First Time Dad Tips: 10 Things You Should Know

Image Credit: Paul Bradbury/Caiaimage/Getty Images
Image Credit: Paul Bradbury/Caiaimage/Getty Images

Becoming a dad for the first time is pretty scary.

Every day you find yourself facing issues you’ve never dealt with before. And not only are you dealing with a new child, but likely a new mother as well (I think most mothers would agree that this adds a layer of complexity to the father’s experience).

The good thing is, billions of people before you have managed to become parents and more or less did an OK job. You aren’t expected to know everything, and most of what you need to know you will learn along the way.

As a first-time-dad-to-be, I researched this topic quite a bit.  There’s a lot of information out there for “first time parents,” but most of the writing is from a woman’s perspective and therefore tends to skew toward first time moms.

A lot of first time dad tips are the same, but there are some key differences.

What are they? Let’s get right into ’em.

Here are 10 things you should know as a first time dad:

#1 Mistakes happen. You can move past them.

Okay, so you didn’t know that dirty diapers have a special home in the Diaper Genie and you threw them in the trash instead…only to find hours later that your kitchen smelled like an old junkyard.

Mistakes happen.

Sometimes they can be a big deal (like not knowing the correct way to face a car seat in your car).  Other times they’re harmless like the dirty diaper example above.  (Okay, only harmless if you don’t have a sense of smell.)

Mistakes are easier to get past if you view them as learning experiences.  Hopefully each mistake you make will be one less that you’ll be capable of making in the future.

#2 You’re just as much the child’s parent as its mother. Act accordingly.

mom-dad-babyI’m kind of annoyed when other fathers act like they’re somehow less responsible or less capable of taking care of their children compared to the mother.

Sure, there are some things that the mother does that you can’t do (like give birth or breast feed), but you can do just about everything else.

I understand that parental roles will vary based on the parents’ work/home dynamic – obviously a stay-at-home mom is going to spend more time with her child than the dad who works 8+ hours a day, for example.  But that doesn’t mean the dad is any less of a parent than the mom.

As a dad, your specific responsibilities may be different from the mom’s, but that doesn’t mean you’re any less responsible for the child’s general well-being and upbringing.

Side note: I’m sure my wife is reading this right now, wondering why I haven’t yet taken out the trash or put the dishes away.  I’ll get to it soon, I promise.

#3 Take a break with your spouse as soon as possible (when the baby is ready to be left with a family member / babysitter).

Ever since the conception of your child, things in your life probably haven’t been the same.

Sure, the first few months of your spouse’s pregnancy maybe didn’t get in the way of “normal” life, but near the end of pregnancy (and definitely after the child was born), you probably haven’t gone out as much, traveled, or done many of the other things you used to do together.

While it’s really easy to get wrapped up in the new life of parenthood, it’s important to remember that parenthood is easier and better when you have a strong relationship with your spouse (married or not).

Take a break with your spouse as soon as it’s practically possible – get away for a weekend or even a night if you can.  Leave the baby with one of your parents or another family member, if they’re willing.

It’ll take some time and effort to get things back to the way they were (aside from the addition of the child, which basically means things will never be the same, but you get what I’m saying).  Don’t wait to get started on that.

#4 If you don’t cook, get some practice. It’ll be extremely helpful.

Photo credit: jamieshomecookingskills.com
Photo credit: jamieshomecookingskills.com

I know some men like to cook, or cook often, but let’s be honest – that’s not the norm.  But if you do cook, you can skip this tip.

But for everyone else, listen up:

Start cooking, even if you’re not very good. 

Look, I love eating out at restaurants, or ordering takeout/delivery.  My wife and I did it all the time.  But I hated the fact that we did it so often.

When my wife cooks (and she’s a good cook), it’s great.  But when she’s had a long day at work or is simply too tired, she doesn’t cook and we order food.  Every once in awhile is fine, but when it gets to be 3-4 days a week, I personally feel like that’s too much.

So, when she can’t cook, I try to.  I’m not good, but I’m getting better.  And there are some really solid reasons for picking up the slack here:

  1. You save money.  Cooking is almost always cheaper than eating out.
  2. You set a good example for your child.  I don’t think this reason gets enough attention.
  3. You tend to eat healthier.  This reason doesn’t really need much of an explanation.

So, if you can cook even 1-2 days a week, I really think you’ll have a positive impact on your household.  And if you’re not sure where to begin, check out this site.

#5 Don’t be afraid to take your baby with you (outside of the house).

Not a picture of me...this is taken from amazon.com.
(Not a picture of me…this is taken from amazon.com.)

When your baby is first born, and often for the several months that follow, you might find yourself feeling trapped in your own house.

You want to head out to the store, or even take your dog on a long walk, but you’ve got this little thing that randomly cries and poops, which makes it difficult to function normally in public.

This is especially true if you’re home without your spouse for whatever reason.

Don’t feel trapped.  

You can take your baby with you, and you’ll feel so much better once you realize that it’s easier than you think.

Personally, I’m a fan of the front-facing baby carriers (like this one), that make it relatively easy to walk around, hands free, with your child.

#6 Find the balance between paranoia and carelessness.

dog-before-afterIt’s easy to worry about every little thing.  Sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw the line.

The internet has a wealth of information, but sometimes it leads you down the wrong path, and before you know it, you’re really worried about something that actually isn’t a big deal.

Try to stay grounded; yes, it’s easier said than done.

It might be helpful to talk to friends or family (like your own parents) about whatever the problem is.  There’s a good chance it’s something that they’ve encountered, and they can help you see that it’s not something to worry about (or if it is, then you know whether or not you need to reach out to a doctor or other professional).

At the same time, don’t brush off everything as nothing.  Carelessness can be dangerous, so if you think something could potentially be serious, don’t ignore it.  If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor.

#7 Don’t feel guilty if you don’t feel like you’re bonding with your baby right away.

Unlike a baby’s mother, a father doesn’t always have an instant connection with his baby boy or girl.

Don’t worry – this is normal.  The baby’s mother had 9 months to build a connection – it sometimes takes time for you (the father) to catch up.

Some experts believe that a baby’s initial bond will only be with the mother, and that the traditional role of the father is to protect that bond until the child is ready to experience the world (and it’s around that time that the father’s bond really begins).

Just be patient and continue to spend time with the baby, supporting the mother’s bond.  Your bonding will come.

#8 Stash napkins everywhere.

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, but in case you didn’t know: babies are messy.  

So…the value of napkins and paper towels suddenly skyrockets in your household when the baby is born.

Keep some sort of napkins handy in any room where the baby might be – your spouse will thank you.

#9 Talk to your baby from day 1; it doesn’t matter if he or she can’t understand you.

Although babies often don’t speak their first words until 10-11 months, research indicates that they can actually understand the meaning of many words as young as 6 months old.

They may not be able to respond to you, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t processing your words.

In the first few months, the baby obviously won’t be talking or have much of an understanding of what you’re saying, but the wheels are turning.  Language is developing.  Therefore, it’s a good idea to talk to your baby from day 1.

Not only will this help with bonding (referring to tip #7 above), but it will facilitate a good foundation for learning language, which will be the backbone to much of your child’s intellectual development as he or she gets older.

#10 Don’t get all of your tips from the internet.

This ties in with #6 above.  The internet is great for a lot of things, but there can be lots of conflicting information.

And just about anyone can publish information online (look at me, I’m doing it right now).

Always use common sense, and don’t be afraid to talk to real people about any problems or issues you’re having.

What are some of your tips?

While I think I’ve laid out some great first time dad tips, I’m sure I didn’t catch everything.

What are some tips that you have (even if you’re not a dad)?  Leave a comment below! 🙂

About Eric and Tiffany Matthews

We're Eric and Tiffany, the parents behind Cynical Parent. We're just normal parents who are navigating parenthood with both eyes wide open (probably because there's a kid yelling nearby). And of course, we're pretty cynical. Don't believe everything you read or hear, whether it's on the internet, or from a close family or friend (or even from us!). Every child is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Sometimes you just need to try and see for yourself. :)

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