This post first appeared at www.WhatToExpect.com.
Good news: more and more dads are taking paternity leave. There still aren’t as many men able to take leave as there should be, but the rising numbers are encouraging. If you are a new dad and are taking this short crash course in parenting, then I have some tips for essential things to do while on paternity leave.
- Be alone with your baby. I have spoken to many new dads or fathers-to-be, and many of them have this general fear that something drastic will happen on their watch. Don’t let that keep you from having some precious alone time with your new baby. (The new mom could probably use some rest anyway.)
- Jump in and show you’re a competent father. Get in there and change the baby’s diaper. Don’t wait and do “the look,” where you and your spouse try to figure out who will feel the guiltiest first. Changing diapers is a way for you to bond with the baby. The same goes for baths. I loved giving my babies baths. There were special moments where we played and the smiles given back are ones that I’ll cherish forever.
- Don’t let the new mom shoulder all the responsibility of feeding the baby. Don’t think that if your partner is breastfeeding that you will not have a role. Be there to support or do whatever is needed—for example, you can be the one who picks the baby up out of the crib in the middle of the night and brings the infant to the mom.
- Get those little chores done that you’ve been putting off. Everyone has that broken drawer or a bathroom that needs a good cleaning. Babies sleep a lot, so use that time to get some things done around the house.
- Take a nap. Okay, I know that I said to get things done around the house, but you’re exhausted. Go ahead and sleep. You’ll be energized and more patient later—like in the middle of the night, when you need patience and energy most.
- Prolong the simple things. When you go back to work, you’ll really miss holding your baby. So while you’re on leave, as much as you can, hold your baby and read, sing, or simply talk to the infant. These will be the things you’ll miss the most.
- Find your walking and dancing groove. I have 3 kids, and each one required a different soothing motion. One baby liked the quick walk and bob. The other enjoyed slow movements back and forth. And the third baby liked to change things up a bit. Find your baby’s personal soothing style. This will come in handy when you’re back at work and the baby is up at 4am and you need to be at work by 8am. You’ll get frustrated if you don’t have the baby’s rhythm down.
- Show that baby off. Go to your friend’s house, church, park, the office, or wherever you can to show the world the new greatest thing in your life. It is easy to stay inside, but getting out will help your attitude and others will appreciate seeing a new side to you. Some fresh air will also do both of you some good.
- Get to know other dads. I am part of the NYC Dad’s Group and one of the best things that I have ever done was get to know other dads that were experiencing my same joys and frustrations. There are dads’ groups in almost every major city now. Get plugged into one while you are on leave. The dads will share their tips and also give you an ear to vent about the things that you are afraid to tell others that won’t understand.
- Go on an afternoon date with your partner. Put the baby in a sling or wrap and go on a date. I guarantee the baby will sleep for at least part of it—so enjoy the time with your partner. Just because you may not be able to have sex right away doesn’t mean all your chances to be romantic are shot. (Well, as romantic as you can be with a newborn strapped to your chest.) Go out to dinner, or try an afternoon movie (they’re usually empty, especially on weekdays). You can use your paternity leave time to connect with the baby, and to enjoy your new parenting life together with your significant other.
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