the more attuned you will be to them. Take a break from your phone, hold them, look into their eyes, snuggle—be emotionally available to your child. Do night feedings—if your partner is able to pump milk or if you’re using formula, you should do those wake ups. I got in the habit of doing them fairly frequently with my one-year-old, and we have such an awesome bond. Also, find other ways you can support your partner, like taking on some of the details around meal planning, managing the expectations of your families of origin and other folks who will feel entitled to time with your baby. Make sure you take care of your partner and shield her from added pressures.” –Joel St. Julien, dad to Olive, 8 and Jean-Michel, 1.
“SLEEP TRAIN EARLY. Nip it in the bud. It was costly, but we hired a sleep doula/trainer within the first month of our daughter being born. The doula/trainer was a baby whisperer: taking care of our daughter during the middle of the night, somehow training her to sleep through the night, and giving my wife valuable quality sleep time.” –John Lee, dad to Theo, 9, and Fiona, 6.
“Now it’s time for the juggle. Cue support team, a.k.a reliable family and friends that have been itching to help—here’s their chance. Naturally, you’re gonna want to do all the things. Eventually at some point, you’re going to be depleted. A depleted dad isn’t very helpful to anyone. Delegate. Lean on your support team. Take moments for skin-to-skin bonding with baby. If baby is o.k. with it, let momma rest alone while you grab an intimate moment with baby here and there.” –Jon Jackson, dad to Jax, 12, Jedi, 4, and Jupiter, 7 months.
“Sadly, I don’t think there are any secrets, but if someone told me that my kid starts preschool at 2.5 and could be in daycare after they have their first birthday, I would have moved more mountains to spend more time with them those first 365 days. Take every opportunity to be a dad, change diapers, pick out clothes, get a carrier you like and wear that baby with reckless abandon.” –Nick Grover, dad to Mikio, 5, Isao, 1, and Mas, 6 months.
“The secret to caring for newborns is that there are no secrets. It’s trying at times when you’re dealing with lack of sleep or a sick baby…BUT we all learn to do it in our unique way. Plus, these are the bonding moments. Embrace it, because you’ll look back on the time fondly.” –Ibrahim Baaqee, dad to 10-year-old twins, Mingus and Phoenix.
“They are not as delicate as you think. Try different things to see what works best for calming, soothing, etc.” –Roland Palmer, dad to Vivian, 4, and Vera, 6 months.
Tips for Dealing with a Toddler:
“Teach them how to communicate from DAY ONE. Begin with simple sign language accompanied with words and then move on to emphasizing verbal language when they begin speaking. Manners matter and it begins immediately! You will save yourself years of headache if you provide them with positive communication skills from the onset.” –Danny Montoya, dad to Orion, 5, and Vega, 2.
“When your kids start to talk, theoretically can listen, and just do more stuff, it’s so hard to not expect so much of them. Lately I try to tell myself out loud that they are 2 or they are 5. It’s shocking how much they can do or know at those ages, but they are still so small. When I overreact, I sit down with my kids and tell them I’m sorry and this is why I was frustrated or yelled, but it isn’t how I want to be. Even when your kids are so little, that release of how bad you feel for not being better can be powerful. Try and remember it, and know that good days will outweigh the bad. Also: Just add water—a bath, shower, or letting them play in a well supervised bucket can turn the tide.” –Nick Grover, dad to Mikio, 5, Isao, 1, and Mas, 6 months.
“Try your best to implement some sort of schedule, but be open to things changing last minute. Toddlers are beyond unpredictable. Advocate moments for your partner to rest and recharge. Advocate for yourself…find moments to recharge. Inevitably, unless there’s tons of reliable hands on deck, toddler time is also insomniac time for many. Don’t burn out. You’re doing great.” –Jon Jackson, dad to Jax, 12, Jedi, 4, and Jupiter, 7 months.
“When dealing with toddlers I believe that it’s important to have consistency in your message. If the kid(s) know that you aren’t going to reward them for bad behavior, you won’t be held hostage in Target by a kid crying for every toy. ” –Ibrahim Baaqee, dad to 10-year-old twins, Mingus and Phoenix.
“Do not project your past and narcissistic ideas of self onto the child. They are an individual and all of us are similar and different, so just pure love. Answer all questions they ask, and if you do not know, look it up. Work is not more important than time with your children. Try not to have other people raise your kids. Facilitate tools and find out what they like, rather than impose what you like onto them. They will tell you what they like and want to pursue.” –Julian Prince Dash, dad to Isis, 5, and Akari, 3.
“‘Terrible twos’ is a horrible lie. I get that it slips off the tongue, but the truth is that three is the worst, and I have anecdotal evidence from many fellow parents to prove this. Seriously, it’s a rollercoaster in the best way possible. Being a parent is so physical and your toddler will not stop until they go to sleep, and then they’re back at 100 percent the next day, while you’re at 45 percent. My partner and I both had to cultivate self-care practices for ourselves to deal with the stress—even if it’s one run a week, it’s important to get that time for yourself. Be mindful of the things that your little one will do to set you off, and know when to ask your partner for help. With all of this said, my now 8-year-old was equally challenging and amazing during that time, and remember that it’s far from a permanent developmental stage. You’ll get some absolutely dreamy times with them as toddlers, too!” –Joel St. Julien, dad to Olive, 8 and Jean-Michel, 1.
“They have no reason or logic, and are entirely impulsive/emotional. So, basically best of luck until about 4 years old, when their prefrontal cortex begins to develop.” –John Lee, dad to Theo, 9, and Fiona, 6.
“Enjoy it! It’s a fun experience. Try not to accept bad behavior, we all do it to some degree, but resist. Be consistent! Also, early sleep training is important for the toddler, for you, your wife, AND your relationship.” –Tobi Adamolekun, dad to Rayo, 5.
“Something that helps keep me sane is remembering that when things are difficult, it’s always temporary. Also, if they’re throwing a tantrum, say what you see (or just keep repeating back to them what they’re saying, calmly), until they understand that you’re acknowledging them, and they will calm down.” –Roland Palmer, dad to Vivian, 4, and Vera, 6 months.
Insights on Raising a Teen:
“Show sincere interest in their passions across the board. Invest time and resources into finding out what really gets them going. Remember, you are guiding this person into adulthood. Be quick to admit when you make mistakes. As your kid(s) gets older, share with them things that you have struggled with…share with them your weaknesses as well as your strengths. Teens need to know that their parents have flaws like they do.
Also, share with them how you’ve managed your flaws.” –Jon Jackson, dad to Jax, 12, Jedi, 4, and Jupiter, 7 months.
Advice for Maintaining a Strong Marriage or Partnership in Parenthood:
“Remember to express gratitude to your partner, even when you’re tired. Spend less time looking at your phone—that goes for parenting, too. Also, as soon as you can, start going on date nights together.” –Roland Palmer, dad to Vivian, 4, and Vera, 6 months.
“It’s been a mix of prioritizing our relationship, as well as realizing that our expectations will have to change. You are going to be exhausted and the easier thing to do will be to sit around and watch Netflix. NO JUDGEMENT to folks who are making it work doing that. For us, we have to go out to spaces where we can remember that we’re adults and not just orators of countless children’s books. You won’t believe how much you find yourself saying the words of those small cardboard books! Once a month, get a sitter and go out—even if it’s just for an hour. Creating those spaces for you to connect is vital. Don’t wait until they’re a toddler. If you do it now, you’ll be solid and your kids will thank you for it later on in life.” –Joel St. Julien, dad to Olive, 8 and Jean-Michel, 1.
“Date nights. And make sure you remember to have sex.” –John Lee, dad to Theo, 9, and Fiona, 6.
“Whether it be through words or actions, let your partner explicitly know you like them. Love is great and all, but one can often find it difficult to spend time with those they love. But you always want to be with those you like.” –Danny Montoya, dad to Orion, 5, and Vega, 2.
“It’s really hard to always be on the same page. My wife and I try and reset at the end of each day, talk about how it’s going and what we are struggling with, laugh about the stuff that we can, and support each other for the things we wish we did better. We both try and involve ourselves with raising our kids across the full gamut of ‘stuff,’ but we both also lean into our strengths. I’m obnoxiously efficient, and try and use that for things that will help clear space for other stuff. Moms are super exhausted as a general rule, more exhausted than we can ever claim to be, so take your kids out of the house and have your own time with them. You will be a hero. Ask them what you can do to help—it is always evolving so don’t assume it’s the same as yesterday, last week, or last month.” –Nick Grover, dad to Mikio, 5, Isao, 1, and Mas, 6 months.
“People change and evolve. Constantly learn from your partner. Advocate transparency. Allow your kid(s) to see how you resolve conflict. Find peace in mutual disagreements. Most of them aren’t really big deals. Remember…peace is always the goal for the home. Inevitably, there will be threats to it. Fight to keep it at all costs.” –Jon Jackson, dad to Jax, 12, Jedi, 4, and Jupiter, 7 months.
Other Thoughts On Fatherhood:
“Understand that the pecking order shifts once a kid is in the picture. You’re no longer the center of attention in the relationship. Your utility for the first year is entirely support: to fix things, fetch stuff, and move heavy things. Only after the first year does this change, when your kid begins to detach from the mom and becomes more self-sufficient.” –John Lee, dad to Theo, 9, and Fiona, 6.
“It gets better and better. Time flies, be present.” –Tobi Adamolekun, dad to Rayo, 5.
“New dads should know that their child needs to hear things from the father’s perspective, as well as the mom’s—assuming both are around. I grew up without my dad’s presence in my daily life, but I have paternal instincts that I trust in the absence of experience. The last piece of advice that’d I tell all my friends to do is share your experiences with your peers. Me and my friends that are also fathers share our experiences. You can learn from the successes and fails of your friends and get a good laugh in the process.” –Ibrahim Baaqee, dad to 10-year-old twins, Mingus and Phoenix.
“Being a parent is amazing, and one of the joys of my life. I’ve learned so much about life and myself over my 8 years of parenting—it’s astonishing. One thing I’m working on is making sure that I’m continuing to challenge my perception of being a ‘good dad.’ I cook all the dinners, pack lunches, do drop-offs and pickups to school, etc. That doesn’t give me a moral high ground—things aren’t absolutely equal just because I’m doing some things that women have been expected to do since forever. We have an opportunity to challenge patriarchal norms and actually start thinking about gender equity as it relates to the household division of labor. I recommend reading Dr. Darcy Lockman’s New York Times Op-Ed entitled ‘What ‘Good Dads’ Get Away With.’ It’s important to be aware of how you are pushing against cultural norms, but ask your partner about all of the work she does that we are completely oblivious to—it’s sobering, but necessary. It’s awesome modeling for our kids, too!” –Joel St. Julien, dad to Olive, 8 and Jean-Michel, 1.
“You will quickly realize how selfish you have always been. Focus on being selfless with your time but don’t be afraid to be a little selfish on occasion, for your sanity. And offering your partner those chances to be selfish—a.k.a. alone time—is often the best gift you can give.” –Danny Montoya, dad to Orion, 5, and Vega, 2.
“There are no YouTube videos or books that will help, you just have to learn as you go. Reach out to other parents because you can easily feel isolated. You define fatherhood. Ask your child big picture questions and see what they say. You will be talking to them more than adults, and having deeper conversations, at that. If you make a mistake, admit it and share, so they can grow with you. There is nothing better. Forgive your father if you have to.” –Julian Prince Dash, dad to Isis, 5, and Akari, 3.
“Just as every kid is different, every fatherhood journey is also different. Be present as best as you can, for all members of your tribe.” –Jon Jackson, dad to Jax, 12, Jedi, 4, and Jupiter, 7 months.
“It seems difficult at first, but you find ways to adjust your life and schedule, and then it gets easier.” –Roland Palmer, dad to Vivian, 4, and Vera, 6 months.
“You will give up things that you cared a lot about. Time is no longer your own. But all the cliches ring true: you will live for smiles, hugs when you get home from work, reading the same book a million times, your kid falling asleep on you, the first time you show them anything you love. It’s a grand adventure.” –Nick Grover, dad to Mikio, 5, Isao, 1, and Mas, 6 months.
Need a gift for that #1 dad in your life? Check out these 40 Great Gifts for Dad, and peep the Father Essentials of pro pops Bryant Terry and Pete Oswald.
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“For the actual moment of birth, if you’re going to be in the room and you’re not a doctor, stay above her waist.”
I had to stop reading at this point. Some partners are fine with watching their child come into this world; some are not. That’s okay. But I resent the blanket idea that “you don’t want to see that” – when /that/ is part of the hard work of creating new life. Don’t judge a pregnant woman’s body for doing what it was created to do.
Don’t judge another’s honest opinion about their role in the birthing miracle.
Had my partner been standing below my waist he would have been in the way of the doctors and nurses working to save her life. Or he would have been standing in the back of the room out of their way as just an observer. No, his proper place was above my waist holding my hand and whispering encouragement in my ear – regardless of whether he wanted to “see that” or not.
I think advice to ‘sleep when they sleep’ is honestly one of the most stupid ones, but it’s so frequently give to new moms and dads. My newborn only slept while on a chest in a baby carrier or in a moving buggy – he would wake up as soon as it stopped. And I don’t think he’s an exception.