My wife and I had our first child in 1996. Over the last 19 years, I’ve collected a lot of knowledge, through trial and error and reflection. Here are the 10 biggest things a new dad should know before he has his first child:
1. Use Your Instincts
Having children is natural and something we are designed to do. It is important to understand that humans, like all animals, have instincts when it comes to raising our progeny, and it is only a false belief that the birth and parenting of our offspring requires more than nature already provides for in our DNA. As a child, I loved animal biology, and I had a pretty solid understanding of how birth worked through all of the documentaries I had watched. I remember watching one documentary about horses and watching a wild mustang give birth to her foal.
For some reason, I came away with the understanding that all mammals have evolved to reproduce organically and in very primitive settings if necessary. So when my wife had our first child, I felt very confident that if a horse could give birth standing up in a pasture, my wife would probably do just fine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. Animals have babies without midwives and epidurals, and we are animals. Remembering this will give you the insight you need to look inside yourself for answers, and that is all you really need.
2. Yours Is Not the World’s First Baby
Many first-time parents get so caught up in creating their own miracle of life that they fool themselves into believing that their child and his or her issues are unique to them. They are not. There are an unbelievable amount of resources available to you, but the best are other parents who are just a few years ahead of you in terms of parenting experience. Do not overthink things and do not feel alone, because every human alive today was born in a very similar fashion to how your child will be delivered. It will be better if you embrace this notion so that you do not feel alone and terrified. Chances are that people much stupider, meaner, sicker, poorer, and unhealthier than you have all brought people into this world. Relax, you are not having the world’s first baby.
3. It Takes A Lot to Make a Life
You will experience the creation of life as an outsider while your mate will actually create life. In order to do this, her body chemistry and composition will change in order to provide the right hormonal buffer with which to cook your baby to completion. Some of these changes will affect her mood, and many others will change her body. Some cultures worship imaginary beings they consider to be their creator without any proof of his or her or its ability to actually do so. With mothers, we know for certain that they create humans out of nothing but their bodies. Maybe this is why the mother of your child should be protected, nurtured, and maybe even worshiped—stretch marks and all.
4. Your Child Is You
Fatherhood is a chance to raise yourself with a better future than the one you were given. Unless you are content to ignore biology and the ways of all other species, you have to remind yourself that, as far as nature is concerned, you are of no relevance once your offspring reach maturity. Your job ends when your children are adults. They have the latest and greatest version of you and your mate’s DNA within them. Exploit this insight and look at your children as your future and not as a burden. Reproduction is the closest any creature gets to immortality.
5. Babies Are Weird Looking and Uninteresting
Do not fret if you do not feel any consuming love for your child when he or she is first born. Mothers are connected to their newborns in a way that a father cannot be. It does not matter if you enjoy the company of your child—you eventually will. I did not really get into my daughters as newborns and infants, but as soon as they could communicate with me, I was unable to resist their charms. Be patient, be loving, and fill times of silence or boredom with knowledge and skills you can impart to your child.
6. Having Kids Is a Job That Does Not End
There is no relationship in your life that is as simultaneously frustrating and gratifying as raising children. For the first five years, you need to be extremely physically vigilant because human young are not very hardy at all. Then for the rest of your life, you must be emotionally receptive and communicative with them in order to guide them further than you were able to achieve.
7. Lead With Responsibility
Too often when it comes to parenting, the mother is focused on maintaining routine and completing tasks while the father gets to enjoy more recreational time with the new baby. This is unfair. A new father should understand the entire spectrum of his child’s needs in order to best schedule time for work, play and learning. Raising a child is a job, and the father is a crucial component of delivering services and resources to his child.
8. Daughters Are Like Sons, and Sons Can Be Like Daughters
Do not limit your child with your mistaken gender and sexual identity stereotypes. Let your child be, and enjoy the process of watching them turn into an amazing human. Teach your daughter about honor and chivalry towards the old and infirm while making sure your son knows how to feed himself and stitch on a button if needed.
9. Understanding the Purpose of Parenting
It is not about using your child to fulfill your lame fantasies of success. Child-rearing is the process whereby a young person learns how to live independently as an adult. Teach your child everything while you are doing it, and they will benefit tremendously. A parent is the most important teacher in a child’s life. Respect the privilege and put your whole heart, mind and body into your efforts.
10. Love Your Child and Your Spouse
Parenting is difficult and the responsibility can feel crushing to a father. I became very aware of all the financial responsibilities that would accompany having children, and I have also spent many a sleepless night worrying about them. You will too. What’s worse is that you will feel all alone sometimes.
This is why love is important—to help you through the dark times. Not only must you focus on giving your child and his or her mother as much love and understanding as you can, you must also insist on receiving love. Don’t be a martyr, because if you withdraw and can no longer feel the love, you will have a tough time slaying the dragons that threaten your family. Communication is the key to love. Do not let your child lessen your bond with your spouse.
Congratulations, and enjoy the journey!
This post originally appeared on Quora.