Jumping into fatherhood in Massachusetts can be intimidating. Many of us have not had involved fathers or learned the same skills as the women in our families. The reality is, there is no way to be fully prepared for parenthood — most moms are figuring it out as they go, too.
Even though there will always be bumps and swerves in your parenting journey, it’s important to be informed of what to expect as you prepare for the big arrival.
Here’s some advice that may help.
With your partner or co-parent
1. Hone your relationship skills
“Before you even consider fatherhood, start working on your current relationship,” says Judith Joseph M.D., MBA, a psychiatrist and a clinical assistant professor in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Are you someone who avoids vulnerability or intimacy?” Recognizing what you need to work on gives you the opportunity to improve. A couple’s therapist can help you and your partner learn how to best connect with one another so you can bond with your baby.
2. Talk about what kind of parents you want to be
What are both your thoughts on time-outs ? Sleep training ? Of course your approach may evolve as you go along, but aligning on a parenting philosophy – whether it’s with gentle parenting , authoritative parenting or another style – from the get-go can help.
3. Work together to come up with a name
Discuss what is important to you and your partner in a name . Is it: Meaning? Honoring an elder? Representing heritage? There are plenty of name lists in books and online to go through.
4. Create a birth plan
You and your partner should discuss whether your partner wants pain medication during labor or hopes to avoid a cesarean section . You can also discuss how to approach the unexpected. A doula can help you advocate for these decisions in the delivery room.
” Birth plans can be useful as a way for parents to communicate with one another about what they’re hoping for that particular day, and then to share that with their doctor,” says Craig Garfield, M.D. , a pediatrician and professor of pediatrics at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago – though he doesn’t recommend getting too attached. “Use them as a guide, but realize that ultimately your doctor and you are on the same page and that everybody wants to have a healthy baby and a healthy mom.”
5. Divide responsibilities
“Have a conversation with your partner before the baby comes and make sure you’re on the same page with respect to who’s responsible for what – household chores, errands, midnight feedings, etc. – and what back-to-work looks like for both of you,” advises Jeremy Holland, a dad to two.
Recognize each other’s strengths and preferences and figure out what works for you, not based on societal norms, but based on your family’s needs.
6. Be prepared to lighten your partner’s load
“Find ways to lighten your partner’s load whenever possible – washing dishes, laundry, cooking, etc,” says Agena Davenport-Nicholson, M.D., an obstetrics and gynecology specialist in Atlanta, Georgia. Before the baby comes, practice noticing your partner’s needs, so you can be there during labor, ready to give them a massage or some water. Once the baby arrives, step into tasks that your partner cannot do while recovering.
7. Make time
“Don’t get so busy that you forget to make your partner feel special on a regular basis,” says Mick Foley, a father to four kids (and World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Famer). “Whether it’s something as simple as a handwritten note or complimentary text message or flowers, for any reason or no reason at all, remember to make the person in your life continue to feel special.”
8. Get the gear
Baby bottles , bathtubs , and strollers … There are millions of options for parents to choose from, but as long as the gear is safe (i.e., not recalled and in line with Consumer Product Safety Commission standards), it’ll be fine. (Though I highly recommend getting the lightest umbrella stroller , nothing fancy, and learning how to wear a baby carrier correctly so you don’t butcher your back.)
You don’t need to break the bank here. “Look for used gear [from] friends or family who are done using things,” Dr. Garfield advises. The only things this doesn’t apply to is a crib or a car seat, he says, which you want new so they are sturdy and safe.
9. Install that car seat correctly
Nearly half of car seats are installed incorrectly, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Luckily, many AAAs and police stations have child passenger safety technicians on staff who can check your installation for free.
It’s a good idea to prepare your home for your newest family member before they arrive (when you have the time and energy). Lock up hazards like cleaning supplies, toiletries and pesticides. Secure gates at the top and bottom of stairs. Pop in electrical outlet covers. Ask friends for hand-me-downs in this department, too.
11. Prep meals
“Pre-cook and freeze, in single servings or servings for two, as many meals as you can,” Holland says. “It’s a big help on days the kid decides to shriek for 23 hours and you can’t muster the energy to cook.”
After the baby arrives, don’t be shy asking for additional help. Create a meal train and let others cook for you.
Financially and legally
12. Be mindful about your expenses
Caring for a child is expensive . Suddenly you have to think about things that you never did before: daycare , toys, even college (yes, already). Come up with a budget to make sure you don’t end up in a hole of debt. Open a savings account and a 529 account to save for their education. (Hint: Family members love contributing to these on birthdays and holidays.)
13. Prepare for the worst
“Each parent should get a life insurance policy that would cover the major expenses in the event one of them dies,” says Tzvi Holt, a dad to four kids. Do some quick research to figure out what type of insurance you want based on what you can afford.
It’s also time to find a lawyer, make some difficult decisions, and draft that will . It’s tough to think about, but necessary.
14. Talk to HR
Ask your HR department what the family leave policy is. Do they offer paid time off for partners? Discounts on childcare? Flexible hours?
“Very few people actually find out what benefits they have,” Dr. Joseph says. “They don’t have time for it, or they assume incorrectly that they don’t have benefits.”
15. Take what they offer
“[ Paternity leave is] a really great investment in the relationship between the dad and the child,” Dr. Garfield says. If you are there for the baby during the early months, studies show you are more likely to take on parental responsibilities over your child’s lifespan. Studies also show that mothers who have a partner who takes leave feel less physical and emotional strain.
16. Weight train
“Carry a gallon jug around the house with you all day all the time,” says Charles Rosenberg, a dad to a 6-year-old with a newborn on the way.
Prepare to carry your kid around from the day they are born until middle school by adding arm and back exercises into your daily routine.
17. Exercise your values, too
When many folks think of strength, they think of the physical kind – “but strength doesn’t have to be that way,” Dr. Joseph says. It can be standing firm behind your values, advocating for yourself and others. Being caring, even when it’s tough, is an essential part of fatherhood.
18. Educate yourself
Although a lot of the skills you need you will learn on the job, you can bypass many mistakes by listening to podcasts, reading books, and taking courses . Learning about birth and breastfeeding are especially important; research shows partner support can improve outcomes.
19. Read to the belly
“Talk and read to your newborn early and often. This starts in utero,” Dr. Davenport-Nicholson says. Read a comic book, the newspaper, anything … It helps your baby learn to recognize your voice, and starts building a foundation for literacy.
20. Heal yourself
Even if you had the greatest upbringing ever, you can carry some scars into parenthood. Luckily, there are plenty of tools and coping strategies that can help mental health, whether it’s trying therapy or reading self-help books.
21. Don’t go it alone
Pull together a team of friends, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and other loved ones to help once your newborn arrives. Have them watch the baby while you or your partner showers. Ask them to fold the laundry.
At the same time, only allow people into your circle if you want them there. “Support your partner’s feelings about visitors, especially in the hospital and the first few weeks at home,” says Dr. Davenport-Nicholson.
22. Surround yourself with support
Pregnancy and parenting are more difficult than many let on, so don’t surround yourself with people who feign toxic positivity. You won’t want to be told to “enjoy every minute” after a night of no sleep. It takes a lot of community support to get you through that first year. It helps to talk to honest moms and dads who have made the same mistakes as you and live to talk about it.
23. Keep a team of professionals on hand, too
Start interviewing pediatricians . You will need to have one ready to meet your baby within the first week of their life. Look for someone who is calm and prepared to handle all of your neurotic calls those first few months.
Then consider other sources of professional support. If the baby isn’t latching, it’s good to have a lactation consultant’ s number on hand. A postpartum doula can extremely helpeful when you’re navigating your first few weeks as a family. Keep your favorite pizza spot on speed dial.
24. Get ready to take your shirt off
One more bit of advice: Do some skin-to-skin contact . Once the baby arrives and your partner holds the baby, pull that shirt off and cradle your newborn against your chest. Let them inhale your scent and ride the waves of your breathing. Let them know you are there.
25. Be prepared to learn as you go
If you didn’t grow up cradling babies, you might feel incompetent when faced with inconsolable crying. Soon you will figure out your baby “superpower,” Dr. Garfield says.
“It might be gently rocking them. It might be singing to them. It might be taking them outside for a walk.” You will learn to care for your baby, and your confidence will soar.
Should you be in the midst of a divorce or paternity case, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation to better understand your rights.