Fatherhood: It’s about Compromise

My wife and I didn't realize how opposite we were until after we were married. The only thing we found that we agreed upon was our taste in furniture.

This was fun for a while. When confronted on the topic, we had our standard lines like "We complement each other" or "Opposites attract you know!"  We realized that we got each other to try new things. She got me to travel; I got her to break her cleanliness obsession. A fair trade, I thought.

While this may have been fun when it was just the two of us, once our family expanded, it became a bit more serious. We quickly discovered that our parenting styles were also quite opposite., and our conflicting ideas now affected others. So we decided to try to take the best parts of both of our personalities and make it work for everyone.

It really started before we had any children. She didn't think she wanted any. I was excited about fatherhood and wanted as many as possible. She finally agreed to one. When our son was born, I wanted her to breastfeed him. I felt it was very important. Suffice to say she was not into it, and refused. He got formula. Baby number one softened her stance on kids considerably, and we both decided we wanted a second baby. We had another boy, but by this time, she was all about breastfeeding.

At that point, I was happy but exhausted. I figured we were good with two kids, and that we were finished with baby making.But she insisted we needed a third! I could scarcely believe it, but her mind was made up. In fact, she wanted a third boy, saying she was used to them, and wouldn't "my three sons" be adorable. I was nervous about the responsibility of a third, but if I were to have one, I really wanted a little girl. I took a chance and agreed on the third. Our boys got a plump, pretty little baby sister named Amelia. She was always hungry, always crying, hardly slept. Precious, but more work than either one of us anticipated.

As our kids have grown, we still maintain differences. My wife is known to bribe the kids. I don’t give in to tempting them. When it comes to fatherhood, I let the kids do want they want (or not) when it comes to activities. Their mother is a bit more involved, wanting to choose for them. And like many parents with different styles, our kids have figured out that if mommy says no, ask daddy -- or vice versa.  

While, our differences haven’t always made things simple, I feel they have helped our kids --and our family in general -- become better-rounded.  My kids have gotten my wife's wanderlust and her fashion sense. From me, they've picked up a sense of humor and an interest in art and photography. Somehow, they've seemed to have absorbed the best of each of us. And that's something both their mom and dad are thankful for.

Mastering the Stay-at-Home Dad Routine

As a stay-at-home dad, I struggle to keep my two children happy while saving the house from the terror these tots can unleash. Many new dads can cut the lawn, fix a lamp, and grill a steak, but it takes a true pioneer to feed, wash, and entertain two girls under age 3. Here’s how I managed it with my two daughters:

Watch your watch. As much as you might want to be the “cool dad” who moves to his own beat and changes direction on a dime, this isn’t going to work for most children. Kids thrive on a regular schedule and expect meals, naps, playtime, and sleep to occur at about the same time each day. To minimize meltdowns, keep a daily routine, and stick to it like clockwork.

Put them to work. No, not stacking firewood in the driveway or handing you nails when you’re on the ladder. Smart stay-at-home dads think smaller -- and easier. Kids love to help sort things by size and color, so when it’s time to fold the laundry, give them a task (“Can you find the matching sock?”). A toddler can also stack books, put toys in a basket, and help empty grocery bags.

Keep it short and sweet. Long outings with endless errands are a recipe for disaster with two young children. Covering a lot of ground will only leave you with a couple of exhausted, hungry, and annoyed little monsters. Instead, set the bar low and only tackle a couple short errands at once.

Don’t forget the surprises. Even the best-laid plans can fall apart and end in tears. Stop the tantrums before they start by keeping some tricks up your sleeve. An ice pop for your toddler, goofy voices for the new baby, or even whipping out a brand new coloring book will work wonders.

Don’t forget to rest. Being a stay-at-home dad to more than one child is exhausting, to say the least. You’ll get burnt out if you don’t slow down the pace every now and then. I suggest stealing some shuteye when your kids go down for a nap or calling in a babysitter so you can catch up on errands without your kids in tow.

Even on the busiest days, I wouldn’t change anything about our routine. Being a stay-at-home dad to our daughters has brought me more joy than I could have ever imagined!

My Best Day Ever as a Stay-At-Home Dad

Most people would say that their best day with their child would be the day she was born, her first day of school, or her first recital. Or maybe it's something funny that sticks with you, like the first time you needed to (quickly!) create a shield with the diaper as your newborn son gives you his first "shower."

As a stay-at-home dad, I get to see more of the everyday happiness than my wife. I have the privilege of seeing my daughter's new best friend come over for a play date, help my son learn to ride a bike, or get the first peek at a straight-A report card.

Honestly, though, my best day as a SAHD was nothing like that. I'm the one who is home during the day, so I field all the calls from school. From "your son forgot his lunch" to "your daughter has a fever," I handle any mini-emergencies that crop up during the school day. My favorite moment as a stay-at-home dad was unexpected: My son, Niko, was suspended from school. Yes, you read that right.

I didn't feel that way, though, when I got the call from the principal. I was horrified -- until I heard the whole story. As it turns out, it was the policy of this particular school that all children involved in an "incident," no matter what their involvement was, are suspended. And Niko's involvement was sticking up for his friend who was being bullied. He was trying to do the right thing. And I was so proud, because it would have been far easier for him to avoid that suspension by pretending he didn't see what was happening.

I knew it would have been easier for Niko to keep his head down and just go to his classroom, because that's what I had done. This conversation with the principal reminded me of my own childhood. Decades ago, when a friend of mine was being harassed by a group of bullies, I didn't do anything, because I was scared. I still think about him from time to time.

There have been times when I feel like I mess up as a SAHD, but if I've learned one thing, it's that on this crazy ride of fatherhood, you just have to hold on tight and trust that you are doing more right than wrong. And on that day, I found out I had.

New Baby Tips for Dads

Entering fatherhood is a lot like learning to swim: You breathe and kick, hoping to make it to the other side of the pool without gulping too much water. Cradling a fragile infant in your arms, struggling to place her flailing limbs in her shirtsleeves, or calming a sobbing newborn in the middle of the night can seem daunting, if not impossible, for a new dad. But there’s definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s what I wish I had known back then:

Thanks to my wife, my girls had all kinds of coordinated outfits with matching knit caps. But, every ensemble I came up with was just a bit, well, off. My tip to all new dads: Don’t worry about it! Ignore the stares from strangers as you push your kid through the supermarket in her Halloween costume. Turns out, new babies don’t know red from blue, or flowers from paisley, so as long as your little one is dressed warmly and comfortably, she’ll be fine.

Newborn crying can be hard to take, and not only because the screeches can bring on a headache; they can also make you doubt your fatherhood skills. But keep in mind that crying is how new babies communicate -- and it’s not necessarily a reflection of how good a new dad you are -- so try to take it in stride. I practiced different calming techniques, like swinging my daughters gently from side to side or using a pacifier. Believe me: You’ll eventually find one that works.

Napping is not only allowed when you have a new baby; it’s strongly encouraged! Late-night feedings, endless diaper changes, and hours of patting your baby to bring up a burp can be exhausting. Lie down -- it’s okay! I aimed to sneak in some sleep when I put my daughters down for a nap. We all woke up in a better mood.

When your new baby is wailing beyond belief, don’t hesitate to make a call to the pediatrician, especially when nothing seems to soothe her or you notice a rash that you swear wasn’t there an hour ago. Your doctor expects to hear from new dads and moms, and talking to an expert will put your mind at ease.

Sure, life is forever altered once your new baby arrives, but not everything has to be tossed out the window. Tiny babies are a pretty adaptable bunch and tend to enjoy being held as you watch hockey, go out for brunch, or just lounge around and read the Sunday papers. So enjoy your time as a new dad!