21 Ways To Prepare For Fatherhood, From Parenting Experts
Finding out you'll be a father can come with a mix of emotions: joy, shock, fear, and more joy. As you prepare to become a parent, it's important to take time to prepare, ask for advice, and research ways to calm your nerves. Fatherhood prep is also more scarce than resources targeting women, so it's no wonder expecting dads may feel anxious.
Soon-to-be-dads tend to focus on the practical stuff, like car seat installation, baby-proofing the house, and the like. While settling the hardware of parenting is important, Sara Shadravan, a Los Angeles–based parenting coach and educational consultant, encourages dads to remember to tackle the bigger picture.
"Being a father is an incredibly special role. You are the first and most important man in your child's life," Shadravan tells mbg. A bit of forethought on all things parenting, both big and small, can help men prepare—physically, mentally, and emotionally—to become first-time parents.
Here are a few ways to start preparing for fatherhood, according to parenting experts and fathers themselves:
Read and research.
Until recently, the wealth of pregnancy and early parenting books out there spoke more to the woman's experience, but nowadays dad books are becoming more common.
Here are a few to consider:
(Here's mbg's roundup of the best parenting books, too.)
Of course, there's no need to limit yourself to books. There are also podcasts, Facebook groups, blogs, websites, and YouTube channels chock-full of information. Pick the ones that don't make you feel overwhelmed or guilty. You can also attend prenatal and antenatal classes or work with a parenting coach to get more hands-on education.
Be actively engaged in the pregnancy.
Immerse yourself in the pregnancy journey, Shadravan advises. "Invest time and interest in the pregnancy, be curious about the process, and engage with your partner. The early days are important and set the tone for how interested and engaged you will be when your baby arrives. Each developmental stage is full of wonderment and tremendous growth. Be present, observe, engage, and nurture."
Try to go to all doctor's appointments, especially the visit when you get to hear the baby's heartbeat for the first time. Ask questions about your baby's development and the pregnancy stages. Discuss delivery options and birth plans, help pack the hospital bag, and learn how to hold a newborn. Enjoy the process—use it to bond with your partner and your soon-to-be-born child.
Considering working with a therapist or coach.
Whether you had a great relationship with your dad or there was room for improvement, your own childhood will likely affect the way you show up as a father. "Fatherhood is a mirror, like any relationship, so your personal baggage will be brought to light," says La Guardia Cross, a popular fatherhood-focused YouTuber and father of two young girls. "Don't be scared—you can work through it as you go. Some baggage you won't even know you're carrying until you become a father, but that's OK. Fatherhood gives you the opportunity to grow."
If your childhood was traumatic or complicated, or if the thought of parenting just makes you anxious, know that you are not alone in having an emotional reaction to the prospect of parenting. Before the baby comes is a great time to recognize and work through these feelings. It can be helpful to work with a therapist who can help you unpack your experiences (past and present) and learn healthy ways to manage the stress and difficulties that inevitably come with parenthood.
Visualize being the dad you want to be.
It can be easy to think that you'll never be as good a dad as your role model or the sitcom dad on your favorite show. Take some time to reassure yourself that you'll be a fantastic dad, in your own personalized way. Visualize what that would look like for you. What kinds of activities are you doing? Where do you and the kid(s) hang out? What are the moments you never want to miss?
If those prompts aren't working, try to picture your child as an adult. What would you want them to say about you? Focus on the lessons you want to impart, the guidance and love that you want to give. Think of your role in relation to your partner's and how can you complement each other.
It can help to research the various parenting styles that exist and decide what resonates most with you.
Figure out your finances.
The early months of pregnancy are a great time to re-evaluate spending. The birthing partner might be looking at losing income, staring down medical bills, and contemplating paid or unpaid parental leave options. Dads can help anchor the family finances by planning ahead.
Get your finances in order, set bill payments to automatic, pay any outstanding bills, and get ahead a few months if you can. How? This might mean consolidating debt, applying for loan forgiveness programs, or proactively inquiring about employee benefits that could be particularly useful. Do everything you can to make your financial situation less stressful, as parenthood brings with it a slew of new expenses.
Make a family budget.
Together with your partner, think about the cost of parenting and create a family budget. Over-assume the price of everything from child care to lactation consultants to a safety-compliant crib. While all these things fall in a price range, your budget should accommodate items at the high end so that splurging on specialized support when you need to won't break the bank. Whatever remains in excess can go toward saving for inevitable future costs like dental care, college or trade school, family vacations, and more.
Pro tip: Make and freeze as much food as possible so that, in the exhausting days after the birth, no one will have to worry about cooking. If you're into making your own food, gather recipe books like The First Forty Days so you can prepare highly nutritious meals for your family (especially for the nursing parent). When family and friends ask how they can help, ask for a home-cooked meal or two. Collect the healthiest delivery choices and keep them somewhere safe for easy access. Even better, program them into your phone for speed dial.
Buy a car seat.
A car seat may be your most important after-birth item, as you will not be allowed to leave the hospital without a suitable infant car seat installed. Don't wait until you need to use it to figure out how it works and how the bucket seat snaps into the base. Some are secured by hooks between the seats, and others use your normal seat belt. Either way, installing a car seat is always harder than it seems. Read all the instructions beforehand and put it in the car with ample time to spare.
Prep the baby's room.
Choosing nursery furniture can feel overwhelming because it is all so adorable. Pick something, even if you think you will change it later. If you intend to paint the walls, don't leave it to the last minute. The room should be free of paint fumes before baby arrives. Build or buy all the necessary furniture, such as the crib, changing table, or dresser. When you are blurry-eyed and sleep-deprived, you do not want to handle screws or a hammer. Although you will have a few months after birth to baby-proof the house, anything that can be done before the baby's arrival is always worthwhile to tackle early.
Finish any major projects.
Similarly, wrap up any pending projects—including major ones at work. Try to finish them or transition them to others who can carry them forward without you. Parental guilt is real. It is the feeling that you should be with your kids whenever you're off doing something else that is seemingly important, like going to work, nursing pet projects with friends, or developing personal hobbies that predate the baby. To avert guilt, try to find closure on the projects that are optional, or give everyone advanced notice that you'll be taking a break. Lowering expectations will also lower stress levels when your partner and baby need time and attention that used to be allocated elsewhere.
Develop a solid self-care routine.
Kimberly Wolf, M.Ed., a health educator and author of Talk With Her: A Dad's Essential Guide to Raising Healthy, Confident, and Capable Daughters, recommends prioritizing self-care as you embark on the journey of parenthood.
"Self-care in the early days of parenthood facilitates your ability to be there most fully for your child and your partner," she tells mbg. "But that doesn't make it easy to fit in. In the first days and weeks that families settle in with newborns, parents are on call 24/7 (even if others are around to help), making it hard to remember to drink water, eat a whole meal, shower, or leave the house for a walk."
Stay in good physical health, get a doctor's checkup, eat healthy and balanced meals, and get sufficient sleep. If you can't care for your own well-being, it will be hard to help your family do the same.
"Many new parents struggle with exhaustion, anxiety, depression, and burnout," Wolf adds—so having practices in place to proactively care for your mental health will help a lot when the rubber hits the road.
Build your support team.
Dads often consider themselves as part of a mom's support team, but dads need their own, too. This could mean therapists, personal trainers, nutritionists, family members, and even a good group of friends who remind you when you need a break.
"When it comes to raising children, we've all heard that 'it takes a village,'" Wolf reminds. Chances are, there are family members and friends who are your village; you've just never had to call on them so regularly before. Think of people who can help care for the baby, especially people who have had kids recently, family who can be available for last-minute babysitting, and anyone who you can call about health issues. For the latter, you'll have a pediatrician who can answer many pressing questions, but sometimes you just need someone to remind you to use diaper rash cream.
Make friends with other dads.
Other dads are a wonderful source of support, guidance, and information. Tap into your "dad" resources, whether it's your own old man, neighborhood dads, or family and friends. Use them to calm your nerves and get reassurance that everything will be OK in the end. Soak in their knowledge, learn from their mistakes, and get a sense of different parenting approaches and techniques. Take what you want, and leave the rest.
Adapt to relationship changes.
It's common knowledge that having children will shift a couple's love life. This isn't just because of the sleepless nights or a mom's new relationship with her body—parents can also struggle to prioritize each other, as well as to adjust expectations around sex and romance. While scheduling date nights can be helpful for some, they can also sometimes add more pressure on new parents to pretend they can handle it all without missing a beat. On the flip side, experiencing repeated rejection from a partner can lead to feelings of isolation or emotional distance.
Remember, this tough initial phase is temporary and common. Think ahead about how you'll adapt—schedule flower deliveries months ahead, book babysitters in advance, and explore ways to show affection without sex.
"Maintaining relational health for the long haul requires consistent attention," says Wolf. "Be sure to vocalize your love, support, and gratitude for your partner on an ongoing basis, even when you don't feel like you are getting a lot in return. You will not only be letting your partner know how you feel, but you'll also be contributing to a positive, productive tone in your interactions at times when emotions can run high and conflict comes more easily.”
It's important to find ways to continue nurturing your romantic relationship—for yourselves and for your child. "Putting your relationship first and staying close to each other models a healthy, intimate partnership," licensed couples' counselor and sex therapist Jessa Zimmerman writes at mbg. "It creates a stable bond that can be the foundation of the household. The kids find security in knowing that their parents are happy and connected." (Here's her full guide to navigating sex as parents, too.)
Agree on how to divide and share parenting tasks.
Many an argument has been had about who should change the dirty diapers or who will sterilize the bottles. Avert flare-ups by talking about tasks before the baby comes. Consider sleeping arrangements, bottle feedings, baths, diaper changes, and all the details, so that each person knows their roles. Then, consider routine household tasks like cooking, cleaning, washing the car, and mowing the lawn. If you can afford to outsource some of these, do. You'll also want to consider how to share the mental load of managing all these tasks as well. (For more of the nitty-gritty, here's an in-depth guide on how to split the child care fairly.)
Also assume that—even if you agree on your role—there will be chore slippage. Have a backup plan to cover for the inevitable. If resources allow, consider a postpartum doula visit every few days, a babysitter every few weeks, and a cleaning company every month or two. These professional backups are easy to schedule in advance and simple to cancel if you don't need them. They are much harder to book when you're in a pinch or already playing catchup.
If you and your partner don't live together or aren't romantically involved, you'll still want to set up sturdy co-parenting ground rules.
Don't compare yourself to your partner.
"There's nothing like new fatherhood to make you feel, at least some of the time, like you have no idea what you are doing or that your co-parent is more skilled or important than you are in the equation," Wolf says. "But that doesn't mean you don't have an important and dynamic role to play. The presence of engaged and loving fathers is tied to children's overall health and well-being and even long-term achievement."
Remember, you and your co-parent are a team. You're not in competition, so there's no need to compare. Find ways to complement each other, and don't defer or delay your parenting opportunities because you think your partner does it better or has natural instincts that you don't.
Redefine friends and family time.
It may seem like the baby will become the center of your world, and while that may be true for a while, you will eventually crave adult companionship again. Chances are, though, by the time that happens, you may have already turned down a few invitations, and friends might assume you're no longer interested in hanging out.
Remember that if you neglect key relationships now, they may be harder to kick-start later. You may need to redefine what hanging out means so that seeing friends and family after the baby comes still feels good for the soul. Reset expectations with your friends while still showing that you care about them, and spend quality time together in ways that don't drain you. Bar hopping and Sunday brunches might be off the table for now, but watching the game or going for a hike might be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Set ground rules for visitors.
Your partner will thank you for not allowing a deluge of people in your personal space immediately after childbirth. Parents healing from childbirth, in particular, aren't sure how to manage the swell of demands to see the newborn baby. These hosting responsibilities can be overwhelming, especially when visitors don't lend a helping hand.
Even before the baby comes, lead this conversation with your partner: How do you want to schedule visits with immediate family and friends? Do you prefer to introduce them to your newborn on Zoom or WhatsApp video chat instead of in person? Consider all your options and set ground rules before the baby comes. Your partner and those who love you will appreciate this early expectation-setting.
Establish family rituals.
Sometimes we don't know what we hold dear until a new member of the family joins. Is Sunday football a tradition in your household? Is it important to eat dinner together every night? Chances are these small things go unspoken, but they mean a lot. When a new baby comes, having these regular touchstones could fall by the wayside, but it can hurt when they're missed. After all, these are natural times to introduce the baby to the extended family and for new parents to have adult time.
Here's where expecting dads can really help. Shadravan says they can "establish family rituals and celebrate every little win." Whether it is a standing barbecue or a commitment to honor an ancestor on the same day every year, dads can initiate these conversations and hold everyone to them.
Talk to the baby.
"When your child is a newborn, you'll often wish that they could fully communicate with you. You'll dream of hearing them say your name or 'I love you too,'" Cross says. He jokes that dads will soon regret those wishes when kids are finally able to communicate. After all, once kids are verbal, it is hard to get them to stop—talking, singing, crying, and more.
Kidding aside, take the time to talk to your future child even while they're growing in the belly. Research shows that a fetus can start to hear1 around 16 to 18 weeks in utero, and by 27 to 30 weeks, they can respond to voices. Curl up next to the baby bump and read stories, sing, or just introduce yourself. Shortly after the baby is born, you won't be able to get a word in edgewise. Take advantage of the time now.
Cut yourself some slack.
At the end of the day, it is also important to just cut yourself some slack, says Cross.
"Who gets everything right in their first 90 days at a new job? Now imagine that job being in a career you have no experience or schooling in," he says. "Don't be too hard on yourself. Learn as you go, be humble, admit your mistakes, and fail forward."
Nafeesah Allen, Ph.D., is an American writer and independent researcher with a particular interest in migration, literature, gender identity, and diaspora studies within the global South. She completed her Ph.D. in Forced Migration from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She completed a postgraduate diploma in Folklore & Cultural Studies at Indira Gandhi National Open University in New Delhi, India. She completed a Masters of International Affairs at Columbia University in 2009 and graduated cum laude from Barnard College at Columbia University in 2006.
Originally from New Jersey, she has lived in Spain, India, Mozambique, Angola, and South Africa. She speaks four languages (reads in three), but primarily publishes in English. Her writing placements range from popular trade magazines like Better Home & Gardens, Real Simple, and Whetstone to academic journals like Harvard’s Transition Magazine, the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, and the Oxford Monitor.