I wasn't the least bit worried about becoming a father. In fact, when my wife and I found out we were having a son, I was thrilled. I fantasized about playing baseball with him, taking him to his first football game, and counting how many times he'd mention me during his Harvard valedictory address.
But when the big day came and the nurse handed me Will, a wrinkled bundle of screaming newborn, I was consumed by fear and uncertainty. How would I know when he was hungry? Would this mean the end of my social life (not to mention sex life)? And given our modest income, where would we get the money to pay for the baby gear we'd need?
Guys are supposed to have all the answers. But the reality is, many of us are woefully unprepared for the challenges ahead. We know, moms, that your attention is (rightly) focused elsewhere, but we could use some help overcoming these common new-dad concerns.
Between getting the hang of breastfeeding and easing baby into a routine, new moms have plenty on their mind. Know that while you're taking care of those life-sustaining matters, we're obsessing about having another mouth to feed. It costs an average of $286,050 to raise a child until age 18, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. When I saw that hugely daunting figure, I anguished over how we could possibly make it on one salary if my wife MJ didn't return to her job. I'm a guy, so naturally I didn't share my anxiety with a soul, but wrestling with this worry nearly eclipsed the joy of my becoming a dad.
Help Dad Deal: Tame his money worries by setting aside time to retool your family budget well in advance of your due date. "More money will be going out the door and less may be coming in," says Jason Alderman, who directs financial-education programs for Visa.
Look for easy ways to trim expenses, such as cooking dinner at home and buying groceries in bulk. And see if you can reduce your child-care costs by enlisting the help of Grandma, joining a babysitting co-op, or getting creative with your work schedules. MJ suggested that each of us take a weekday off and make up the time on the weekends. Fortunately, our bosses agreed to the arrangement. It slashes our day-care bill by 40 percent and also comes with this incredible benefit: I get to hang out with Will on Wednesdays, my new favorite day of the week.
Striking a semblance of balance between the office and family life is a juggling act for every working parent. Dads, though, may find it especially difficult. Moms can often take up to 12 weeks maternity leave, but many men can swing only a few days out of the office. Even those who have paternity leave may be afraid to take the time because they worry about damaging their career.
Help Dad Deal: Encourage your partner to broach paternity leave with his boss as early as possible and to take all the time he's entitled to, says Kyle Pruett, M.D., author of Fatherneed: Why Father Care Is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child. Remind your guy that most employers simply want the work to get done; they're less concerned with when you do it. You and your husband can brainstorm solutions to his job situation. Ben Bouza, a high school teacher and football coach in Hawarden, Iowa, says his schedule (teaching classes during the day, leading practices in the afternoon, and creating lesson plans at night) used to leave him scant time to spend with his 8-month-old, Norah. So he started doing his administrative work early in the morning, freeing up nights to spend with his little girl. "Sometimes I have to get in at 5 A.M. to catch up, but it's worth it to have a chance to bathe Norah and read books to her," he says.
New moms have a clear advantage over dads: You live with a little creature inside you for nine months and, thanks to nursing, often spend more time getting to know him in the early days. Feeding, bathing, diapering, and soothing are usually uncharted territory for us.
Help Dad Deal: Give your husband a pep talk. Let him know that you're learning on the job, too, and that he'll do fine as long as he makes the effort. "Tell him to jump right in and not worry about screwing up," suggests Armin Brott, author of The New Father. Offer a tutorial on, say, bathtime, if he needs one, then have him take over while you catch a nap or meet a friend. Even if he grumbles, this trial by fire will boost your guy's confidence. I speak from personal experience. When MJ and her best friend, Alicia, left me in charge of Alicia's 8-week-old baby so they could grab some girl time, I was scared stiff. But during that hour, I changed him, fed him, and rocked him to sleep. And here I am today, daring to repeat the experience again and again with a baby of my own.
If your partner is used to going out with his buds twice a week or hitting the gym whenever he pleases, you need to break it to him (gently) that those days are over.
Help Dad Deal: Soften the blow by letting your spouse know he can have a night out every now and then, as long as you get your fair share of furloughs too. Craig and Jessica Smith, of Mechanic Falls, Maine, take turns going out once a week while the other watches their daughters, Riley and Irelyn. "Neither of us gets to see our friends as often as we used to," Craig says. "But being able to look forward to a regular break makes us happier."
The first few months of parenthood take a toll on everyone, but they're a lot worse for moms. We get that you're overwhelmed and not exactly feeling super sexy. Still, the lack of affection (which includes sex, since men can scarcely separate the two) is tough on us. Moms still enjoy a degree of intimacy through their interaction with Baby, but dads can feel like the third wheel.
Help Dad Deal: If you know your honey is hinting for lovin' and you're not in the mood, remind him that cuddling and kissing can be an end in itself instead of a part of foreplay. Try using his obvious desire to get him to take on some additional household responsibilities ("Meet you upstairs after you load the dishwasher, honey"), which will reduce your burden. Feeling relaxed can leave you more receptive to romancing.
I learned that the fastest route back to the bedroom was by doing chores -- without being asked. Smothering MJ with kisses and telling her how beautiful she was got no play. But when she came home to a sparkling kitchen one evening, she knew I had stopped thinking about my own needs and become a full-fledged member of Team Parents. It wasn't long before we got cooking in the bedroom again.
Originally published in the June 2011 issue of American Baby magazine.