Thoughts on Fatherhood

Daniel and James

A post by Daniel

I’m writing this in a dark room while I stare at the baby monitor. James is sleeping a few feet away and requires swift intervention if he wakes. If you miss that ten-second window, you could be in for hours of soothing, feeding, swaying, and rocking. I watch every sigh, shift, and fidget with intense anxiety. I legitimately think I have PTSD from the night shift and just a glance at the monitor sends a shiver down my spine. I spend over a third of my day watching another person sleep. And somehow, I’ve never been happier.

I know that might sound like a phony parenting platitude and I guess it is. It isn’t exactly happiness I feel. It’s more like there is more substance to my life. It has more meaning. Adding a child to a couple makes it feel like a family. There are moments of happiness like when I wake up and beeline to find him to get my morning smile. Or when he can’t fall asleep because he can’t stop smiling and cooing at me in the dark as I rock him. Or when I hear Andrea in the other room singing him some ridiculous song about changing diapers.

The Transition

Caring for an infant isn’t especially difficult. What you need to do is pretty straightforward. The difficult part is thinking about how you have to do it all the time, every day, for as far as you can imagine into the future. Dealing with the loss of your old child-free life makes transitioning so hard. Even harder for me, someone who avoided obligations for most of my life.

The transition was rough. I spent most of life seeking the path of least resistance. I picked my college class schedule mostly on the basis of having four-day weekends. I sought a career where I would never have to wake up with an alarm clock. For the past 10 years, I have slept eight or more hours probably 95% of the time. And now I find myself with a permanent alarm clock that is bio-engineered to induce intense stress in human ears and goes off at randomized intervals throughout the night.

Newborn James

the day James was born

The Beginning

The first few weeks were especially challenging. James wasn’t getting enough to eat and would cry constantly. I was getting little sleep and Andrea was getting almost none. Once we switched to formula things got better, but it was still difficult. When Andrea was breastfeeding, I felt useless. I’d change diapers and try to soothe him so she could sleep a little but honestly he just constantly wanted to eat. So I’d just stare at this crying infant who was rooting and I would apologize to him for not being able to give him what he needed. When we began bottle feeding, I had to step up and be a full partner in childcare.

The first month after that was still pretty tough for me. I loved him right away in the sense that he was this sweet little baby who I wanted to make happy. But I didn’t feel completely bonded to him (even though he initially looked like a 1/20th scale version of me). I think it’s because a newborn is a completely one way street. You pour all of your love, time, and attention into him and he can’t give you anything back. But once he started smiling and cooing at me, I fell completely in love. As frustrating as it can be carrying a crying baby over to the changing table at 4am, that little smile in the dark after he hears my voice makes all of the frustration instantly melt away.

We got incredibly lucky. James is the happiest, sweetest, smiliest little guy. He rarely cries and is never inconsolable. Our only major issue is sleep. He will go to sleep fairly easily but once he wakes after a sleep cycle, he usually needs someone there. We take turns holding him for naps to make sure he gets enough and at night I just stand by on call. He is starting to string together some 3-4 hour stretches so hopefully we can keep improving on that as he gets older. I think we will start looking into sleep training at 4+ months if he is still having a lot of difficulty. If anyone has experience with sleep training methods that worked feel free to share in the comments.

James getting ready to go for a walk

The Schedule

For a while we had a loose schedule but it wasn’t quite working. Andrea was jumping in and doing everything to spare me and then was resentful later. It wasn’t until we drilled down a really specific and clearly defined schedule that things got better.

We have figured out a system that works for us. Writing it out seems a little convoluted but it’s been going really well. We each do about 8 hours a day where we are solely responsible for him. I am a night owl so I take the night shift 830p-430a and she takes over before dawn as I go to bed. I do a few hours in the afternoon so she can get a break 4 days a week and she gives me an entire day off once a week. We do the evening routine together. He sits in his swing as we cook and eat dinner. He loves just staring at Andrea as she eats. Then we give him a bath, swaddle him, feed him, and read him a story. He falls asleep really easily but has trouble staying asleep, so I stand guard most of the night to slip the pacifier back in, rock him, or give him his night feeds.

Thoughts

I find the day-to-day existence of caring for a newborn incredibly exhausting but I’m getting more used to it every day. I am so looking forward to the future, even the short term future when he can just play and interact with us more, but especially the long term, when I can talk and play with him, we can do things as a family, and help guide him through childhood. For now though, I’m just so happy to be his dad.

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24 thoughts on “Thoughts on Fatherhood

  1. Haley

    Love hearing more about your journey in parenthood! You both are so open and honest which is very refreshing. My husband and I have baby a bit older than James. He’s not a great sleeper lately, so no advice there. The love I have for him is beyond anything I could imagine, so that makes the frequent wake up more bearable, but more sleep is something I’m going to work towards in 2019. James is such a cutie. Keep up the good work—parenting is no joke! :)

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  2. Kristen

    This is so real & relatable! As a mom, I found myself in the routine of “doing everything” then getting resentful!
    If you need sleep training TakingCaraBabies! She is amazing! And even if you don’t think you need a formal sleep training, she has Insta & FB where she shares a ton of helpful tips & tricks.

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  3. Haley

    This was so beautiful! And James is so beautiful! All of it is beautiful! Lol, I just wanted to drop a suggestion for the waking up in middle of night. A Swaddle helped my son a lot as a newborn-infant. And not the blanket ones; the store bought Velcro ones from Target. Crazy, I know, but I swear by it. Of course every baby is different, but wasn’t sure if you guys already do this but it made my son sleep through the night until 6-7 mos when he started sitting up and crawling. :)

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  4. Krysten

    This is beautiful and so relatable as we have a 4 month old. I second taking cara babies for sleep. She has a newborn class, a 3-4m guide and a 5m+ sleep training class. We have used all her resources and are starting sleep training in the new year!! Our 4m old sleeps 5-7 hour stretches and I totally have her valuable advice to thank for that. Good luck daddy!!

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  5. Lexi

    I don’t want to be one of *those* people and i’m not a parent, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but I am an expert on psych and neurobiology and sleep training has a really detrimental effect on infants, so please think very carefully.
    I sets them up for an insecure relationship attachment style and can ultimately cause problems with his bonds with you both and other people- so do some research before assuming it’s a great option. Good luck!

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  6. Kelli R Carr

    You are both great parents. It is difficult but cherish every moment of it, as it sounds like you are doing. I have two sons. Neither slept through the night until they were three and they were born three years apart, so six years of challenging sleep. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Sorry, no advice on sleep training, obviously I just got up with them. I remember nights my husband would crawl into the crib and sleep with them and it was just precious. Partnership is the key.

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  7. Christel Goetsch

    Just adorable! Enjoy whatever time you have while getting him to sleep…this too shall pass!

    My three children are longggg grown up, and I do miss those days!

    Christel

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  8. maddy

    My husband and I did sleep training with our daughter and it was life changing. I felt like a different person. We did kind of a half cry it out, where we went in and comforted her at intervals. It (luckily) only took her a few days to go from waking up constantly to sleeping like a champ. she is over a year now and is healthy, happy and loving to all :-)

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  9. Sarah

    We had a severely colicky baby. By 3 mos. we felt like walking dead. I truly do not remember much of the first three months except no sleep, constant crying, hours spent rocking, swinging, etc. We tried everything. Swing in the car seat, baby swing, elevate the mattress, cuddling, holding the car seat on the dryer. Anything to give our exhausted baby and us rest! We never got answers as to why our firstborn had such a rough time. Doctors could never say and never found a reason. Between 3 ad 4 mos. we desperately turned to sleep training. We committed so several nights and together got games or any distraction we could use to not go in to the baby every second. It was so hard the first night! We took turns starting with 5 min increments moving up to 7 min by the end of the night. We would go in and place our hands on our son, shush gently only up to a minute and then leave for another 5 min. We were both near tears a couple times. We got up and repeated this 3x the first night. The second night we started with 5 min. again working up to 7 min. by the 4th time in. Our little guy was out pretty quick and I think we got up once more to go through it with him again. By the third night we started with 7 min increments and in less than an hour he was asleep and stayed asleep the whole night. It was harder for us to adjust than him! We never looked back! From then on we had a bedtime routine and when we lay him down he would be asleep very shortly afterwards.

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  10. Dara

    Just so you know other options out there so you can check them out and find the one that feels like the best fit for you. When my kids were babies I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep train them using a crying method. I was lucky enough to find a book called the no-cry sleep solution by Elizabeth Pantley. Good luck to you both!!

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  11. Jaime K

    I couldn’t relate more to this post. My first boy (now 5yrs old) slept through the night since he was born, so naturally I thought my 2nd (now 2.5 yrs old) would as well. Boy I was wrong. My second was a lot like your James. I stressed, worried, and fought through the beginning months trying everything until at 7 months suddenly he started sleeping through the nights. I know it’s tough now but there will be a day in the near future where you’ll look back on these days and they will just be a distant, blurry memory. Enjoy this time and do what you guys feel is best. Take any advice given as a “suggestion”. As long as hes loved and take care of, then you’re being a great parent.

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  12. kate

    We have had two babies, and our second baby was so bad at sleeping at night that when I tried to pay a sleep consultant at 11 months, she declined to take the money. So, I get the bad sleeping.

    Here’s what I would suggest:
    I would definitely recommend the Baby Sleep Site. There are tons of resources on there, and at the bare minimum, you’ll start to realize that your baby being a bad sleeper is 1) fixable and 2) not THAT unusual.

    This is the bigger one, I think:
    As hard as it is, James has to get used to sleeping without your holding him. He’s used to the comfort (someone suggested a swaddle, which worked with our first, but not our night terror), but also the heat coming off your body. For a few days, let him nap without being held. Yes, he’ll cry. Yes, he might not even sleep for those naps. They say that a baby needs three days to reset a habit, so just try it for three days to see if he can learn to nap without being held. IMO, once he learns that, he might start to come around to everything else. He’s still young, though, so you might not make too much headway, but some do.

    Good luck. He’s beautiful. Loving and feeding him are the most important things, and you’re doing it, so you got this.

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  13. Kathy

    Congratulations! I have two children and had two very different sleep training experiences. Sleep training failed for my oldest – he would get so worked up, he would vomit. Our pediatrician said for a certain type of baby, sleep training is cruel and to give up. We did, and for years, stayed with our son until he fell asleep. No regrets; once he got the hang of it, he became a solid sleeper – around age 4.

    My second sleep trained VERY easily, but later on, when she got her big girl bed, she refused to stay in it without companionship.
    Again, we consulted a pediatrician in the group practice. This particular doctor was known to be very non-nonsense, so we were flabbergasted when she suggested we put a mattress on the floor in our bedroom. My daughter eventually learned to sleep in her own bed, but it took over a year of “camping” in our room.
    Good luck! You will find your own unique solution for your one of a kind child.

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  14. Ruthie

    We sleep trained our first at 12 weeks on the recommendation of our pediatrician. It took three nights and he has been a great sleeper ever since. With our second, the situation was different. I was riddled with postpartum depression and anxiety, our life had mostly come to a standstill as a results, and my husband was doing everything he could to keep the lights on. She didn’t sleep through the night until she was a year old. I wasted a lot of energy feeling like a failure and worrying about the repercussions, instead of celebrating that we all were surviving as best we could a very difficult time. She is turning seven next week and is a great sleeper too.

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  15. Paula

    The two of you write so beautifully, so candidly, so warmly. Congratulations on your little one…and on that awesome parenting schedule! (Fingers crossed for longer stretches of sleep!). It’s really lovely to come to this site–charming, full of real people and real life (to say nothing of awesome food). Happy Holidays to all of you!!! Paula

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  16. Helen

    He’s so beautiful!! Congrats. Now I’m no expert on sleep training but both my babies slept through the night by 3 months and it was thanks to my dads advice. Which I thought was appropriate :) I don’t believe in the crying thing.. my goodness they’re babies and they just want to be loved. Several things helped a lot. 1) let them get enough sleep during the day. The more uninterrupted naps they got.. the sweeter and easier they are to console at night. 2) put them down when they’re tired, but clearly okay with just looking around and cooing. I know it’s super cute when they do this. But if you always rock them to sleep they’ll never learn to just let themselves go to sleep. If they get stressed or upset pick them up. 3) don’t make so much eye contact at night (my dad says this is super important)

    Enjoy him! He’s so perfect .

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  17. Amy

    We had preemie twins and a 21 month old. The twins would be up all night and just when we’d get them down for a longer chunk of time, our toddler would be up ready to play. We used the method from the book Sleeping Through The Night by Jodi Mindell. The author was even kind enough to respond when I posted a question on her website regarding sleep training for preemies. Her method worked great for us. The other thing that helped was white noise. We ran a humidifier without water in it in their rooms since the time they were babies, seemed to always help them fall asleep and stay asleep.
    Good luck!

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  18. joy

    Ask Jamie’s dr about the possibility of acid reflux. It was our grandson”s problem and once the dr prescribed meds for that he started sleeping better. Good luck. He is adorable!

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  19. Jennifer Phillips

    Great post Daniel! Athough my days of having a baby have been gone for years (mine are 12, 10, and 8), I remember like yesterday the trouble we had getting them to sleep. Thankfully at 12 weeks we read the book Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth. I highly recommend it. It gives real life examples of parents and their baby’s sleep struggles and I felt so relieved we weren’t the only ones hanging on by a thread. It also talks about the importance of naps. If I hadn’t read this book with my first born, I don’t know how I would have made it. It was hard but worth it! Within a week she was sleeping through the night. now all go to bed at 8pm and sleep till 7!

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  20. Deb

    I have no idea if you wrap or swaddled James fit sleep. It was a foreign concept for me when I had my first child as I was from the UK living in Australia and that is what the Aussies do so I gave it a go. I was also taught to teach him to sleep by swaddling and just sitting next to the crib with my hand on him when needing soothed, gradually moving further away from the crib. Eventually he learned to go back to sleep by himself. I never did controlled crying I just couldn’t do it. But the swaddling was great, I used it for all three of my kids. Good luck.

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