Nothing really prepares you for first-time parenthood. You know that feeling of trying a new activity or skill and really, really wanting to do it well but making mistake after mistake? That, effectively, is parenthood, at least in the early days when you have NFI what’s going on.
Thankfully, as with anything you practise and devote time and energy to, you get better at it. You still make mistakes of course, but you learn from them and hopefully get better next time.
Before my little man came along a bit over two years ago, I remember asking friends with kids what to expect, and the majority responded along the lines of: “You can’t really prepare – you just dive into the deep end and learn to swim”.
And learn to swim you do. But still, it would have been nice to receive some more practical advice than what I did from my mates.
So, remembering back to when my wife and I discovered we were pregnant almost three years ago, here’s the key pieces of advice I would have given myself about preparing for fatherhood.
1. Get fit
Parenthood really is a young (or fit) person’s game! Lifting, bending and crawling after your wee one isn’t easy on your back, knees and basically your entire body, let alone running around after them once they themselves are upright and scurrying around as fast as their little legs can take them. So, before bub comes along, do whatever you can to get fit and healthy – and do it now, because you sure as hell won’t have the time or energy afterwards, at least for the first few months (or years).
2. Be selfish if you want to
Your life is about to get turned upside down (in the most wonderful and fulfilling way) but take advantage of your pre-baby ‘freedom’. Always dreamed of an epic travel journey, or running a marathon or learning a new instrument? This is the time! Need to finish off those home renovations? Do them now! Even simple things like maximising time with mates, trying out new bars or restaurants or binge-watching complete TV series that you’ve put off until a rainy day – tick them off because it could be a long, long time before you get another chance.
3. Sleep in
Yes, we all know you can’t ‘bank’ sleep but DO NOT feel guilty about sleeping in when you’re feeling the need. You’ll soon realise just how valuable sleep is when you’re settling your little one for the fifth time overnight and you haven’t slept more than three hours consecutively for a week.
4. Sort your finances
This is pretty obvious but raising a child hits your hip pocket harder than your kid will punch you in the nuts down the track. Even if you’re not a budgeter, it’s still absolutely worthwhile stashing a bit more coin away than you used do. You’ll need it, and being more financially secure helps alleviate a possible stress at a time when nerves and emotions are already jittery. That being said …
5. Pick your battles with purchases
There sometimes seems to be no escape from the ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ pressure as a parent, especially if you spend time on social media. As noted above, the costs of raising a child are significant but you can be smart with your money – there are great savings to be made if you’re comfortable with second-hand stores (online and the bricks and mortar type), knock-off brands and hand-me-downs. There are some items which you won’t want to compromise on, such as the baby car seat, or pram, or so-cute-you-can’t-resist brand name sneakers, but that doesn’t have to be the case for everything – and more expensive doesn’t always mean better quality.
6. Don’t just aim to be the best dad you can be – aim to be the best partner you can be, too
It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending all your time and energy focusing on how you’ll adapt to being a dad, and what type of father you’ll be. But don’t overlook the changes that will come in your relationship. Your partner will need your upmost support during pregnancy and the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years afterwards. When you’re frustrated, or confused, or angry, just remember that they’re doing it just as tough – or likely, even tougher – than you. Try to bite your tongue if an argument escalates. Do a bit more around the house than normal. Don’t leave all the research and organisation to them. Remember, you’re a team and you’ll need each other more than ever through all this.
7. Beg/borrow/steal more parental leave
Those early days of parenthood are full-on. Full-on emotions, full-on anxiety but also full-on, priceless bonding opportunities. So maximise that time at home with your new, expanded family – if your work is flexible enough, add some extra holiday leave on top of your standard paternity entitlements. Or if you can afford it, take some leave without pay. Work can wait. And your partner will appreciate it more than you can imagine.
8. Enjoy the serenity of a pre-baby poo
Enough said – soon enough an added layer of stress will accompany you every time you sit down on the throne, worried about your one man bursting in, screaming out for you or wanting to watch this strangely fascinating human behaviour. Sit down (with a book or the newspaper if that’s your thing) and enjoy the serenity – as shit’s about to get real.