Katie Hilton (Bsc, Msc) – Registered Midwife & Health Visitor
- Don't worry about being a great dad. Being a great dad isn't about holding the baby just right, or knowing how to burp them, or being a willing participant at imaginary tea parties. Being a good dad starts with being a good husband. It starts with getting involved in the entire antenatal process; so if you really want to be a good dad, make sure you're a good husband, because great husbands become great dads. If there's one thing your baby needs, it's a stable, loving home. Work to make your marriage rock solid. The good dad thing will follow, guaranteed.
- Try to live your normal pre-child life as soon as possible. A lot of first-time parents totally freak out when they have a baby, and they don't leave their house for two years because they're afraid of what might happen to the baby. After a couple of weeks, go out and start to return to as much of you and your wife's normal routine as possible. Remember babies are small and travel surprisingly easily. Take your baby out to dinner with you, take them on trips, shopping, on airplanes, and just about everywhere you used to go before the baby arrived. Once you realize that you're out there, doing regular things with the little one going along just fine, you'll realize that although some things are certainly different now, you can still do most of the things you used to do.
- Give the mummy some time for herself. When it comes to caring for a baby, and instinctively knowing what to do with a newborn baby, women have the market cornered, and being a mummy is a much harder job than being a daddy. That's why it's so important that you give the mummy as many breaks as you can. She needs time for herself, but she's so wrapped up in being a mum, she probably won't stop long enough to care for herself. The best thing you can do is make her take breaks. Watch the baby for a while as she naps, then have your wife go visit her friend, or if her mum lives nearby, have her take some time and visit her. Even if she just wants to go shopping, or see a film with her friends, you've got to make time for her to do this. She needs it (more than even she knows) and it gives you some wonderful time with your newborn. An important part of being a great dad is being a great husband, and a great husband makes sure his wife doesn't get burned out being a mummy 24 hours a day.
- Get up with Mum for late-night feedings. We’ve got to tell you, this is a tough one, but you'll be glad you did it (when it's over, not during). When it comes to dining, newborn babies think they're on a cruise ship, and at midnight and 2 a.m. they fully expect (and demand) a buffet. Be a great dad, and be there with her for all the feedings. I promise you, it'll kick your butt some nights, but you'll survive, and you'll look back with fond memories.
- Be affectionate with your baby, especially as they get older. Kids need love, but they don't understand the word "love" on any level. Holding your baby and telling them, "Daddy loves you," is pretty much meaningless. But you know what babies do understand, a loving touch. Hugging them, snuggling them, and kissing them makes them feel loved. It's a basic way humans communicate love, but some fathers feel awkward showing love in this way. Get over it. A baby needs to feel loved, always, and you have within your power a guaranteed way to make them know they're loved. A baby that knows they're loved is a happy baby, the kind of baby that runs and jumps into your arms when they see you. You will never, ever regret being affectionate with your child, because you will be able to send a "you're loved" message right to your child's heart anytime with just a simple peck on the forehead or a quick hug before school. A dad's loving touch is amazingly powerful; it sends a message to your child that words can't always convey. By the way, high-fiving doesn't count. It's a celebration, not a sign of affection.
- Treat your child the way you wanted to be treated when you were a child. Take a look back on how you were raised. Look back at how your dad showed, or didn't show, his love for you. How he disciplined you, encouraged you, criticized you, and moulded you. If you had a great dad, now's your chance to take everything he showed you and put it to good use. If you didn't have a great dad, this is your chance, your golden opportunity to make up for every fatherly injustice he did to you by being to your child a much better and more sensitive, involved, loving dad than he was to you. This is your chance to show your dad, and the world, "This is what being a good dad looks like." Provide your child with a level of love, patience, understanding, and affection that shows your own dad how it's done.
- Advice on raising children is everywhere, and it's all contradictory, so be very careful which guide you follow. Unfortunately, there is no bottom line, no official guide, no absolute authority on raising children, so there are literally hundreds of books on how to be a good parent and raise children right. One book says if your baby cries, pick them up. Another book says let them cry it out. A third book says pick them up once, and then let them cry it out. A fourth... well, you get the idea. So how do you know which one is right? You don't. So you have to do some research and decide for yourself. If you read only one book, you'll probably go with that method. Talk to other parents, read books, parenting magazines, and online articles to get as much information as possible, then decide which of them makes the most sense to you. Don't go with things that don't feel right in your gut. If it feels wrong to you, it's probably wrong for your baby. With the Internet, there's a ton of information out there, and not all of it is good. Go with your gut, and listen to that little voice inside your head that usually keeps you from making big mistakes.
- Enjoy yourself. It all goes by too quickly. My son is 6 now, and if you asked me if it feels like six years since he was born, I'd have to tell you it feels more like two. Maybe two and a half. The time you have with your children absolutely flies by, so really take the time to enjoy it. Take time out of work to be with them. Pick up your child from school and go take them out bowling or to the park, or volunteer to be the coach of their football team. Believe me, you won't wind up on your deathbed saying, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office." You'll say, "I wish I'd spent more time with my son."
Remember, you're moulding a little life here, a very impressionable little mind, and you are your kid's role model. Their hero. Show them how it's supposed to be done; as your child grows older, you'll be amazed at how you two wind up having so much in common. Why is that? Because he's just like his dad.