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First Time Parenting

Becoming a parent is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. There are countless surprises in the event itself, even if you are in the minority of parents who were able to thoughtfully plan whether and when this should happen to you. Parenting is an important job we feel must be done well, which makes it all the more uncomfortable to feel so clueless about what’s happening to you, your marriage and your body. Moms are supposed to ’just know’ what to do, and fathers are supposed to ‘just know’ how to help them. Neither of these maxims helps much because they are mostly wrong and arcane. And if you are an adult when you become a parent, you are accustomed to knowing what to do as you work your way through your daily life – it’s probably been a while since you felt this inept, sacrificed this much sleep, effort and confidence and all for what – a few gassy smiles and some drool?

A few noteworthy first timer tips:

  • The ‘sensory surprise’ is my phrase for what catches many moms and dads off guard early on; holding the naked baby next to your skin (which is a very good thing to do) is calming and soothing for both you and the baby. Who knew? This touching, smelling, caressing stuff helps us find each other as sensory beings in this way too verbal world.  This is especially true for dads who have been in the cheap seats for the physical/sensory aspects of the gestation.
  • The ‘vocal surprise’ follows. When was the last time you found yourself singing or humming to anyone who would listen? Babies listen intently and seem to have an appetite for the human voice when it’s playing with sounds as in rhythmic speech, singing or cooing. Don’t hold back. This is the vocal equivalent of skin-to-skin cuddling and is just as enriching for both of you.
  • The next ‘surprise’ for the first timer might be the magical effect of swaddling on a fussy baby. Firmly but tenderly securing the babies arms and legs in the swaddling blanket keeps the baby warm and secure and is an important thing to learn how to do well. It seems to automatically comfort most babies and makes you feel like you know what you’re doing – especially important for first-time dads.
  • Two-thirds of his/her early life will be devoted to sleep, lumped into three-or four-hour segments at first. Sleeping through the night will come, but stomach capacities of the newborn aren’t initially adequate to this task. So get yourself informed about what to expect, problem-solving with your nurse/pediatrician ahead of time.  Sleep issues are among the thorniest for first timers, so listen to the seasoned pros about whether to sweat or not.
  • First time parents are often accompanied by first time grandparents. Here are a few tips for the first time grandparent:
    • Ask permission before rattling off advice. Egos are a little raw just now, so make sure you aren’t overstepping family boundaries.
    • Support the parents, both of them. Show them your tricks only if asked; this child is theirs, not yours.
    • Don’t expect much attention or entertainment when helping out.
    • When you help, help them both.  Helping your child’s partner is helping your child raise your grandchild.