By Mike Toole, KnowMore.tv
When you become a parent (or more precisely, when you find out you're going to be a parent), you get barraged with more advice than you know what to do with -- or want. It comes from all angles: friends who are parents, distant relatives you've spoken to twice before, even strangers on public transportation, in restaurants, the grocery store -- you name it. Basically, everyone who has ever been in contact with a baby will have some sort of words of wisdom for you!
Now that I've been a father for an impressive eigh months (and obviously know everything, ha, ha), I'll share the top six things I've learned that actually would have been helpful pieces of information before going into this gig.
1. Your version of 'sleeping through the night' is different than your baby's.
Did you know that in the baby world, "sleeping through the night" for a 3-month-old means sleeping for six hours? Yeah, six hours. So if your baby goes to sleep at 7:00 p.m. and wakes up at 1:00 a.m., congrats! That's sleeping through the night. Remember when you used to go to bars at 7:00 and leave at 1:00? Basically, your baby is sleeping through what used to be Thursday night happy hour.
2. Forget about sleeping; get out and do things!
When you're expecting a baby, people will say, "Get sleep while you can!" with a somewhat evil smile that intimates that they're slightly pleased about your impending sleep deprivation. This is AWFUL advice. First, saying this to a pregnant woman is just mean, since they can barely sleep during the third trimester, anyway. What you should be telling people is, "Go do some things!" Go to the movies, go out to dinner, go out for drinks with friends and enjoy having a hangover without a child in the house.
Oh, speaking of that...
3. You're going to get drunk really fast.
Have you ever had a couple of drinks after pulling an all-nighter or at a high altitude? That's what it's like drinking with a baby. (I mean, drinking after you have a baby. Do not drink WITH your baby. I cannot stress this enough.) Anyway, you're going to be incredibly tired. So just a drink or two will knock you out. This is nice because, hey, you're a cheap date. Not so nice? A crying baby and the slightest hangover. So, pace yourself. And remember that a baby can wake up at any moment, and they usually do it right when you want them to least.
4. Enjoy the moments when strangers ogle your baby.
Strangers love babies. As long as they look, and don't touch, it's totally OK. In my experience, it's mostly old ladies who do this, but there is the occasional wild card. I was sitting outside with my daughter one day and a younger guy in his thirties walked by, saw my daughter and said, "Hello, beautiful!" Then he looked at me and said, "Whoa! She looks just like you." So, in a way, he thinks I'm beautiful. That was nice. Anyway, I know at some point this will stop because the majority of strangers think babies are cute, but that toddlers are not.
I don't know when exactly this changes. My own feeling is probably when they start talking, yet you're still changing their diapers. I don't think it's normal to wipe the butt of someone with whom you can have a conversation. I'm not looking forward to that.
5. Get ready to experience a full range of emotions in the shortest time span possible.
I'm a stay-at-home dad and the hardest part, so far, has been nap time. Prior to having a baby, you just think that babies fall asleep when they're tired (I blame America's Funniest Home Videos for this), but they don't. It is, in fact, usually very difficult for a baby to fall asleep. I would frequently spend two hours getting my daughter to nap -- a nap which would last for twenty minutes. You get frustrated, because you feel like you've done everything right. You momentarily find yourself getting mad at a baby who has no idea what she's doing. You're then disappointed in yourself because you just got mad at a defenseless, helpless baby. What is wrong with you?! Then she falls asleep and you've never seen anything so peaceful and you feel like the greatest parent ever. This can all happen in about five minutes.
6. This kind of love will make you become a different person.
Oh, that thing about loving your kid? Yeah, no one can prepare you for that. People, including myself, will tell you how much you will love your child, how your entire being will change the moment you see her/his face, and you think you'll understand what they're saying. You think that because you've seen those ultrasounds. You think you know what she/he will look like and be like. I remember the moment I saw the top of my daughter's head. At that moment, a flip was switched. You become a different person. It's really impossible to put into words.
So, my advice on that one is to just throw your expectations out the window. Just let it happen. The day going into the night my daughter was born was the most nerve-wracking, exhilarating, scary, exciting thing I've ever experienced.
So just enjoy it. And enjoy not sleeping for the next few months. It's the best.
Photos: Courtesy Mike Toole
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Mike Toole is a freelance writer and stay-at-home dad based in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can check out his Mister Mommy Blogger blog here.