What it’s really like to become a dad

Image: Nicholas Carlson

My friend Dave and his wife are going to have a kid this fall.

I had a baby last summer, so last time we were out, Dave wanted to know what to expect.

I was unable to tell him.

That’s because, in order to keep the species from dying off, evolution has made sure to wipe the memories of new parents within 12 months of having a kid.

Lucky for Dave, I kept notes from that time.

Here’s what I plan to tell him next time:

The main thing I felt was terrified.

The first night after Arthur was born, he slept on my chest. It was cozy, but that’s not why I did it. I did it because when I tried putting him in the bassinet, I couldn’t handle it. At first, I was able to fall asleep. But as soon as he made any kind of noise at all, I would wake up with a start. I’d walk over and look down at him to make sure he was still breathing. It took weeks before I stopped worrying that he would die at any moment.

The relationship dynamic with my wife changed.

We were no longer mere soul mates. We were now Mom and Dad.

The first ten years of our relationship, we were basically super-duper-BFFs. Or roommates who really like each other. The main purpose of our relationship was to have someone to hang out with after work and on weekends. Our interactions were mostly held during times of leisure.

After having kids, our relationship became more like coworkers. We became care provider number one and care provider number two. Conversations became about tasks. Shifts were scheduled. Hours worked were tracked and compared.

If you liked working on group projects in school, you will like the first few months after having a baby. If you did not, work on your patience.

As soon as you can, start having regular date nights. That’s the key to keeping the soulmates part of the relationship alive.

The easiest way to fall in love with work again is to have a baby.

I’ve been lucky to have a job I love for most of my working life. But never have I loved my job more than the first morning following my two week paternity leave.

That may sound bad. To be clear: Almost a year later, I’m glad I had a kid, and my relationship with my wife has developed and deepened in ways that I would never reverse. I increasingly find myself leaving work early to get home and be with the family.

But when you first get to finally leave the house and go be an adult again, it’s great. When you have a newborn and you are at home, caring for that newborn is all you can think about and all you can do. For several weeks after my boy was born, Monday morning was the new Friday night. I remember thinking: TGIM.

(This is a good moment to say how much I admire, respect, and appreciate parents who stay at home with their kids. It is WORK.)

Babies are boring.

Babies are boring the way that meditating is kind of boring. But they are also enriching in the way that meditating is enriching.

The trick is allowing yourself to get into that meditative state.

In the first few weeks after I had a kid, I learned that if I had my phone on and with me, I would look at it instead of looking at my boy. And that felt really stupid.

When I was at home, I had to turn my iPhone off so I could enjoy my kid.

iPhone apps — games and social media especially — are designed to stimulate you every second you are staring at the screen. Babies are not designed to do that.

It gets easier when they learn to smile.

For the first six weeks of a baby’s life, you’re doing all this work for them and you get zero feedback. All they do is take, take, and take! And then, one day, wham! The kid hits you with a smile. It’s like how in movies, hostages who are abused by their captors suddenly love them as soon as they are shown any kindness at all.

Having a kid is great for your social media game.

Before having a kid, I was lucky to get 13 likes on an Instagram photo. Now? All I need to do is throw up something cute and we’re talking 30 likes easy, sometimes 100+.

We felt like we had no idea what we were doing.

We had a million questions for the pediatrician. They were: Are pacifiers OK for night sleep? What about swaddling at night? When is it OK to take him to a public place like a restaurant?
(Outside?) How long between feedings? Min and max, please. What are the signs we are using the pacifier too much? How often should we bathe him? Thoughts on gentle sleep training: 12 hours in 12 weeks? Possible if exclusively feeding breast milk? Is a fiery red butt hole a problem? What is the point of burping? It wakes him up after night feedings and we just have to put him down again. Is it ever safe to not burp?

I became way more empathetic.

Having a kid, I was suddenly aware that everyone in the world was once a little baby just like mine. Helpless and joyful. I realized if that joy was no longer with people, something must
have happened.

Also, every time I read a bad piece of news about something happening to a child somewhere in the world, it hit me harder than ever before. I would think: what if that were my kid?

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Nicholas Carlson

This post was originally published on The Insider. Read it here or follow Insider on Twitter and Facebook.

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