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The One Thing I Wish I Knew My First Year of Being a Parent

A dozen dads tell us what they wish they knew about that first 365 days.

The first year of fatherhood is a tornado of sleepless nights, stressful situations, and lots and lots of diaper challenges. It’s a difficult, messy, and anxiety-inducing time. But it’s also one of the best, with many, many profound moments of joy. And there are many lessons learned along the way. 

It’s easy, however, for first time dads to get bogged down in worrying about what they’re doing right and how much is going wrong to really appreciate that first year. (The lack of sleep doesn’t help things, either). But to offer some insight into this time, we asked a variety of been-there-done-that dads What do you wish you knew in your first year of being a father? Their answers, which range from simple “Oh man, I wish I’d known that beforehand” advice to harder words of wisdom, offer encouragement, solidarity, and hope. Here’s what they had to say. 

I Wish I Went a Bit Easier on Myself

“I wish I would have known to go easier on myself. The first year and parenting experience as a father is nothing like what movies, the media and even friends describe. There are ebbs and flows, energetic weekends, exhausted mornings and everything that millions of others experience in their own unique way. I learned during that first year to be easy on myself, and know that we are all doing the best we can to be a great parent.”   — Bob Bradley, Orange County, CA

I Wish I Knew That, Sometimes, Babies Just Don’t Want to Eat 

“I experienced this moment firsthand, and considered it as one of the scariest times of my life. I was always diligent in feeding my son on a regular schedule. Surprisingly, there was a time when he had no interest in taking his bottle no matter what I tried. I was fearful he would starve. I was also so frantic that I called my wife at work to see if she could leave early to help. At the end of the day, he was fine. If only I knew this advice before, I would have been fine too.” — Jonathan Sanchez, co-founder, Parent Portfolio

I Wish I Knew That It Gets Easier

“I didn’t realize how much I’d want to help. Especially the first few weeks. There is so much demand on the mother, and she is so tired and recovering from a major body trauma. I wanted to make my wife’s life easier. I wanted to do everything I could for the baby. As the first year continues, the baby continues to need mama for so much, and it is natural to feel you’re doing a bad job because the baby is tied to mama’s hip. The first week is the toughest. Every week after gets easier. The first month is the toughest. Every month after gets easier. The first year is the toughest. Every year after gets easier — so far.” — Brian, Orlando, Florida

I Wish I’d Shown More Initiative

“During my first year of being a dad, I wish I had known the importance of showing more initiative in dealing with my daughter. I thought my wife knew more about children than I did. I did whatever she told me to do. I gave the children baths, changed diapers, and put them to bed. I thought I was being a good father. I couldn’t understand why she complained I wasn’t doing enough. It was only after we divorced, I realized that waiting to be told what to do and then just doing whatever she told me to do is what a nanny does. As a father, I had to show more initiative and take the lead in dealing with situations. I learned that my wife resented that I left responsibility for solving these situations on her and waited for her to tell me what to do.” — Elliot Katz, author, Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants: Timeless Wisdom on Being a Man 

I Wish I Knew That Nothing Could Adequately Prepare Me

“You read all these books, listen to advice, and do everything you can to prepare. But every child is different, and so is the experience. Once you discover how much you don’t know, it can seem scary. You run into many unique situations and you will not find the solutions in any parenting book. Some days you will be winging it — more than you’d like. Other days, you will make mistakes. But it is all part of the journey. So you have to be confident and learn to do what is right for your baby. Focus on bonding with your baby and knowing them. Don’t try to parent like someone else, because babies are not all the same. And quit trying to be the perfect dad. Just be there and do your best.” — David, Indianapolis, IN 

I Wish My Finances Were More Together

“Although having a baby was not part of our plan yet, I had a steady job with adequate pay. When my wife gave birth, my baby was diagnosed with myocarditis (heart complication) so he had to stay at the hospital for a couple of weeks. The expenses and medical bills robbed our emergency funds and personal savings. When our baby came home, I was so confident that I could start saving again, but I was wrong. The real expenses of raising a kid just started. I should have been more prepared financially, but my wife and I made it through along the way. After all, everything was worth it when you see your kid grow healthy and happy. What I realized was, nothing can prepare you for being a father. You can save all the money you want, read thousands of parenting books, ask experts, watch parenting videos. All of these can give you an upper hand, but nothing can prepare you for the real thing. The beauty of it is, while your baby grows, you also grow as a father, and it’s the best thing you could experience.”  — Matt, Austin, TX 

I Wish I Hadn’t Compared Myself to Others So Much

“Many times I would find myself in public places with a screaming baby in my arms watching other men confidently walk by with a look of pride and arrogance as they pushed their sweet, calm baby cherub sleeping peacefully in the stroller. ‘Am I doing something wrong?’ I wondered. ‘Why does his kid seem to behave so well while my son is throwing a temper tantrum?’ These thoughts are common to all fathers, even the ones you think have it all together. You see, men want to be the best at everything. But the truth is we aren’t. And the comparison game is a surefire way to lose.” — Preston Cave, Pecan Plantation, TX

I Wish I Had Found More Balance

“If there’s one thing I wished I knew earlier during my first years of fatherhood, it would have to be how to create a schedule that gave me more than enough time to take care of my child, meet the demands of work, and still have the time to rest and relax. Creating a balance of these three can be quite difficult and that’s why it’s important for first-time parents to research and test out strategies as early as now.” — Simon, Denmark  

I Wish I Knew I’d Never Not Smell Smell Like Spit-Up and Diapers

“Here are a few gems. Formula doesn’t need to be heated, especially in the middle of the night. Sleep training is critical, but let them cry it out in month four. I promise they will still feel loved. Also, no matter how many times you shower, you will still smell like spit-up and diapers. You’ll get used to it. Coffee is not an option, it is a necessity. And sleep is optional for fathers in the first year, but not for mothers. Let mama sleep, because everyone will be happier. And, speaking of mom, be sure to buy your wife flowers —even if they’re from the grocery store.” – Andy, Boston, MA 

I Wish I Knew to Take More Pictures

“Be sure to  take more pictures and videos of your kids than you think any reasonable human would. They provide hours and hours or memories and laughs forever and ever. The days may be long, but the years fly by.” – Jack, Westchester, NY 

I Wish Learned the Sleep Hold Earlier

“The face-down rocking one-arm cradle is magical. It always gets them to sleep. And no matter how tight you make the swaddle, these kids are like Houdini and will always find a way out.” – Mike, Newport, RI

I Wish I Knew How to Freeze Time

“I wish someone had prepared me for how expensive they would be. But it’s worth it. Freeze time as much as you can and let a lot of people love them.” – Sefita, Westchester, NY