Ask a Therapist: Five Changes To Prepare For When Becoming a Father
By Dr. Joey Tadie (also a recent father)
For all your soon-to-be Dads out there! Here are a few changes to get ready for as you take the leap into the greatest adventure of your life
1. You're always going to be moving - Although many men have varying degrees of activity in their lives, one thing is certain. EVERY man's activity level increases after he becomes a father. You are going to have plenty to do, much of it new. Managing diapers, bottles, baby items, car seats, and most importantly, the baby adds quite a lot to your plate whether it was full or empty to begin with. Prepare yourself to always be moving. You'll have all the usual chores along with your new responsibilities, and you won't have much extra time to fit it all in. You'll get used to the extra activity over time, but it is helpful to begin preparing for this change. With the extra energy expenditure, be sure you are maintaining a healthy diet and fluid intake. Pause for moments when you can for a few deep breaths to help you recharge. Play music, talk radio, or audiobooks with an earbud in one ear while you complete tasks. That way you have background noise, but can still hear others talking (or baby crying). Above all, know that you will adjust and your work load will also change as your child ages. Though you might feel chronically behind on "everything" for a period, it does improve in the coming weeks, months, and years.
2. You'll learn to function on way less sleep than you ever imagined - This is the topic everyone brings up when you are preparing for a child. "You'll never sleep again," people say with a knowing smile and head shake. Sadly, the reason everyone brings it up is that it is true that you will sleep much less than you are used to. And the tough part is that your decreased sleep occurs every night for a period of months. But I am pleased to tell you that as challenging as this will be, you may surprise yourself by how you adapt to the change. You'll be tired, but you can still function as long as you maintain a certain level of self-care. This may mean adjusting your sleep schedule to give yourself the most opportunity for extra rest. You might choose to go to bed an hour or two (or more) earlier since you will wake several times most nights. You can grab brief naps during the day, but try to keep it less than 30 minutes to avoid grogginess by setting an alarm. If you are a coffee drinker, you can consider an extra cup or so during the day, but don't consume too much caffeine because this can increase anxiety and disrupt your already strained sleep schedule. Remember, your sleep deprivation does in fact end, so you can rest assured that you will be able to sleep a full night again in time.
3. Your patience will be tested - Let's be honest. You might have the patience of a saint. But if you deprive anyone of sleep, while adding multiple new responsibilities and stressors, and you do this for long enough, it will challenge anyone's patience. Your partner might make comments that leave you bristling with annoyance. You might struggle to stay calm when you child absolutely won't stop crying. You might find yourself snapping at others or just generally feeling more frustrated than usual. This is natural and something you can work through more easily if you prepare to manage this new change. Recognize your shorter fuse and work to more proactively manage your reactions to situations. For example, remind yourself throughout the day that you are under more strain and must use coping behaviors often. Breathe more deeply as often as you can, increase your positive self talk (e.g. Tell yourself you can push through tough moments; remind yourself of your strengths), and do something you enjoy for at least a few minutes each day (the more the better). Encourage yourself to let "the small stuff" go. Meter your expectations so that you don't take on too many non-critical tasks (dishes can sit overnight and the world doesn't end). And most importantly, remind yourself you aren't perfect so don't expect yourself to be.
4. Many people in your life might begin to offer opinions on how you should parent - There might be times when you need or want advice from others around you as you undertake the brand new responsibilities of fatherhood. And there might be other times when you feel others might be offering their advice too freely. It is common for new grandparents especially to feel excitement about your new child and they might have many useful anecdotes about their own parenting experience. Sometimes this can be helpful and even entertaining to hear, but you might also feel criticized if their advice conflicts with your own parenting choices. First of all, remember that everyone is adjusting to a new situation and this can cause miscommunications, blurring of roles/responsibilities, and shifting boundaries. Recognize that at the end of the day, you are your child's parent. It is good to remain open to feedback, but don't forget that you and your partner make the final decisions. While I don't advocate for you to disrespect another person, I will say that establishing boundaries with others might be necessary in some cases. Remember that your patience might be wearing thin and you want to be intentional about how to set boundaries. Try not to have conversations with individuals about boundaries in public, as this can risk public humiliation. Take a private moment to let them know that you appreciate their efforts to help, but that you also want freedom to make your parenting decisions as well. This is a conversation best had when you are as calm as possible. Take a break if you feel upset before you approach the other person, and consider how you can preserve the relationship while also remaining true to your personal boundaries. These situations can be difficult to navigate at times, but you and those around you will benefit from open, respectful communication whenever possible.
5. The biggest and most exciting change is the opportunity to experience the joys only found in fatherhood - I have mentioned many changes above that speak to the realities and challenges of fatherhood. Your life will never be the same, but I mean this in the best possible way. Fatherhood allows you to see and feel things you never dreamed possible. You might be shocked by how protective you feel of this tiny person who you have known for so little time. You'll laugh out loud as your baby makes odd faces at you. You'll smile when your child softly sighs and falls asleep in your arms. Your jaw will drop when you see them crawl for the first time. And you'll be left speechless when your child looks into your eyes and calls you "Da Da." Your life does change. It does get harder. And it gets a whole lot better too. The work is worth the rewards. Don't forget to take a moment to notice the simple pleasures of being a father like the ones mentioned previously. Your child will only be this small for a short while. So take in the experiences while they last because the changes to your life are just beginning. Prepare for these changes, but rejoice in them as well. And buckle up, because It's going to be the best ride of your life.
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