Congratulations on the upcoming birth of your child!
Much of the attention is put on the mother during pregnancy, so I want to let you know that I see you, and I understand what it’s like to figure this out on your own.
Fatherhood hit me like a freight train.
I had no one to guide me, tell me what to do, be there for me when things got tough…it was lonely AF.
I’ve learned everything about fatherhood and parenting the (very) long, (very) hard way, in the trenches with my kids. You’re doing the right thing by preparing adequately beforehand!
But here’s what I found out about preparing to become a father:
It’s not so much about tactics or techniques as it is about making sure you are grounded, in alignment, mindful, and aware of your own wounds, triggers, and traumas.
I’ll get into all of that below, but this isn’t one of those “what stroller to buy” posts.
This is the REAL stuff that will make your life (and your family’s lives) easier, happier, and more fulfilling.
1. Do The Inner Work It Takes To Discover And Heal Your Patterns and Wounds
The most important part of becoming a good father is becoming a better man.
You could know all of the tactics, techniques, parenting-styles, etc., but if you are triggered, reactive, angry, withdrawn, emotionally unavailable, or otherwise overwhelmed, you are going to be unable to show up for your partner and child.
Being a good father starts with being a good man who has spent some time introspecting and reflecting on his own life, patterns, behaviours, and triggers.
Your goal is not to know how to change a diaper, warm a bottle, and put your baby in his carseat.
Your goal is to discover, process, and let go of anything from your past or present that stops you from showing up fully for yourself, your partner, and your child.
This means adopting a mindfulness practice, if you don’t already have one.
- Start meditating for 10 minutes/day.
- Start keeping a daily journal. Write about what you’re grateful for, dialogue with yourself to get to the bottom of any issues that surface, or use it to keep your head clear of ideas that would otherwise take up space.
- Learn how to breathe deeply into your belly to get yourself into your body and out of your head, especially if you react explosively to triggers with anger.
- Take some time to make intentional choices about your day, what you eat, how you move, how often you check your phone.
- Read books or listen to podcasts on mental health, mindfulness, and healing work.
- Join a men’s group.
For some, this may mean hiring a coach or starting therapy.
(And if you’re resistant to that, consider who the stronger man is…the one who can’t even stand being with his feelings for a moment, or the man who sits with the hard feelings and shows up anyway.)
Do as much of this self-improvement/healing/growth work…whatever you want to call it…before your child is born, because the further along you are on the path to aligning with the most authentic version of yourself, the better you will be able to show up for your family.
I didn’t even know this type of work existed when I was preparing to have my first son, and I suffered mightily because of it.
After nearly 9 years of parenting, with 3 kids now, I attribute almost ALL of my success in becoming a calm, conscious, confident man and father to the work I’ve put in on myself over the years.
The meditating, journaling, breathing, coaching, workshops, men’s groups, and other experiences I’ve had have been THE most fundamental part of my journey, and I recommend you take the time to dig in to an inner-work modality that feels right for you.
Because no matter how calm and loving you think you are now, your children have an uncanny ability to trigger a great many of your repressed or unhealed feelings.
Things will come up in fatherhood that seem to arrive out of nowhere, but it’s only because you’ve never had a child before, who reflects back to you the deepest parts of yourself that you may not be comfortable with.
2. Know That You Will Be Triggered, And Have A Plan
As I just mentioned, there will be things your child does that push all of your buttons.
And some buttons you didn’t even know you had.
Children allow us to open our hearts to love we never thought possible, but they also reflect back to us the parts of ourselves that we need to work on most.
In other words, the range of emotions after having children broadens significantly, and the pendulum can swing much further from one end to the other.
Therefore, it’s important to have practices that can regulate you when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Mindfulness practices will help with this, in general, because they expand your ability to feel and hold space for your feelings without reacting.
Some of the ways that I stay calm in the moment when I’m feeling triggered or overwhelmed is:
- Take 3-5 deep breaths into my belly
- Label the emotion that I’m feeling, and sometimes say it out loud
- Practice 2-point awareness, by noticing your breath in your body AND your feet on the floor at the same time
- Walk away and take a minute to calm down, not everything needs to be dealt with right away
Reacting explosively or withdrawing, two of the most common results of emotionally immature men when they’re triggered or upset, can both be incredibly harmful to our children.
Our kids are so susceptible to anything that they perceive as interrupting their bond with you.
It can manifest as shame, trauma, abandonment, and many other negative mental-health aspects later in life, so work on finding some tools to keep you grounded now, before your child is born.
It’ll help everyone in the moment, and in the long run.
3. Be Intentional And Have A Plan
There are two ways of going through life – with intention, or with inertia.
If you don’t plan, and you don’t regularly check-in with that plan and how you’re living your life, inertia will take you along, and one day you’ll wake up wondering how you got where you are.
As you approach fatherhood, it’s vital to have a plan on how you’ll parent, what your parenting goals are, what your values are, and how you can align all of these with your partner as a parenting team.
What boundaries will you set as a parent?
What will you do when your child is screaming and crying and seemingly unable to be consoled?
Will you allow screen time?
Will you use boundaries and consequences or punishment when it comes to discipline?
Is co-sleeping important to you?
Will you practice respectful parenting and communication?
These are all important things to consider, and give only a small overview of the things you might consider planning for.
This can seem a bit overwhelming, to be sure, so it is actually more important to agree on a general parenting “style”, which will lead to a parenting “goal”, which is actually something you can find by looking into your values and those of your partner.
Take a moment to write down your values. What are non-negotiables for you? What about your partner’s list? Where are there conflicts?
Starting from those values, or first principles, you can start to imagine how you will deal with situations generally, and come up with a way to communicate with each other when something comes up that you’re not sure about.
Because remember – you’ve never done this before. There will 100% be things, most things, that you have no idea how to handle.
That’s why it’s helpful to know generally what your values, plans, and goals are, so that you only have to remember the framework, rather than a million individual scenarios.
On the topic of intentionality vs. inertia, it’s important to consider your life goals and plan to get there.
I encourage you to meditate on what your ideal life looks like 10 years from now, and write. it down in great detail. Then, take some time working backward, and come up with what you need to do in 5 years, 3 years, 1 year, 1 quarter, 1 month in order to reach that ideal life you envisioned.
4. Solidify Your Habits and Prioritize Self-Care
Continuing on the back of the previous point, on the most granular level, what habits do you need to develop to get to your ideal life?
Develop some of these habits now, if possible, so that they are easier to keep when the baby is born.
Your schedule will change significantly, but if you have a strong base, it will be easier to maintain healthy and useful habits even when your life is changing with the addition of your child.
One of the most important things a father can do is to fill his own cup up regularly.
If your “cup” is empty, then how can you be expected to fill anyone else’s cup up?
When you are fulfilled and nourished mentally, physically, spiritually, you show up as a much better man, partner, and father.
When you are run down, overworked, underslept, and haven’t done anything for yourself in months, it’s nearly impossible to show up as the supportive man you need to be.
So commit to regular self-care for you, and for your partner.
You can help each other out if you communicate early on.
Your self-care routine is highly personal, but might include things like exercise, going out by yourself once/week for an hour, going to a men’s group once/week, getting a monthly massage, reading, hiking, etc.
5. Understand That Parenting and Connection Starts Right Away, Not When They’re “Old Enough To Get It”
When my first son was born, I thought, “I can’t wait until he’s bigger so I can start parenting him and teaching him stuff!”
I figured that there wasn’t much I could do with or for him to help him out or influence him until he was much older, and able to absorb the lessons I wanted him to learn.
It turns out I missed the mark, big time.
The first moments, the first hours, the first days, and the first years literally inform the rest of our childrens’ lives.
You may not be able to toss a ball together, or teach him the importance of hard work and responsibility, but what you can teach him at this stage is much more important.
You can teach him what love feels like.
You can co-regulate with him, soothing him when he’s upset, showing him how to react to things not going his way.
You can set boundaries and establish clear communication from the start.
You can give him the skin-on-skin contact that he needs to establish connection with you and help his brain develop.
I have experienced, and research shows, that the early stages of childhood are fundamental to how we grow and mature as humans.
Anecdotally, I compare my eldest son and my youngest son, and see a marked difference.
When my first son was born, I knew none of this. I was easily dysregulated, didn’t have emotional intelligence or maturity, and wasn’t able to bond with or soothe him well.
He was much more dysregulated, codependent, and disagreeable, and it’s taken a concerted effort on our part as parents to teach him the tools and give him the love he needs now to combat the lack of connection we initially left him with.
On the other hand, my youngest son is securely attached to both my wife and myself. He is calm, agreeable, regulates himself with ease, and has clear boundaries. The difference is stark.
And while each child is born with a different personality, it’s clear how the difference in parenting has influenced their lives.
It is never too early to begin bonding and connecting.
6. The Mother-Baby Dyad Is A Sacred Bond
Outside of Western culture, there exists an idea called the Fourth Trimester, or “the first 40 days”, or the Golden Month.
Most cultures believe that the bond between a mother and her baby is created, strengthened, and solidified during the first few weeks or months after birth.
During this time, the mother should be supported by her family, so that she feels calm, peaceful, and completely at ease to bond with, and care for, her new baby.
This touches on the important developmental benefits of connection and secure attachment from Point 5 of this post, but also includes the importance of this time for the mother.
Not only will your baby develop secure attachment and a solid foundation, but your partner will have the space and time to transition into her new role as a mother.
Some spiritual traditions speak of death and rebirth, and in my experience there are many “mini” cycles of death and rebirth in our lives.
One such opportunity is parenthood.
A death of the non-parent self occurs, where we must surrender and let go of things that once served us, in order to be reborn as a parent.
This period after birth is incredibly important to the mother of a child, because this death and rebirth cycle, or simply this transformation, is monumental.
Without this time and space and support, new parents can feel confused, lost, unsure. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and disconnection from baby, partner, and your old life.
I encourage you, as a father, to prepare for this period, and give your wife and new baby as much time and space as they need to form a bond.
Help your partner by making things easy and comfortable for her as much as possible. Don’t make demands of her physically. Be gentle and loving.
7. It’s Not Your Job To Protect Your Child From All Suffering And Failure
For those of us who have a tendency to want to control things – myself included – it can feel like it’s your responsibility to make sure nothing bad ever happens to your child.
In my case, I can be overly controlling. It comes from a place of love, in part. However, some of it is an ego response, that distracts me from the discomfort of feeling out of control.
In other words, it’s mostly my own wounding, NOT a grounded state of protection.
As a father, you will need to learn to let go and surrender to the fact that your child is his or her own person. It is not your job to interfere with their lives to stop them from suffering or feeling consequences.
While it is your job to make them emotionally and physically safe, especially at first, it’s only too easy to become dominating and controlling, stifling the child and making him believe that he doesn’t have the ability to make decisions on his own.
In order to encourage independence, resilience, and confidence, we must support, but not control.
It’s useful to look at your own behaviours and patterns right now, and consider if you like to be in control. If so, ask yourself where that comes from? What does it feel like to be out of control? What do you believe about yourself when you’re not in control? Are those things true? Is there a wound to process and heal?
8. It IS Your Job To Be There For Your Child, Always
Having your child develop a secure attachment to you is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child.
Become a safe harbour and a launchpad, in the words of Dr. Dan Siegel.
Be the safe harbour where your child comes when he needs support and soothing. Have him know you support him, you see him, you love him, no matter what.
And at the same time, be the launchpad from which he feels safe and confident to blast off, exploring the world in his own way, knowing that you will still be there for him when he’s “blasted off”.
This is the basis of the book The Power of Showing Up by Dr. Siegel. I highly recommend this for all parents.
Showing up for your child involves “The 4 S’s”:
- Safe – Your child should feel physically and emotionally safe with you.
- Seen – Your child should feel seen, not just externally, but he should feel as though you truly get what he’s experiencing internally. This requires empathy.
- Soothed – Your child should count on you to soothe him when he needs it, whether that’s from physical injury, or from emotional overwhelm. You should be able to co-regulate with him until he learns to regulate himself.
- Secure/Supported – All of these things together should give your child the sense that he is totally secure with you, and not at risk of losing your love and attachment. Relationship expert Jayson Gaddis includes another S, Supported, which means that you support and challenge your child as appropriate to help him become the best version of himself.
While there is infinitely more I could add to this list, these 8 points form the foundation of what I wish I knew in preparing for fatherhood as a first time dad.
An overarching theme here is that in order to become a better father, you must first become a better man.
No amount of parenting styles, techniques, “hacks”, or tricks will help you become a great father with resilient, resourceful, happy, loving children. To truly show up for your children requires you doing the work on yourself to heal past wounds and traumas and change any destructive or shame-based behaviours you may have.
Consider your triggers, ask why they happen, go deep into first principles to find out where you may be hurting, and then use healing modalities that appeal to you in order to come home to yourself.
Work to shed the layers of ego and false-self that you may have built up, so that you can get closer and closer to your true, authentic self. This is the biggest, most important lesson I wish I knew in preparing for fatherhood.
Figure your own stuff out, so that you don’t pass it on to your children.