I originally wrote this article last year when my son, who is now two, turned one. It was a reflection on everything I learned in that first year, mostly about my relationship with my wife. Any new parent who thinks that relationship won’t be affected, please read on.
While I am writing this for new fathers, some of the lessons I have learned are good for mothers to hear as well. I have been a father for a year now, and it has been the best, hardest, fastest ride I have ever been on.
Being a father is not easy. Being a husband is not easy. Trying to be a father and a husband while doing your job, paying the bills, fixing the house, maintaining the lawn, keeping up with friends, furthering your career, and trying to keep your sanity is like juggling chainsaws lit on fire while standing on one leg over a ravine a mile up in the air. Every toss, every step, every twitch feels as though you’ll loose everything and tumble to your doom.
Believe it or not, you’re in good company.
Midnight Fights Don’t Count
My son still hasn’t learned to sleep through the night. Most nights, we struggled to figure out what’s wrong and what to do. Was he hungry? Was he teething? Was he having a nightmare? We often fought about the right thing to do. Do we cuddle with him? Do we let him scream it out? We experimented with so many things, some worked and some didn’t.
That stress naturally caused us to fight. The key to those fights is recognizing two things: you’re tired, and she’s tired. Give yourself the grace to bicker and fight, and come morning, let it go. You’re not really frustrated with her; you’re frustrated with the situation. You don’t know what you’re doing, and the fear is causing you to lash out. Guess what? She feels the same way, and is reacting because she is afraid. Let it go, because everything will be ok.
You Will Not get a Divorce
After about a few months, I grew concerned that our marriage was falling apart. We didn’t make time for dates, sex was a distant memory, and it felt like we had changed. In truth, we really had: we became parents.
Much of the change was simply sleep deprivation. It should come as no surprise to you that lack of sleep changes a person. Give this change time, though. You’re simply trying to figure out how to incorporate a new person into your family. Sometimes that means your relationship with your wife becomes secondary. It may not feel like it now, but you will find balance.
She has not Traded You in for Your Baby
I don’t remember exactly when I began to feel this way, but at some point I began to feel as though I had been traded in. All of our time, all of our conversations, everything went towards our son. It’s hard to remember that the love your wife once expressed to you is still there. She didn’t trade you in, but has simply focused on someone new. Like many of you out there, my wife wasn’t able to be a stay-at-home-mom. So she was not only tired from now two people wanting her attention, she was tired from work. It is ok for her to forget you. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you, nor does it mean she will always forget you. Give her the space to focus on your baby.
You Will Have Sex Again
One of the reasons I felt traded in was that our sex life went out the door. Wives, as you read this, give your husband some grace as he learns to deal with the changes. It came as a complete shock to me, and I bumbled my way around not only my hurt, but trying to express that to my wife.
You are experiencing what every new father experiences. You. Are. Not. Alone. Whatever you feel, above all, do no turn towards porn. I’ve spoken with men who did, and it made things worse—not better. Find a father buddy who gets it, someone who can hold you accountable and deal with your frustration.
Just because flirting once led to sex, doesn’t mean it will now. Learn to read your wife’s signals—better yet, speak to your wife about this. She’s not blowing you off; more likely, she’s tired, focused on the baby, and just did not think about it. She doesn’t mean to offend you, and she isn’t trying to say she doesn’t love you. My wife didn’t even know I was hoping for it! So give your wife the give of your patience and time.
Do Not Forget Your Wife
This seems a weird thing to be mentioning considering I’ve been talking about how fathers feel neglected, but I certainly neglected my wife, too. I became so concerned with my need and our son’s needs that I forgot to ask about my wife’s needs. This may not surprise anyone else, but apparently she has some, too!
Take time to go on dates, at least once a month. You might not have been the planner before, but maybe it’s time to learn how. Sometimes after a baby is born, roles change. This also means that you need to be more intentional about writing your wife love notes, cleaning the dishes, taking an extra shift with the screaming baby, and even something so small as holding her hand. She’s just as exhausted as you are, and needs you more than she knows how to articulate.
It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
Our greatest fear was that we would somehow screw up our son. There are so many different philosophies on how to parent your child that we simply gave up trying to figure out which one was for us. Instead, we turned to our parents. For the most part, they offered suggestions, but told us to simply try different strategies and see if they worked. Best advice ever. Pick up your child, cuddle with him/her, and everything is going to be fine. Really, it is.
Find Someone You can Share Your Frustrations With
I am very much an introvert. This means most of what I experience and feel tends to stay locked up in my own head. For months, I tried to deal with all of my frustrations on my own. I didn’t want to betray my wife’s privacy, nor admit some of the anger and pain I was feeling.
The moment I opened up to a friend of mine (who has twin four year olds), I found out that all of what I was experiencing and feeling was normal. It seems every father goes though these frustrations, and having someone to talk to will help you deal with them. Opening up like this is hard for some guys, but fathers, doing this will not only take the frustration away, it will help you realize that you are not alone.
Listen to Each Other
When your game plan works, life can function fairly well. Sadly, these plans are rare. It turns out your wife has instincts you don’t. Think about it; your baby was physically connected to her for nearly ten months! Even for those families who adopted or used a surrogate, women have instincts us men simply do not.
Likewise, men have parental instincts. In a great marriage, you and your spouse compliment each other. Where you are weak, she is strong, and vice versa. The same thing happens with your baby. Where you are weak, she will excel. Where she is weak, you will excel. Yet the key is not trying to be parents by instinct. Do it by talking and listening to each other. Every strategy, step foreword, decision, all of it must be made together. When you disagree, slow down and compromise. Never take conversations for granted.
Know When to Take a Break
This is easier for fathers to do than mothers. Plain and simply, young babies rely on their mothers more often than on their fathers. I don’t mean fathers have no affect or don’t matter; mothers need to breastfeed their babies every 3–4 hours. Because of this, they simply cannot get away as easily as fathers can.
Yet it is crucial to take time away for yourself. I know this seems selfish and wrong, but it’s true. We all have a breaking point. Case and point: some of the muscles in my face have slight ticks. It’s somewhat like turrets, but not full-blown. The funny part is, the more tired I get, the more noticeable the ticks became. At one point, I felt like my face was trying to jump off my head.
Thankfully, my wife recognized that I was past my limit. She graciously sent me out of the house with some friends to take a break. Once my son didn’t need to eat every 3 hours, I did the same thing for her, and sent her out (without our son, mind) to take a break. Sometimes, taking a break is simply going in the other room. Sometimes it means leaving the house entirely. Make sure you provide this for your wife, and take time for yourself as well. You will come back refreshed and happier this way.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
My mother and mother-in-law both came to stay with us the first weeks home. I’m not sure how we would have done it without them (though I know we would have survived). We constantly called them, asking for advice and help. We’ve asked our friends and family to babysit, and I’ve even asked for help with my yard work.
Our society teaches us that men are supposed to be self-sufficient, never asking for help nor even admitting that we don’t have everything under control. Once you get past this crap, you’ll find that life is so much easier when you do take people up on their offers. People genuinely desire to help, especially existing parents. They remember what they went though, and they’re eager to lend a hand. Oh, and if you do feel guilty, just keep in mind that the next set of parents will be asking for your help. You will have ample opportunities to return the favors done for you.
Above All, Enjoy This Time
Due to sleep deprivation, my memories are rather blurry about the past year. I did some things right, other things wrong, but nothing was so horribly awful that my family will suffer. Enjoy watching your baby grow, and make sure to laugh with your wife. While you can’t push away your job, your friends will understand if you don’t have time for them right now.
This time will pass faster than you think it will. Though my son is now a year old, I feel like it was only yesterday that I was driving down the road for the first time with a newborn, completely convinced that every driver was out to destroy us. While the passage of this time means getting to sleep again, having your relationships stabilize, and feeling like a normal person again, don’t miss the small things. I didn’t believe it before, but your child really will grow up faster than you think. Take the time to appreciate all you are experiencing, because you may never have it again.