While being a dad will change your life forever – and in the best possible way – there might be a few things you weren’t bargaining for. We talked to NCT dads to find out what surprised them when they had children.
Everyone knows what fatherhood entails, right? Ahem, not really! From how they feel to changing nappies, we talk to NCT dads about what they weren’t expecting about life with a baby…
We live such modern, technology-driven lifestyles that when you go through something as primeval as childbirth it really is like nothing you’ve experienced before. It’s one life event that we don’t have as much control over. All you can do is be as prepared as you can and then just go with it.
Ben Masters of East Cheshire NCT branch and dad to Jasper, says: “Attending NCT classes and reading a bit about childbirth had given me an idea of what it would be like when my wife went into labour. I felt pretty informed about it all, and I think it did really help prepare me.
“But it’s such a crazy experience witnessing your child come into the world that you’re never fully going to know what it’s like until you do it. Hands down though, holding this tiny baby that’s part of you for the first time is indescribably amazing.”
After all the build up to the birth, the buying of babygros and nappies, deciding what kind of buggy to have, wondering what the birth will be like – once your baby’s here it can all feel a little…slower. Days can revolve around looking after baby, and not much else.
Toby Jones, member of Cardiff NCT branch and dad to Chloé, says: “I had big – and in retrospect pretty unrealistic – plans for my paternity leave, including a trip to the mountains and taking the opportunity to tinker on my bike.
“In the end, looking after Chloé took up all my time, without feeling we were doing much at all. But even though a day can pass without having much to show for it except the fact we’re all still in one piece, that’s fine with me. I like just spending time with her and trying to make her smile. I even like watching her sleep!”
Nappies are part and (a rather stinky) parcel of having a baby. And most dads will take on their fair share of nappy changes in the early years. But the big secret is that it isn’t (always) the terrible task you might imagine…
One NCT dad says: “While I wouldn’t want to change any other baby’s nappy apart from my own child’s, I like having that one-to-one time with my son, Harry. OK, a poo explosion is never exactly pleasant, but I see it as a bit of a challenge and don’t really notice the smell! However, I didn’t realise quite how many times a day I’d have to do it, sometimes less than five minutes apart…”
Pre-baby, it can be easy to think that they’ll just slot into your life and fit in around time with your mates and last-minute weekends away. And while, to a certain extent they can, many dads find they’re knocked for six when their baby arrives and they have to manage their expectations about how much they can do. It might not be such a good idea to go camping on windswept Dartmoor with a two-month-old, for instance…
Having a baby is life-changing and even if you think you can image what it’ll be like when it happens, chances are you can’t. Being a dad will change the way you see the world, the way you do things, perhaps where you live and work.
We said life-changing not the end of your life…nights at the pub might be relegated but spending time with this tiny new human who thinks you’re the most wonderful thing it’s ever seen will be worth it.
Daniel Green of Cirencester NCT branch and dad to Jack says: “I know everyone says it, but when you have a baby you’re so overwhelmed by love for them that nothing else really matters. Just being with Jack is my favourite thing in the world. I look at my pre-baby life, and although it was fun, it just feels like it was all waiting for this to happen.”
Yes, OK, we’re not going to pretend that every second of having a baby or toddler is all sweetness and light, and you will never tire of having a permanent shadow that follows you everywhere demanding games and cuddles.
One NCT dad admitted: “The bathroom used to be my sanctuary, but I can’t spend two minutes in there now without my children banging at the door, demanding to come in. I don’t really mind, but when my wife seems to have everyone under control I do slope off for some time to read the news on my phone…or get a few minutes sleep!”
Of course, it’s important to maintain relationships and carry on doing the things you enjoyed before having a baby. But savour every moment of the baby bubble you find yourself in, too.
You don’t have to be Michael McIntyre to get a giggle from your baby, as any dad knows. Just pulling a silly face or sticking out your tongue never fails to surprise or delight them in equal measure. Silly walks, playing helicopters, peek-a-boo – they’re all no-fail ways to get your little one giggling for more.
“I’d never have thought that I could happily spend a good half hour pretending not to notice my son hide behind a curtain, then feign surprise when he jumped out!” laughs Rob Child, dad to Ben from Chelmsford NCT branch.
So don’t hold back. There’s nothing like an enraptured toddler for giving you an ego boost.
“Before Tom was born, I’d worry about whether we should be doing a house extension, or if I was doing enough overtime to impress my boss at work. But now he’s here, I realise none of that matters. Just making sure we are all together, fed and warm with a roof over our heads is enough,” says Mike Scott from Putney & Fulham NCT branch and dad to Tom.
And it’s true. There’s nothing like having a baby for putting everything into perspective and helping you realise that as long as your family is healthy and happy that’s all that counts.
Parenthood is hard and there will be ups and downs. It’s normal to feel slightly out of your depth and not sure what you’re doing at times. Yet it can be difficult to admit you’re not enjoying every moment or finding it stressful.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to your partner, friend or health visitor. You don’t have to struggle on or be ‘strong’. We know that dads can suffer from postnatal depression and anxiety too so open and share how you’re feeling. It really is the best (and bravest) thing you can do for you and your new family.
Perhaps before you had a baby you’d avoid other dads cooing over a buggy at a BBQ, or your attention would start to wander when a colleague would go on about how his kids were waking up throughout the night.
But as a dad yourself, you’ll find a whole new world of parenting conversations opens up to you. You’ll soon be asking for tips on getting babies back to sleep, sharing notes on the worst nappy change or discussing the most child-friendly holiday destinations.
Andy Roberts, dad to Sebastian and member of Brighton & Hove NCT branch, says: “I never paid much attention to dad talk before I had a baby. But it becomes so much part of your life that I don’t get bored of chatting to other dads and finding out how they cope in similar situations. And I admit I love the opportunity to tell anyone who’ll listen how great my son is!”
Welcome to dad-hood, and rest assured your children will be providing you with plenty to do and talk about for a very long time…
Read about Errol Murray, founder of Leeds Dads, a support group for dads which grew out of his local NCT branch.
Find out more about being a dad in the early days, with tips on everything from caring from a newborn to family finances, here.
How does Shared Parental Leave work for fathers? Check out one dad’s story.