It has now been almost 9 months of this parenting adventure and I have to say it has been full of surprises. One of the most welcomed surprises is to witness on a daily basis how my husband Clayton is such an amazing father to Leah. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since he has been a loving and supporting husband these past 5 years, but seeing him as a father has really opened my eyes to how truly incredible he is. Here are my Top 5 Tips for Daddies in honour of our first Father’s Day!
1) Ensure You’re Ready
I remember one key conversation that started my husband and I on this journey of having a baby. We were sitting around with friends chatting about the next step in our marriage, and when they asked if we were ready to start having kids, Clayton surprised me when he promptly replied that he was! Though I never doubted my desire to be a mom, I felt that I still needed to methodically analyze the pros and cons for having children, before actually starting on that path. Clayton on the other hand, knew he wanted to be a dad, and was ready to become one. Even so, he waited patiently as I examined all the arguments for and against, and interviewed our friends and family who had kids. When we were both ready, we embarked on the journey together, ready and excited.
TIP: Regardless of who is ready to have a child first, it is incredibly important to have both husband and wife completely on board before starting a family. Having a child is not a small decision and should not be entered into lightly.
2) Start Out Strong
The labour and delivery of baby Leah went better than I could have hoped for and with the help of Clayton (and our doula), our baby was born naturally, according to our birth plan. It helped that my husband and I attended great prenatal classes, spent time discussing our hopes and fears for the labour, and practiced relaxation exercises and labour positions beforehand. He respected and responded to my needs throughout the labour (no talking or noise during contractions) and helped to keep me relaxed (amazing hand massages) the whole time. After Leah was born, we spent the first night in awe of our new baby, taking turns holding her skin-to-skin and sleeping in the hospital bed (me) or in a chair (him). The next four days in the hospital proved very difficult as Leah was diagnosed with jaundice and had to spend the majority of her time under UV lamps in an isolette. She was inconsolable and it pained us to hear her cry, to be separated from her, and unable to hold her or breastfeed on demand like we had planned. To make matters worse, we were incredibly sleep deprived from taking turns monitoring, feeding and changing her (with attempts to nap in between). Despite all this, Clayton refused to leave our side until we left the hospital together as a family, showing from the start the kind of commitment and sacrifice that Leah would always have in her father.
TIP: Spend time skin-to-skin with your baby in the first few weeks of his/her life (and onwards) for quality bonding time and numerous health benefits to the baby. The bonding time between baby and dad helps the baby to become familiar with daddy’s scent and helps the daddy to form a connection with the baby early on. This bond is so essential when he’s struggling to soothe or care for the baby, and can help him to gain confidence in his role as a father.
3) Work as a Team
For the first few weeks of Leah’s life, Clayton and I worked as a team to take care of her every need. From joint diaper changes to taking turns rocking her to sleep, we did everything together. Though I was breastfeeding and thus couldn’t share the load of feeding her like we would have otherwise been able to do with a bottle, Clayton still supported me every step of the way, playing his own role. While I was feeding Leah, he would sit next to me, checking the latch, reminding me to finish the feed, and bringing me ice cream in the wee hours of the morning. He also took on the role of burping Leah after I fed her so that he was involved in the feeding process. Even when Clayton returned to work, he continued to participate in the night feeds, which I will always remember as being one of the most loving and meaningful ways he supported me in my first few months as a mom.
TIP: Each couple is different in how they work as a team, but ensure the dad has his own role to play in the parenting process so he doesn’t feel left out and so he has a chance to build his confidence in caring for the baby. Though it may sometimes be easier for the mom to soothe, feed or care for the baby, give him a chance and he’ll surprise you, and possibly himself, with how great of a father he is.
4) Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Having a child catapults a marriage into uncharted territory and even the most prepared couples may find that their lives are quickly turned upside down. Clayton and I had over 10 years of friendship as a foundation for our marriage, and supported each other through a number of difficult circumstances throughout our dating relationship but still, having Leah pushed us to a new place in our relationship. Talking to each other through it all has helped a great deal. Sharing our fears and worries has helped us to manage them, and expressing our needs to each other has helped us to meet them. Clayton is not the most talkative or outgoing person, (especially in comparison to me!) but having Leah has really helped him to come out of his shell. I have witnessed him asserting himself in decision-making and really stepping up to the plate to take care of the both of us. Of course it took some time for us to get to this point, with some tough conversations between the two of us at times, but we got there. And we’re still growing as a couple through this experience.
TIP: The best way to navigate the world of parenting is to have open lines of communication with your partner. Talk about things beforehand, as it happens, after each experience and every moment in between. You’ll learn a great deal about yourself, about each other, and if you stick with it, having children will strengthen your marriage instead of weakening it.
5) Be Patient
Even though you may follow tips 1 to 4, sometimes things take time. Patience for yourself, for your child and for your spouse is key. The good (bad?) news is that change is the only constant, so when you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, things will improve and when you feel like you’ve finally got the hang of it, things will change again. That’s the adventure of parenting and though it can be tough and full of surprises, it’ll be the the greatest ride of your life!
TIP: Have patience for yourself, your child and your spouse. Learning and growing as a parent takes time, and is a lifelong journey.