10 Tips for New Dads
As both a father of three young kids and the blog editor for the Los Angeles Dads Group, the only all-dads group in L.A. County, I get asked this question a lot from soon-to-be dads: “So, what’s it really like?”
So, as I devour my kids’ peanut butter sandwich crackers after they have all gone to bed (that’s what dads secretly do!), here are my real, honest tips on being a new parent (that you probably won’t read about in a book):
You are what you eat! I guess I’m a peanut butter sandwich, huh? It is tough to get all the vegetables, good protein and vitamins in when you are running around in circles. Most of us just want to eat junk food at the end of the day. And I’m not just talking about the kids! When my wife was pregnant, our midwives explained that she needed to get a certain amount of vitamins, proteins, and other healthy stuff in her diet for our growing fetus. But between her picky eating, lack of appetite, and, well, life…it was tough to do. So I started making shakes with all the nasty stuff she didn’t want to eat, masked by all the yummy stuff she liked. And now that our kids are growing and don’t want to eat their vegetables, I sneak things like spinach into our morning shake to make sure they get enough veggies and other nutritious foods in their diet. So tip #1 is get a good blender and check out the Weelicious Smoothie Project for great ideas.
Don’t be Don Draper! The days of Mad Men are dead — dads aren’t helpless bystanders anymore, smoking cigars in the waiting room while our partners labor away in the hospital room. And, the truth is, we don’t want to be. Dads should be a part of the birth experience because, well, it is our kid! Ask any dad about the first time they met their child and I guarantee it was a magical experience. You want to be there to support your partner and meet your baby for the first time. Go to all your doctor or adoption appointments and ask questions so you know what to expect on that first day, because it will be an experience you won’t ever forget.
Find a great babysitter. Or two. Or three. Start looking now for babysitters because you will always be looking. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music doesn’t exist in real life. And even if you have family support, they won’t always be available. Find babysitters that you can really trust so you can sneak out to watch the latest Star Wars film or just grab a bite to eat together (or alone!) without getting food all over you. And it is worth paying a little extra to have someone qualified watching your baby. Students studying for a degree in education are always a safe bet because they are usually looking for part-time work and want to gain experience working with kids of different ages.
California has the best family leave policy in the country. Use it. We don’t just live here for the great weather and incredible food. California happens to be the best place in the country for raising kids because of paid family leave. Many new fathers believe that paid family leave is only for new mothers. This is a huge misconception. As an employee, you pay into the program and can get 60–70 percent of your salary for up to six weeks. And you can break it up — you don’t have to take it all at once (in fact, I recommend spreading it out over 12 months). You can learn more about the program and calculate your weekly benefit by checking out the State of California’s Employment Development Department website.
Join LA Dads Group! I know that this is a shameless plug, but honestly, you will be a better parent if you have a network of other dads to spend time with. Science says so. Membership is free and we do everything from dads’ night out to family play dates.
5 p.m. is no longer Happy Hour. 5 a.m. is your new happy hour. For a whole year, my son would wake up between 4:45 and 5:30 a.m. smiling, full of energy and ready to take on the day. That was his idea of happy hour. Rather than dread that ridiculous wake up call, treat it as an opportunity in a far too crazy world to spend quality time with your kid because, trust me, 5 p.m. is definitely no longer happy hour. It is almost always the time when your child turns into a raging monster who will need to eat, bathe and go to sleep (because they wake up at 5 a.m.!). Sorry to break it to you, but your days of drinking with colleagues after work are over, which brings me to my next tip…
Exercise and eat with your kids. You thought you had enough excuses now to not exercise? Missed lunch again because you were working so hard? Just wait until you have kids! Exercising or sitting down to eat a whole meal is a rarity. So why not do it with your kids? Is baby waking up at 5 a.m.? Give your partner a break and take your baby for a run, walk or bike. You get your exercise in and you might just put them back to sleep. And sitting down and eating with your child sets up good habits for later, but ensures you have some quality time with them.
Don’t buy all the things (just some of them). Shopping for a new baby is like becoming a certified diver or amateur photographer. As someone hears the word “baby” they will convince you to spend thousands of dollars on gear you will never use. After three kids, I’ve found that all you need for an outing is: 1) food and water (breastmilk counts!), 2) diapers and wipes, 3) extra clothes for changes or layering (although that is optional in the summer, but lather on sunscreen), and 4) a good baby carrier. And it’s Southern California, so you probably need good car seat (although my kids love taking the bus or train). Ask dads with kids which carrier they used for their baby or go to a baby show (yeah, I know, I’d rather be at the Dodgers game, too!) and try on a few baby carriers to find one that would actually feel comfortable while wearing your baby.
Make decisions now on your baby’s digital footprint. We live in the digital age and it is important to decide how you are going to treat images of your kid(s). I’ve seen creative ideas including private Gmail accounts where parents send notes and photos to their child for when they are old enough for email. Others maintain a more public profile for family and friends to see. Just come up with a system that works for your family, because you will want to share and save all those cute pictures of your baby.
And finally….be yourself! Love your kid unconditionally and be yourself — those are the two most important things you can do for them (and for you!). No matter how anxious you may feel about being a parent, you’ve got this, dad.
Eli grew up in Bermuda and settled in Los Angeles. He is a dad-of-three, world traveler, nonprofit director, and Commissioner in the City of Los Angeles. He has written about being a dad for Grok Nation and City Dads Group. You will usually find him walking, biking or taking public transit with his two kids. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.