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When a friend recently called to tell me that he and his wife were expecting twins, I laughed hysterically. I was elated, of course, but upon hearing the news I couldn’t help but find humor in his plight. Craig had been with my wife and I every step of the way on our journey to birthing (and raising) a tiny human. He had listened to every lunatic rant I ever had, laughing and offering encouragement along the way. And now here he was about to have not one, but two tiny humans of his own. And no matter how many stories I’d told him over the course of my daughter’s first year-and-a-half, he still had absolutely no idea what was about to hit him.
In fact, hearing the news got me thinking about how hard it is to accurately describe the experience of becoming a new father ⏤ nothing seems to really nail it. Which is why, to help repay my good friend for his support, I came up with eight things I wish I had done before my daughter was born. Eight things I’m convinced every expecting dad should do before the baby arrives.
The first six months is hard on everybody. It gets easier, yes, but it’s still just the beginning. My daughter is up at 6:30 a.m. every morning without fail. And she signals her enthusiasm for the new day by pounding both feet against the slats of her crib causing a clangor we’ve designated “nugget thunder.” It cannot be ignored ⏤ even our dog hides from it ⏤ and it has replaced my alarm clock. And while my wife and I have begun tag-teaming the weekends so that at least one of us gets to sleep in, it’s never enough rest. Granted, sleeping in more before my baby arrived wasn’t going to change any of this. The only real difference is that I now place so much more importance on sleep that I regret not taking more advantage of peaceful mornings. Sleep in and wake slowly ⏤ the thunder is coming.
Go on vacation early in the pregnancy
Call it a babymoon, call it a getaway, call it a vacation, whatever, just do it early in the pregnancy. We went on our babymoon to Hilton Head, SC, when my wife was in the third trimester. Sure, we had fun in the sun, but she wasn’t able to enjoy every aspect of the trip because of the eight-pound kid growing inside of her. The heat hit her harder, walking to and from the beach was more difficult, and meals were hit or miss. This made her a little sad and there was nothing I could do about it. In fact, everything I did to try to help just highlighted how different the beach experience was. My advice is to go on vacation early in the term and stay as long as you can.
Add exercise to your routine
I didn’t build exercise into my daily schedule before our daughter was born but wish I had. And not just for the health and wellness benefits, but for the increased energy levels as well. These days, I never feel like I’ve gotten enough sleep or have enough energy ⏤ especially now that my little girl is running around like a balloon with the air let out. Inserting an hour or two for working out into the family schedule is doable, but it’s much harder to start something when you already feel overwhelmed ⏤ and you will feel overwhelmed. I know dads who managed to keep their workout routines intact during their baby’s first year and, while I have no idea how they do it, I suspect it’s because they were already in the habit.
Eat out more. Eat slowly
A newborn can easily sit through a meal at a restaurant ⏤ the noise may even be soothing. A 1-year-old, not so much. The majority of the meal will now be spent entertaining, occupying, or otherwise distracting said baby while you both shovel food into your mouths as quickly as possible. And if the child is walking, expect to take turns eating while the other strolls them in and around the restaurant. If my wife and I are able to get some conversation in, it’s almost always about or directed toward our daughter. We have to make a special effort to focus the conversation on each other and reach deeper than the events of the day. It’s a far cry from the old days when we could take our time with the menu, order appetizers, and let the conversation wander. Relish those days.
Go to as many movies, plays, or concerts as you can
I love movies. Getting a sitter (tougher than it sounds) and paying the sitter (painful, since I am basically buying time to go spend money) is totally manageable. But doing it with any kind of frequency is a hassle. If the sitter can’t make it, then we either have to scrap the evening or somebody gets left behind. Since I would also never dream of being the guy that brings my baby to a theater, unless you have the gold standard for child care on call 24/7 (grandma), expect movies, plays, and concerts to go on the backburner for a while. Which is why my advice is simple: go out and have as much adult fun as you can now.
Be spontaneous with your weekends
My daughter goes from princess to pumpkin in an instant, and as a matter of self-preservation, we have learned how to avoid the pumpkin. Which means heavily scheduling our weekends, always taking into account her naps, and limiting most excursions to an hour or two. We even plan our drive times in order to avoid accidentally losing any of her nap in the car. God forbid she falls asleep five minutes from the house, that entire two-hour nap could be shot the minute we pull in the driveway. Under these constraints, any opportunity for spontaneity is lost unless, like my wife, you are somehow able to justify the term ‘planned spontaneity.’
Buy that one thing you want but can’t justify spending the money on
Okay, so this is one I actually did do, but still. Everybody has that one thing they covet but refuse to splurge on: Mine was a Gene Cafe Home Coffee Roaster. I could never justify dropping $500 on a coffee roaster when I could spend the money on nice dinners or a short trip with my wife. But when the second line appeared on our pregnancy test, fancy restaurants and weekend getaways seemed almost as trivial as my coffee habit. Still, on the advice of my dad, I ignored the surging instinct to be a good provider and bought the dang roaster. And I’m glad I did. These days, there are plenty more things to spend money on than myself, and I’m not sure I could pull the trigger on something like that again ⏤ not without a tremendous amount of guilt. Buy that one thing now while the finances are simpler and diapers aren’t absorbing $250 month.
This is not even a joke. Between kid stress, work stress, family stress, wife stress, financial stress, anything stress really, it’s super easy for a day to spin me out of control. I got into the habit of taking time to be silent with myself a while back, and it’s been clutch in helping me keep a positive attitude during my first year of fatherhood. Crap builds up (both literally and figuratively) and my wife and I take turns melting down, but meditating (in whatever form that fits) is a quick fix to regain perspective no matter what the situation might be.
Evan O’Brien is a 36-year old dude from Atlanta with a 1.5-year-old daughter, a wife who’s a family therapist, and an amazing furball of a dog that preceded them both. He does marketing for a living.