What lessons will a new parent learn the first
six months of their child’s life?

Besides how close to insanity the human mind can truly deteriorate before reason and abandon take over… Here’s a few:

6mo

  • Sleep – get it whenever you can the first few months.  Even if you’re not sleepy.  Punch yourself until you pass out if the baby’s asleep.  Take that moment.
  • Don’t lose your mind or put too much pressure on yourself to get things accomplished or cleaned – the first 3 months (at least) are pure survival mode.
  • Go easy on your spouse.  Be a partner, not a hindrance (I failed at this one a lot).
  • Don’t take so many pictures and video with your phone and whatnot. Some is good… All is not.  You’ll end up recording events you failed to participate in.
  • Savor the moments, even if it is 2 in the morning and the baby won’t stop screaming and the sound is like a running blender with a fork in it.
  • Enjoy your spouse.  You will grow together, and as individuals during the transition to parenthood. Look at each other, and not just the baby, or you’ll miss wonder.
  • Be beyond flexible.  Game night will get cancelled.  Dinner plans will fall through. Dates will devolve quickly into drive-through and run back to the house.  It’s okay.
  • Do NOT buy a zillion diapers or outfits or jammies or onesies or other things with cute names that babies ‘require’.  Other parents you know are DYING to throw their old stuff at you.  Take advantage. But get some unique stuff yourself, too… just to enjoy the baby with.
  • Baby poo is not nearly as gross as you imagined previously.  Solid food is coming, though. Embrace the meager, un-stinky poo while you can.
  • Remember your savings account?  Blow it a tearful kiss farewell.  Babies come with undeclared expenses and hidden price tags.
  • No matter how tired or frustrated or taken completely off-guard you may be, you will get from this what you choose to invest.  Determine to invest joy.

Some other things I’ve learned…

Prayer is important.

No, seriously.  I got all caught up in the daily do’s that I purely focused upon the tasks at hand, without even thinking of praying for strength.  Even in my weakest, most exhausted moments.  No prayer.  Just stubbornness and focus.  But I noticed that my attitude started drifting into ugly places.  I could manage faking ‘happy’ and just place-nose-firmly-against-grindstone action… but at the slow progression toward biting remarks and self righteous thoughts toward my wife.  Prayer, as a forced habit, actually seems to have mitigated my piss-poor occasional fits of bad attitude.  The baby’s occasional fits seem undeterred, but…

Babies are made for loving, not tolerating.

Some fathers I’ve met simply “put up” with their kids until the progeny is old enough to engage in a more cognizant manner.  In my opinion (and not to cast too much judgment on these other fathers), this is a mistake.  My daughter takes in the world around her with her whole heart. You can see it in her eyes.  You can experience it in
her behavior.  We have a squeaky door that is opened several times a day, and her verbal squeaks mimic the sound.  We smile broadly at her in every conversation, and she smiles back so hard her eyes squint shut.  She takes on the moods of those around her – stranger and family alike.  So, if at this infant stage in her development she is aware and adapting to her surroundings and the people she comes in contact with, then the responsibility is already heavy.  I’d rather fill her tiny heart with love, appreciation, and fun than assume she won’t remember these days as she grows up.  The prideful notion that I’ll somehow have the practice, the clout, and the wisdom to properly invest in her life once she can speak or comprehend is ridiculous.  Will I be able to throw a magical switch and turn instantly into superdad the moment she can comprehend words like “No”, “Wait”, or “I love you”? Not likely.  I’m finding that when we give her our best now, that she responds (in small ways) better to everything – with a little less fuss and a little more patience.  Which is remarkable for someone so young.  Actually, I should be taking notes… I think she’s trying to teach me something….

You can’t spoil your kid…yet.

One thing having our 3-year old niece living in our home taught us was the delicate balance between enabling bad behavior, teaching respect and understanding, and still inhabiting and communicating love.  Infants have no context for such nuance.  They are either comfortable/distracted or uncomfortable/satan.  Degrees of communication are learned, and for later on.  Love your kid fiercely now, and leave the balance between care and correction for later.  You’ll just exhaust yourself trying to instill behavioral change in an infant.  Yes, I tried it.  Like an idiot.  The niece kinda programmed me to measure my responses and actions.  With the baby, I had to un-learn such caution and simply throw love and affection at her, even when she is at her most unruly.

Don’t wait until…

Don’t wait for them to reach a certain age, or milestone of development.  Just don’t wait to engage them.  Use your words and pour truth and love over your kid. Sure, the comprehension won’t be there yet, but it doesn’t matter.  They have hearts, minds, emotions, and the ability to attach those things to moments and people.  Make sure the ‘joy’ sensation is equivalent to your presence.  Make sure the ‘fun’ moments are fully experienced and simply reveled in. Don’t wait for later.  Some part of that tiny soul will remember.  Also don’t wait to change diapers.  Sticky, dried-on poo is surprisingly less fun than wet poo.

Don’t look ahead or worry about the days and years to come.  A crisis that you fear to arise when age 3 or 16 is upon you is irrelevant today.  Today is what you have.  The person your child will become tomorrow is directly affected by the person you treat them as today.  Enjoy who they are presently.  Embrace who they are in the now.

And finally…

Remember your partners.  Spouse first – and make it a conscious effort.  A team effort. Because you are a team.  Share the frustrations and joys equally.  Don’t hide behind the kid’s needs because the dynamics of the relationship are changing.  Step up and learn, sure… but make sure you’re stepping up together.  This kid won’t raise itself, so utilize the wisdom of those who’ve been spit-up on before you.  But don’t take it as gospel.  New grandparents will probably have some thinly-veiled constructive criticism of the choices you’ll make for your child.  These may arrive as an anecdote about you – when you were a baby – and how you reacted in such and such a way, and how a particular method of feeding or cleaning or whatever was good (better) than whatever you’re currently doing.  They mean well.  Take the wisdom, and be wise with it.  But ultimately, this little life is your responsibility.  You know that small soul better than anyone, even the wisest of family or friend.

Accept help from others.  Accept advice gladly, and then ignore the parts that don’t apply.  Don’t be too proud to ask someone to run an errand for you or clean your house when your strength has failed you.  Because it will fail.  Without exception, you are not able to handle everything solo, or even as a team with your spouse.  Vent to a trusted friend.  Laugh with a sister over the surprising moments of parenthood.

And above all – be present.  These six months may feel like a lifetime at moments, but more often than not – seem merely a breath that passed all too quickly.