Three of the men dearest to me, my actual brother and two close friends, recently had their first child. Here’s what I know about having your first child that I shared with them.
First-Time Dads Tip 1. Babies don’t come out looking at colleges.
You have time to learn and time to make mistakes. The first three months are mostly about poop, food and sleep. It will get more complicated, but it all seems to come one complication at a time.
First-Time Dads Tip 2. Know what goes into your child.
You’ll be hearing a lot about what comes out — it seems poop is the Rosetta Stone for every ailment — but know what goes in. Go organic, read every label. If you can’t pronounce it, why would you put it into your infant? Food isn’t food like when we were kids. A tomato isn’t a tomato anymore; it’s spliced with the DNA of rats and fruit flies to make them more resistant to a weed-killing chemical that causes cancer. Yeah, it’s absurd. Just know what goes in.
First-Time Dads Tip 3. Things happen when they happen.
Relax. Your child will walk when he walks, talk when he talks, and use the potty when he uses the potty. That last one has been a bugaboo, but it’s happening. And it’s happening despite mom and dad’s best attempts to screw it up and complicate things. Things happen when they happen. Relax. If they don’t, call your doc, she will help you.
First-Time Dads Tip 4. It’s not a contest.
Trust me. Our pediatrician informed us that our son is of average size for his age and he has the ability of a first-grader to make complex connections and verbally express them. However, put a soccer ball in front of him and he’s utterly confused. When all the other kids are kicking the ball, he just wants to hug his coach. Comparing kids is like comparing a horse to an orange (or a genetically spliced tomato with a tomato); they’re not the same.
First-Time Dads Tip 5. While you can, wear your baby.
Seriously. Imagine holding your child all the time, carrying this infant everywhere, feeling them snuggle up and fall asleep in your arms. Now imagine that you can let go and use your arms to write, work, read, make dinner … and the baby still stays right there. That’s babywearing. Do it for as long as your body will allow. I stopped just as my son got big enough to kick me in the kidneys on a consistent basis. That was a good sign that we were done. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
First-Time Dads Tip 6. Speak softly.
This one is hard for me. I’m a big guy with a big voice and my wife gets a fair amount of glee from telling me I can be rather scary. I find that hilarious, but apparently I make a face honed over years of taking the 1 Train home to Harlem that can be menacing. I always thought a small amount of fear was a good thing, to know there were consequences for actions. Now, I think that’s hogwash. I don’t want my child to be afraid of me. I want him to know I will love him and respect him always, even when he screws up. So, we have a no-yelling rule. The punishment: burpees. This does not apply to any kind of warnings or life-threatening moments. It’s about having a house that is respectful and teaching him that soft voices can be more effective than loud ones. Speak softly. Better yet, whisper when you need to discipline. If you treat your child with respect, you’ll have a respectful child who grows up to be a respectful (and respected) adult.
First-Time Dads Tip 7. Remember, you’re a team.
There’s lots of numbers and statistics being bandied about in this never-ending merry go round of who works harder, moms or dads. The truth is you are a team. Have a united front, share responsibilities and, if need be, pick up the slack. There will be times when your spouse will do the same for you. Because you’re a team.
First-Time Dads Tip 8. Respect.
There are a lot of books out there about brain games and essential skills kids should know and how to get your kid into a preschool that will get him into Harvard. Some are excellent; some are no better than kindling. But one that I’d never heard of and found unloved on a library shelf is Parking Lot Rules by Tom Sturges. It’s my new favorite. Yes, there are some fun tips for not smashing fingers in car doors and staying safe in, you guessed it, parking lots. Practical things. But mostly, it’s full of short reminders that raising a child is about respecting them, their growth, their pace and their opinions. In the blink of an eye, your child will be choosing the stations on the radio, picking books to read, disappearing to the comic book section of the library, refusing to take a bath and then (minutes later) demanding a second bath and having an absolute meltdown about both. It helps to be reminded to treat all of these moments with respect.
First-Time Dads Tip 9. Take care of yourselves.
You don’t have to do any exotic workouts, just move. You want to be there when your child graduates high school, gets married, and has his or her first child. Then you can pass on all your fatherly advice.
A version of this post first appeared on Huffington Post Parents.