New dads and dads to be! Let this be a fair warning that the ride that you have strapped yourself into will not be a smooth one. And I am not talking about the first secrets of raising a happy baby (because I have no clue how to do that). In fact, this guide has nothing to do with your role in understanding and bonding with your newborn. That you will learn by making your own mistakes. The secret to surviving the early days of fatherhood with minimum damage lies in the mental state of your partner or the new mom. The way you behave in the early days of bringing your baby home, will have a profound impact on the quality of the relationship between you and your lady, at least for the next year or so. And do I need to remind you that her wrath can make your life a living hell? So I have tapped into my own experience and created this guide for you to follow, in hopes that the early days of parenthood in your home will be less tumultuous than they were in ours:
- In one of my earlier posts, I talked about the importance of a paternity leave. For your sake, I hope that you have plans to take a few weeks off from work when your baby arrives. Please do not leave this until the last minute. Inform the HR at your work and apply in advance. This foresight from your side will definitely reduce the stress of the expectant mother and will ensure her that you want to be with her every step of the way.
- Once the baby is home, you will see a new personality of your partner surfacing. Do not be alarmed and refrain from complaining. Try to be the most supportive you have ever been. Comfort her when she cries (She will. A lot!), tolerate her polar mood swings, tell her how strong and beautiful she is and how thankful you are that she is going through so much for your baby. Post-partum depression is very real and very serious. Read about it in advance, watch the new mom for signs and symptoms and get help if necessary.
- You might have noticed your partner’s increased appetite during pregnancy. Keep in mind that it doesn’t magically diminish right after delivery. Chances are that she is still always hungry but doesn’t have the time or disposition to eat. It is your responsibility to make sure that she is fully-fed and well-hydrated. Bring her meals in bed if you see that the baby is not letting her escape and offer to feed her, leave things like granola bars and water on her bed-side table, bite sized pieces of fruit are also highly appreciated. And always, always bring her chocolate.
- If you smell a poo, get up and change the diaper. Do not inform the new mom of the incident in the nappy, especially if she is resting or eating or looking into the far distance. If you are not confident in your ability to handle a squirmy baby, ask the new mom for help, watch her closely and once you get the hang of it, do it whenever possible. Trust me, this will work wonders for your lady’s mood and even though she might not say it, she will be very thankful to be relieved from diaper duty a few times in the day.
- Take it on yourself to handle the guests coming over to see the baby, always keeping in mind the convenience and schedule of the new mother and free her from hostess duties. Answer the congratulatory phone calls and tell the callers that you will pass on their messages to the new mom, never promising a call back from her. She will, when she has the time. Think of yourself as her personal assistant in these early days, handling all the chaos around her, while she devotes herself to your newborn.
- Never ever talk about how exhausted you are in front of the new mom. This woman hasn’t had a good night’s sleep for the past few months and chances are that she won’t be having one any time soon. I think it will just be insensitive from your side to mention how tired you are because of the new baby or any other reason, for that matter. If however, she mentions that you look tired, revel in it and enjoy the attention.
- Never ask the new mom whether she is sure that what she is doing is right. Remember that she is as new to this as you are, be it feeding the baby, changing the diaper or giving a massage. She is definitely doing her best and you are more than welcome to read more about the subject and help out without judgments or criticism.
- Be the most hands-on than you have ever been in your life. If you see a problem, solve it before it comes to the attention of the new mom and drives her crazy. Be vigilant and attentive to what is needed around the house, especially in the kitchen and nursery. Laundry, grocery shopping and meal planning are not rocket science and it will sure do your family a lot of good to relieve the new mom of these duties for some time.
- Do not even mention the idea of a boy’s night to the new mom, at least for three months after the baby is born. Once again, that would be a very insensitive move. Think about all that she is giving up for the new role in her life and family solidarity requires that you do too. However, if she asks you to take a night off from daddy duties, feel free to do so. But remember to check in on her by a phone call every hour, unless she is sleeping and tells you to stop bothering her. (I for one preferred a constantly calling nuisance rather than the Husband going AWOL when he was out.) Be back on the promised time and this goes without saying, bring her something to eat.
- And most importantly, be kind to her. She may be temperamental, emotional, depressed or downright crazy right now, but think about all the changes she is going through, both physically and mentally and remember that this is just a phase which will pass. You might not get any recognition for your help and support, but believe me, she is noticing how easy you are making this transition for her. And with affection, attention and a whole lot of patience from your side, this time will pass with zero damage to your relationship.
In the first month of bringing my baby home, I read a book called “Tales from the Crib” by Jennifer Coburn. I came across these lines in it, “Why was it impossible for people to accept that humans had room for completely conflicting emotions, and one did not detract from the other in the slightest? Of course I loved my son. And of course I saw the beauty in motherhood. But I also felt depleted and burdened by my onslaught of new responsibilities.” I cannot describe the relief I felt when I read these lines, they were an affirmation of my feelings and gave words to the storm of contradictions inside me. I think I read this to the Husband first thing the next morning. Being a mother is not a progression, it is a transformation. Possibly the biggest, we as humans can go through. And I don’t expect any man to comprehend what goes on in a woman’s mind, body and soul when she becomes a mother. All that is needed from you is sensitivity with perseverance and before you know it, she will return to being the person you first fell in love with.