When my wife gave birth to our first son about six years ago, I cried.
The love and pain and beauty of that moment formed a precious memory I will never forget. I shed tears of joy but I also felt overwhelmed. I was thrilled to be a dad but I knew I was a rookie. Many questions swirled inside my head over the course of those first few days and I wanted to do everything right.
If I’ve learned one thing as a parent over the past six years, it’s that there’s always more to learn. I now have four boys and even more questions, but here are a few things I’ve learned that I think every first-time dad should know.1
Conception is not part of the curse
Many parents are ecstatic when they find out they’re expecting their first kid, but for some couples, the news can come as a shock and even a disappointment. They may have had different plans for their first few years of marriage or just don’t feel like they’re ready to become parents.2
“Conception is a miracle and never an accident in God’s economy.”
Conception is a miracle and never an accident in God’s economy. My wife and I had our first child eleven months into marriage and although we wondered how the baby would impact our marriage relationship, we were reminded that children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3).
Resist the temptation to think about your baby as a burden and choose to talk about your child as a blessing from God, regardless of how you feel about the timing or your “readiness” to be a dad.
Pregnancy will change your wife
In addition to the nausea and exhaustion that many women experience (especially during the first trimester), your wife will likely experience major emotional swings and fears about pregnancy and delivery. As her body starts changing and she needs a new wardrobe, she may struggle with what she looks like both during and after pregnancy. While she will likely feel more herself after her body adjusts post-pregnancy, she will never be the same. Pregnancy and motherhood will change her in many ways.
As husbands who seek to live with their wives in an understanding way and honor them as the “weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7), here are a few things we can purpose to do with God’s help.3
Be steadyBe a steady arm she can lean on when she feels weak. Be a steady shoulder she can cry on when she’s weary. Be a steady ear to listen when she feels scared. Be a steady voice and gently speak the truth to her in love. The only way you will be a steady husband is if you have a strong foundation. Root yourself in God’s Word and grow in dependence on the Holy Spirit.
Be ready to serveRealize that your wife may not be able to do everything she wants to do to keep life going normally. Pregnancy often heightens a woman’s sense of smell, so volunteer to take the stinky jobs. Plan to give her extra time to rest and help out with some of the things she normally does around home. After giving birth, she will be in recovery for at least the first few weeks, so do what you can to take care of meals and the household chores.4 In addition, be available to change diapers, comfort the baby during the night, and hold the baby so she can nap. Ask her, “What would be most helpful to you?”
Tell her she is beautifulMost people will comment on the cuteness of the new baby (even if the baby is not that cute) but don’t forget to remind your wife that she is lovely. Remind her she has just done something incredible by birthing a baby and that you love to see her as a mom. The baby bump and pregnancy weight do not disappear overnight but don’t draw attention to that. Since your wife is likely often thinking about the baby, give her a break so she can shower and care for herself.
Tell her you love herIt can be easy to be so consumed with caring for and enjoying the new baby that spouses can neglect their love for each other. Remember that your wife will still be there (Lord willing) when the child has left your home, so keep your marriage relationship a priority. Tell her you love her, that you are there for her, and that you are a team in parenting. She may feel insecure about how she is doing as a mom, so take time to affirm, encourage, and support her.
Care for her spiritual healthPregnancy and the baby will disrupt your wife’s schedule and rhythm of life, and the combination of hormones, exhaustion, and emotions that surround pregnancy and postpartum may take a toll on her walk with God. Help her have time to feed on God’s Word and ask her how she’s doing spiritually. If you haven’t established a habit of praying together, start this new stage of family life with regular prayer. Encourage and enable her to take time with friends who will build her up spiritually.
Every birth story is unique
Sometimes it seems to me that birth stories are to moms what injury stories are to guys. Help your wife process the many stories she will hear and develop realistic expectations for her delivery. Remind her that God has orchestrated every detail of her birth story and He will give her the grace she needs. Since labor is so intense, it is helpful to discuss your wife’s plan and preferences beforehand so you can advocate for her and not have her make big decisions in between contractions.
Everyone has opinions on how to raise your kids
In addition to parents and family, you will have friends and complete strangers offering free unsolicited parenting advice before you even know the gender of the baby. There is safety in the “abundance of counselors” but you may also receive conflicting opinions and unbiblical perspectives. Remember that at the end of the day, you and your wife are the ones responsible before God for how you choose to raise your kids.
Make your home full of dependence
The more dependents you have, the more you realize you need God’s help. When you’ve tried everything you know to make your baby stop crying or you’re at your wit’s end with your child’s hard heart, you have nowhere else to turn but to your heavenly Father. Remember that God loves your children more than you do, He has a better plan for their life, and He has all the resources at His disposal to accomplish His plan. You can’t always be there for your child, and even if you could, you won’t always know the answers. So, make dependence on God the goal of your parenting and enjoy each day you have with your kids.
In the comments section below, we’d love to hear what you would share with a first-time dad.
Special thanks to my wife, Suzanne, for her help in writing this article and providing a mom’s perspective on what every dad should know. ↩︎
Being “ready” for parenthood is more about knowing God and knowing your wife than knowing 529 college savings plans and the best diaper brand. ↩︎
These are things that I am still working on and often neglect to do. ↩︎
Some people have a relative or friend live with them during this time to provide extra help. If she has a C-section or other complications, the recovery time may be longer than a few weeks. ↩︎
Growing Fathers Team
John serves as an Associate Pastor at Grace Bible Church in Murrieta, California. He and his wife, Suzanne, have five growing boys—Josiah, Micah, Judah, Noah, and Elijah.View all posts by John