In his book, The Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” That’s how I would describe my entry into fatherhood.
It was the best of times because I really wanted a baby girl and when my wife and I discovered that we would have a daughter I could hardly contain my excitement. It was the worst of times because suddenly I was filled with insecurity. I was along for a nine-month ride and had zero control. I wondered if I’d be a good father, and whether we were financially secure enough to meet the needs of a growing family.
Fears and anxieties are normal
It wasn’t until several years after my first daughter was born that I realized my fears were normal. One day I was paired up with a soon-to-be first time father for a round of golf. When he discovered that I had kids he asked me questions about fatherhood and shared some of his fears. That’s when I realized that the anxiety I experienced several years before was perfectly normal.
A difficult time adjusting to fatherhood
Karen Storek, the chief executive of New Parents Network, an online resource and community for new parents says that men can have a difficult time adjusting to fatherhood because during pregnancy there’s not much for a man to do.
“I think part of the problem is that men have too much time on their hands during pregnancy,” she said.
From just a man to being Daddy
Storek has five suggestions for first-time fathers:
1. Read while you have the chance
During pregnancy many women read books and articles about childbirth and infancy; they attend childbirth classes; and consume other forms of instruction. Men should do the same.
2. Paternity leave
Men no longer need to feel embarrassed or ashamed to take paternity leave. Many employers provide paid leave for fathers. Talk to your employer as soon as you know when and how much time you’ll need to take time off of work. “I took ten days off when my son was born and looking back it was the most important thing I could have done. It gave us a chance to bond immediately,” said Scott Feeley, a proud father.
3. Chip in where you can
After delivering your baby, one word will describe your partner: tired. Plan to do everything you can to help your partner and new baby. If your partner isn’t breastfeeding offer to feed the baby. Take turns rocking the baby to sleep or tidy up around the house. Though these activities might seem trivial but they’re significant as you, your partner and baby become a family.
4. Daddy and me time
In the beginning, a new father may not understand their baby because there’s no dialog and minimal feedback. Nevertheless it’s important to begin the bonding process as soon as possible. If your newborn cries, pick him up and provide comfort. Rock your baby, speak softly and stroke his back. In a few short months he’ll begin to respond.
5. Babies won’t break
Possibly the biggest fear among first time dads is that they’ll do something wrong. Babies aren’t as fragile as you might think. It’s okay to experiment with different ways of doing things to figure out what works for you. “Remember you don’t get an owners manual when you take your baby home and there’s no right way or wrong way to do something. Have confidence in your instincts and remember that babies are a lot tougher than you think,” concludes Storek.
My first-time father anxiety was alleviated about ten minutes after my daughter was born. The nurses handed her to me and for a moment it felt like we were alone even though there was a small army of doctors and nurses in the room. I looked into my daughter’s eyes and said, “I want to make you a promise. I may not get everything right during our journey together but I promise you I’ll always try.” Those words have guided me ever since. When in doubt, try.
This article is written by Kevin Woo, a father to three girls.