What's the one thing that all dads of infants and preschoolers need?
At the National Center, we isolated one hundred men in the early stages of fathering and asked them, "What is the biggest struggle you face in wanting to be a good dad?" The two most common answers were A) the sacrifice of time involved in "being there for my children" and B) a lack of patience.
When mothers have a baby, it's common for the hospital to send them home with a diaper bag or a car seat. If I could send new fathers home with anything, I'd give them a good dose of patience.
Patience is crucial because your child moves at a different pace, and operates at a different size than you. And that's all happening while your upwardly mobile career aspirations are digging into your family time. Realize quickly, young dad, that kids are going to slow you down. A simple trip across town can become a major operation. Did you remember the diaper bag, baby bottle, pacifier, playpen, car seat and high chair? Did you remember the baby? It takes patience. Patience for the 3:00 a.m. feedings; patience for teething; patience for toilet training; patience for the dreaded "terrible twos"; patience for your child's first outright defiant act.
And then, they learn how to talk: "Daddy, why do birds fly?" "Daddy, what's in your briefcase?" "Daddy, where do babies come from?" Patience will help you treat these questions with respect, giving them brief, confident answers and showing your child that you consider him important enough to take time and listen.
You'll also need patience when it comes to your wife. Her body has undergone profound changes-physically, mentally, and chemically. All her energy goes into chasing a toddler. You'll need to be patient when she has no energy to cook dinner, or go for walks, or even … well, just be patient. Cut her some slack, dad. It isn't easy being a mother and wife during this stage, either.
Fathering young children involves sacrifice. You'll be asked to change or put on hold some of the things you have enjoyed in the past. But, believe me, it's worth it. Through patience, you are laying the groundwork for a lifetime of intimacy with your kids.
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