I’m so excited to celebrate my first Father’s Day as a dad! It’s crazy to think how fast time flies. Della joined our family just over nine months ago; and needless to say, they have certainly been the best and hardest nine months of my life. People say that children are our greatest teachers; and boy, have I already learned a ton! I’m no expert dad (as if that exists), but here are six key learnings from my first few months of fatherhood.
Super dads also need self-care.
I was determined to defy the stereotype of the disengaged father. I tried to do everything except breastfeed… which I totally would have done if I could have! But instead, I attempted to change every diaper, take every night shift, feed and care for my recovering wife, Serenity, manage the household, and run our baby food company – all on very little sleep. If I made a mistake or dropped the ball, I would feel incredibly guilty. I once even broke down in tears because I forgot to run the dishwasher and we didn’t have any clean bottles left. After six weeks of running on fumes, I hit a breaking point. I realized that I couldn’t take care of my family if I wasn’t taking care of myself. It seemed impossible to find time for healthy eating, exercising, socializing, and spiritual practices while caring for a new baby and running a company. But these were things that I needed to make time for in order for me to function at my best. I quickly learned the power in saying no, taking breaks, scheduling time for self-care, and prioritizing myself alongside baby Della, Serenity, and our baby food company. By finding time for me and knowing my limitations, I’m able to perform at my best and persevere as super dad instead of turning into a super dud.
There are Six S’s to soothing baby.
I love this simple parenting hack from The Happiest Baby on the Block and it has done wonders in helping baby Della fall asleep or relax when agitated. The five S’s are:
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- Swaddle: wrap them up good and tight
- Side or Stomach Position: lay them on your arm or leg
- Shush: say “shhh shhh shhh” close to their ear to mimic the sound of the womb
- Swing: rock, sway, bounce, or any other type of rhythmic gentle movement
- Suck: on your finger, a pacifier, or a toy
And lastly the sixth S that I’ve added in – Sing! It doesn’t matter what song it is or how good of a singer you are, your rhythm and tonality have a calming effect. The idea of this process is to activate your little one’s instinctual sense of safety when the womb environment is replicated. Della is almost instantaneously relaxed when all the six S’s are done together!
Be mindful of inherited parenting techniques.
I didn’t realize how having a child would bring up old memories from my own childhood. Just a few days after Della was born, I was holding her, filled with more love than I even knew I was capable of; and as I kissed her forehead, I had a vivid flashback to my dad holding and kissing me. It was the first heartwarming flashback memory of many. I’ve also found that I’ve started using phrases and vocal intonations that are, for better or worse, a direct imitation of my parents. For instance, I’ve never been a huge fan of the phrase “good job” because I’d rather acknowledge effort over outcomes. But that phrase just flows out of mouth subconsciously now because it’s something my parents said often (not to toot my own horn, obviously)! Instead, I’m really trying to train myself to say “you did it” to build her own sense of personal success. It takes a lot of intention to choose my words and phrases wisely; but by being aware of how I easily might accidentally mimic my parents, I’m able to emphasize the actions they did really well and proactively stop myself from doing those that I don’t want to pass on.
Try alternating nights with your partner.
For several months, Serenity and I both felt responsible for bedtime and middle of the night care. A lot of energy was spent making a last minute decision on whose turn it was to care for Della and neither of us ever felt fully rested. Our solution has been to alternate nights. This allows each of us to have a few nights off and get some good sleep throughout the week. Other parents we’ve spoken with have mentioned that they split the night by time which is great if one is a night owl and the other is a morning person. However you choose to split the responsibilities, implementing a set schedule for us has not only helped our mental and emotional stability, but also our relationship with each other.
There is such a thing as safe rough play.
Serenity’s idea of a good time is sitting in bed with a book so I prayed for an adventurous child. I wanted someone who would join me in my favorite extreme sports like snowboarding, water skiing, paintballing and more... and I think I got it! Della is always incredibly enthusiastic and eager to play. She cannot get enough of intense activity, so I’ve become (sort of) an expert on safe rough play. Atlanta-based pediatrician, Dr. Jennifer Shu, says, "When done safely, rough play can give your older baby or toddler a sense of freedom and movement, help them learn what their body can do, promote balance and coordination and foster trust.” I also find that Della sleeps better when tuckered out from a good rough play session. However, it does make Serenity nervous, so here are the guidelines I’ve set in place to keep Della safe (and Serenity comfortable):
- Always support their head until they have full head control, which happens between four to six months old
- Never hold or swing them by the arms because that could dislocate their shoulders
- Always hold firmly around their midsection
- Only toss them a few inches from your hands to avoid whipping their neck or dropping them
- Always play over soft areas like carpet or grass
- Always watch carefully for their reaction and stop as soon as you or your partner have the sense that they’re no longer enjoying it
In case you’re concerned, rhythmic movements like swinging, bouncing, and gentle tossing, are not causes of Shaken Baby Syndrome, which only happens when their head is violently whipped back and forth causing a form of whiplash.
Don’t be scared to ask for help.
Human babies require more care for a longer period of time than any other mammal. Much like a herd of elephants, nature made it so new parents would have a tribe to rely on for infant care; thus, building a sense of connection and community in the process. Two people were never meant to do all this alone! I really had to push myself to reach out to my community for support and ask for help in making food, running errands, and cleaning our house. While Serenity was in deep recovery, I took it upon myself to rally our community and it was well worth the effort. I created a spreadsheet with dates, times, and household tasks that we needed help with and texted forty of our friends and family asking for their assistance. Their willingness to help was not only good for mom and baby, but allowed me to work back in those key elements of my self-care.
I have no doubt that fatherhood will continue to be the most rewarding experience of my life. Every day I am thankful for my amazing little Della! I can’t wait to watch her grow into the amazing woman she is meant to be, and in the process, help me become the man and father I am meant to be.