Fatherly

The Biggest Misconception I Had About Becoming a Dad, According to 13 Men

"I always thought being a dad was about doing the right things. However, I have come to see that being is more important than doing."

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Oct 27 2021, 4:02 PM

Becoming a father for the first time is a life-altering event. And it comes with thousands of questions, the most prominent of which is, Am I prepared? So it’s no surprise that many soon-to-be fathers psych themselves up for what the experience will be like, and, in the process, fill their heads with a lot of misconceptions. They may think that becoming a dad will spell the end of their social life. Or that every parent before them has been doing it wrong and they’ll show them all how it’s done. 

The truth, of course, is that, while the experience of parenting is different for everyone, it is largely not what we envision it to be in those heady days before the baby arrives. Both negative thoughts (“Baby poop is going to ruin my life!”) and magical thinking (“Starting the day my kid is born I’ll never make a mistake!”) are normal to entertain, but they don’t often paint an appropriate picture. As evidence, we asked 13 men reflect on the misconceptions they had about parenting before becoming dads and the realizations that dawned on them later. Here’s what they said. 

1. I Thought I’d Be the Second Fiddle Parent

“I couldn’t ever imagine myself as a parent. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of caring for a baby. I had some faith that it would come a little bit naturally, but I was always nervous that my wife would be this parenting all-star, and I would just be sitting there on the bench, worthless and twiddling my thumbs. What I learned is that neither of us is the better parent. We’re both good parents for different reasons. She sees things that I don’t. I solve problems she can’t. Honestly, that misconception made me realize just how great of a team we are.” – Daniel, 41, Indiana   

2. I Didn’t Realize That “Being” Would Be as Important as “Doing” 

“My greatest misconception about being a Dad was that it just involved doing. I always thought being a dad was about doing the right things — taking the kids to exciting places, doing the right activities with them. However, since having two kids of my own, I have come to see that being is more important than doing. Your kids don’t necessarily want you to do the right things, they just want you to be; to be present, to be engaged, to be accessible.You can do the right things without being present and it will mean nothing to your kids, or you can do the most pedestrian and mundane activities and be present and it will mean the world to your kids. Parenting has challenged me that what my kids want most is not special activities but instead a special relationship with their mum and dad.” – James, 30, Auckland, New Zealand

3. I Was Convinced Every Other Parent Was Doing it Wrong

“Before I became a father, I used to see parents of young children out in restaurants or stores and the mom or dad seemed to easily succumb to their little ones’ demands. In my uninformed opinion at the time, I thought that these parents were giving in too easily. That with consistency and discipline, they could set the expectations properly for their kids and tamp down on these incessant demands. Now, two kids later, I know that it’s not that easy. Sometimes you have to pick your battles. What I didn’t understand is that young children aren’t always able to accept delayed gratification, or understand cause-and-effect in the moment. That the comfort of being heard and validated is often the real purpose of children’s outbursts. Now when I see parents struggling with a looming meltdown, or giving into their kids’ escalating requests, I often offer a quick nod or smile or shrug to the parents to let them know, ‘Hey, we’ve all been there.’” – Heath, 44, New York

4. I Thought Meltdowns Should Be Ignored

“I had always heard that when a child throws tantrums, is rude, or locks himself in his room, if you pay attention to him it will reinforce the act of crying, he will never stop, and he will get away with it. In this sense, I made the mistake with my first child of simply ignoring him when he had these moments of anger and frustration. Today I know that when a child has these moments, that is when he needs his parents the most. In reality, you have to respond to the embrace that the child is asking for, you have to validate his emotion, you have to connect with him from the full presence and give him attention when he is having a hard time when he is overwhelmed. This means secure attachment, self-regulation, and emotional intelligence. When children are having a hard time, they need us, the parents, to be present, tuned in, and caring.” – David, 40, California 

5. I Thought Having Little Kids Would Be The True Test

“I made the mistake of believing that kids would be more challenging when they were little. I’d always heard about ‘The Terrible Twos’, and ‘Threenagers’, and that sort of thing. But, man, the teenage years, for me, were so much harder. We had to deal with peer pressure, girls, social media, and a lot of stuff I just didn’t foresee. The cliché is that you don’t sleep when they’re little, but I slept far less during the high school years, waiting for them or driving somewhere to pick them up, etc. In short, little kids, little problems.” – Jeremy, 48, New York

6. I Thought I Could Be My Kid’s Friend First 

“I always thought I was going to be a ‘cool dad’. Not like a douchey cool dad, but a dad that my kids would see as a friend, rather than an authority figure. But I realized that’s not possible if you want to raise your kids to learn from their mistakes. So many times, I found myself torn between wanting to comfort them and having to discipline them for their screw ups. And, ultimately, I realized I didn’t have a choice. I had to be a parent first, which really sucked. My kids are grown now, but I think back to the visions I had of raising them, and not one ended with an argument and my teenage son yelling, ‘I hate you, Dad!’ It was a harsh reality check, for sure.” – Aaron, 50, Maine 

7. That I’d Lose My Social Life

“I psyched myself out when my wife was pregnant with our first son, thinking that I’d basically never be able to leave the house unless it was to go to work or buy diapers. What I didn’t realize was that a lot of my friends had that same misconception, and it would be something we could bond over. We all started having kids around the same time. So, while we weren’t going out to bars like we used to, we’d still meet up at each others’ houses — babies in tow — and have a good time. My social life wasn’t over, it just evolved.” — Brett, 38, Ohio 

8. That I Wasn’t Ready to Be a Dad

“Nobody is ready to be a dad. But, at the same time, every dad just figures it out. It’s baptism by fire. Getting thrown off the dock to learn how to swim. My problem was that I had a plan. A bunch of plans, really. I had plans for how feeding time would look. What the sleep schedule would be. What types of friends they would make as they got older. And, of course, none of those things actually happened the way I’d imagined them. But I adapted. The second-best thing about being a parent – other than your kids, of course – is the fact that the experience teaches you that you’re capable of so many things you never even thought of.” – Hal, 50, California 

9. That Poop and Puke Would be Too Gross For Me

“I’d heard so many horror stories, and I came to realize that they were almost all over-exaggerated. Baby poop and puke aren’t my favorite things in the world, but dealing with them wasn’t the harrowing experience I’d convinced myself it would be. In fact, we have a huge dog, and cleaning up after her is way worse than anything I had to deal with as a new dad. The frequency and quantity of baby shit is a bit jarring at first, but then cleanup becomes almost like a reflex. You get all this on-the-job training. You come up with your own little tricks and hacks to make it easier. It really wasn’t the horror story I was expecting.” – Jon, 47, Arizona

10. That My Wife and I Would Never Have Time For Sex

“I thought that having a baby would mean the end of sex. At least for a good six months. Between the logistics of raising a kid, how emotionally exhausted we would both be, and not having any free time for ourselves, I couldn’t comprehend how my wife and I would ever have sex. It just seemed impossible. What I didn’t count on was us getting creative. We would have quickies while the baby was asleep. Sometimes my mother would come watch the baby for an hour so we could ‘nap’. We were both so sex-deprived from the pregnancy that we really just went all out instead of giving up.” – Dean, 33, Florida  

11. That I Couldn’t Make Mistakes

“I think every dad has that notion of a ‘clean slate’ when their son or daughter is born. Like, ‘This baby is perfect, and I’ve only got one chance to do everything right and not screw anything up.’ And then you literally make dozens of mistakes every day. The baby doesn’t notice, of course. But you do, and you beat yourself up over it. I realized that I had to get out of that mindset quickly, or it was going to torpedo my ability to be a good parent. I tried not to make mistakes, of course, but I knew they were inevitable. As long as the baby is safe and healthy, putting the diaper on backwards isn’t a big deal.” – Michael, 36, Puerto Rico       

12. That I Should Have all the Answers

“My dad always had all the answers. As I’ve come to learn, though, most of what he’s told and taught me was him just doing his best. The ‘answers’ don’t exist. That was a real shock to me as a new dad. I thought that if I read enough books, stayed open-minded, and remained calm, I’d eventually learn all the secrets of being a dad. The only secret about being a dad is that there are no right answers. Some choices I’ve made were great. Others weren’t. But the ‘answers’ I was looking for usually came in the form of reflection after those choices had been made. As a dad, I try to remember that you can’t figure out the answers until you’ve seen the questions. And the questions change all the time.” – David, 43, London, UK

13. That I Would Never Bond With My Kids

“To clarify, I was afraid that my kids wouldn’t bond with me the way they’d bond with their mother. I was worried that my kids would just automatically default to their mother because, ya know, she’s their mother. And I was right. My kids didn’t bond with me the way they bonded with her. Instead, we’ve grown our own totally unique, completely individual bonds, which is a greater feeling than I ever imagined. I’m their dad, which never crossed my mind while I was fretting over whether or not they would like me. It sounds so silly to even say that. Now I realize how all of the different relationship dynamics make our family so wonderful, and I feel very blessed.” – Eli, 40, Pennsylvania