On January 18th of this year, I became a dad for the first time. To say I knew nothing about babies is barely hyperbole. I knew very little. I’d spent maybe 30 minutes total in my four-decade-life holding them. I’d never changed a diaper. I tried to read some of my wife’s books but they bored me to tears. Yet simply applying common sense I thought some things about a newborn would be true. I had fewer assumptions about the stages after that, but newborns are simple, right? Not even close. I have stood corrected and humbled but in magnificent ways. Here are five assumptions I had that have proven to be false.
1. I assumed this stage would be a little boring.
They eat, sleep, and poop. And that’s it. What else could there be? I’ll have to wait until he could talk or play before I would be stimulated by him, surely.
Wrong. As a person with zero parenting experience, I woefully underestimated how entertaining every little thing my baby does would be. I had seen this mocked on TV before, but it makes total sense why even the most mundane, normal things they do are seriously entertaining in real life. Like when my son sneezes twice and then coos. Or when he yawns. Or sighs. Or when he screams bloody murder for a bottle and then when he gets it puts on an expressionless face where you would never guess two seconds earlier he was grimacing, red, and yelling as though we were hurting him. All of these things intoxicate me and some of them make me laugh. I could stare at my son for hours, watching him flap his arms or look around or just lie there completely content. Every day floods my heart with joy, even when there are some extremely tough but fleeting emotional moments (like several nights when he didn’t sleep well and we were exasperated).
2. I assumed I would not be able to take care of him for extended stretches.
I work night shift teaching ESL to kids in China in addition to volunteering as a church pastor, so it was on the table that when my wife went back to work I could possibly take care of him during the day. I balked at that, not out of some misplaced sense of gender roles (though I will add this was going to be temporary, as I plan to end up with a job with a more normal schedule), but because I felt my ignorance about newborns rendered me unqualified and would be unfair to my son.
However, while the mental toughness aspect of parenting a newborn can be hard, much of the actual care is not. The things I didn’t know I learned quickly and some things my wife and I are learning as we go. The cliche is that they do not come with instructions and while there is a ton of wisdom out there for us to follow, there are a lot of gaps to fill through trial and error. I am fully qualified as his dad to do just about anything, and the idea of taking care of him alone for eight hours at a time isn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.
3. I assumed diaper changes would gross me out beyond comprehension.
I have a very weak stomach. I do not handle gore or defecation or vomit well, in movies much less in 3D real life. The stories veteran parents would tell me about babies pooping in tubs and having blowouts so bad that it was up the baby’s back terrified me.
And while I won’t pretend it isn’t hard, and while I definitely do not take the annoying suburban mother on Seinfeld stance—“Because it comes out of your baby it isn’t gross”—it isn’t as bothersome as I would have guessed. It’s not like I’m super excited to change a bad diaper but at the same time, I can do it with a minimal negative reaction. I do have to talk to myself when the dirty diaper is really bad and my running commentary entertains my wife, but that is much different than being overly grossed out. Much like my answer when people ask how I deal with Chicago winter, I say, “I just do it. Because I have to.”
4. I assumed simple tasks like feeding him would be straightforward.
Ha! That’s all I have to say to that. My son came 23 days early and that should have been a sign that he was going to do things his way and on his own timetable. Sometimes Liam will down four ounces in 15 minutes. Sometimes he will take an hour and a half to do two. Sometimes he will go for five hours without eating, sometimes only two. Sometimes he latches immediately to the bottle; other times he will fight and struggle with it. I can’t figure any of it out. The older he gets, feeding time in general has gotten easier but in the earliest newborn stage it was supremely unpredictable.
5. I assumed that I would not be overly affectionate.
I’ve never been that affectionate with any baby, including my own nieces and nephews. And with a few exceptions, I’m not affectionate with adults. But some kind of flip switched in me the day Liam was born. I kiss him all the time. I tell him I love him several times a day. Without even trying I often sound exactly like my mother, who has a very distinct vernacular and tone of voice when talking to babies. As Liam gets older I am sure I will have to seek wisdom on how to navigate some of this (I will always tell him that I love him, no matter what, but kissing him may change), but right now I am enjoying the unfiltered opportunity to be as physically and verbally affectionate as I can. All he can do in response is let me!
I am sure that I will carry new assumptions into each stage and that my unique child created in the image of God will keep humbling me. And I am looking forward to it. The ride through eight weeks has been exhilarating.