First-time Fatherhood: Interview with Author Andy ShawSeptember 21, 2020
The publishing industry produces books for every type of parent-to-be. Whether it’s the traditional What to Expect When You’re Expecting or the new cult-classic Bringing Up Bebe, there’s a book out there for your unique parenting interests. However, one corner of the market frequently goes unaddressed: how new moms and dads can work together to survive life with a newborn. Andy Shaw, the creator of InstaFather, fills the gap with his books The New Mom’s Guide to New Dads and The Guys’ Guide to Being a Birth Partner. In this interview, Andy shares with us the inspiration behind his book, his top tips for new dads, and much more.
SmartSitting: What inspired you to write The New Mom’s Guide to New Dads and The Guys’ Guide to Being a Birth Partner?
Andy Shaw: When I became a dad seven years ago, all the things you’d hear about became true: It was overwhelming, it was exhausting, and every day you’d just kind of hope you’d figure enough stuff out to get to the next day. When our twins came around a few years later, I could change a diaper easily, but you quickly learn what worked for one baby doesn’t work for the next. And all the while, I’d hear from dads nervous about how to take care of a baby — they often hadn’t even held a baby before! — and from frustrated moms wishing their partner would take more of an even load with baby duties.
I wrote books to speak to both sides, not because I magically have every answer, but because there wasn’t a lot out there that touched on the mental aspect of becoming a new dad, or new dad guidance that wasn’t pandering.
SS: What are new dads secretly worried about when becoming a parent for the first time?
AS: Looking bad. This is a generalization that still happens to be true — guys really hate looking bad. That’s why we will just make up something if we don’t know an answer or insist we can fix something that is obviously way beyond our skill set. We want to have the answers. And babies are no different — we want to be awesome dads, the kind our partners brag about. But men don’t get nearly the same positive reinforcement growing up about having kids. You rarely will hear an adult tell a little boy, “You will be such a good daddy one day!” Adults don’t instinctively hand the newborn to the teenage boy to admire, but they’ll hand them to the girl, and so on. So we have to overcome some societal setbacks, but also get over our own ego.
SS: Overall, there seems to be a double standard when it comes to parenting, and moms are expected to take on the majority of the responsibility. How can new dads get more involved with parenting?
AS: New dads can right away do the most by taking action, not just saying “I want to help.” Saying that isn’t really saying anything, because moms needs concrete plans, not general “Let me know what I can do.” All you are doing then is putting the onus on her to figure out what you can do, and that’s just more stress. Instead, do whatever you can to make OB-GYN appointments before the baby comes. Read books (mine or others!) so you know the lingo and can ask better questions. Take a few areas of ownership, like getting up with the baby at night to rock them, cleaning out the Diaper Genie, or handling anything car seat related. That’s yours. She can count on you. That matters a lot. And no matter what, don’t assume anything other than breastfeeding is a “mom” thing. It’s a parent thing.
SS: What qualities do you and your wife look for in a babysitter?
AS: We’ve really lucked out some amazing babysitters, but I’d also say some of that luck is we look for people who genuinely love kids. And you’ll know just by how they interact with them early on — they’ll ask the kids questions directly, play with them unprompted, and get genuinely concerned if you mention a kid has been feeling sick. Other than that, reliability and trustworthiness. We had a babysitter one time who wasn’t honest about feeding our son, who clearly didn’t get his bottle. You are handing someone your entire life. You can’t risk it! Those who show up when they say they are going to and are upfront, even if something didn’t go well, are the best. They become like part of the family!
SS: How have babysitters/nannies supported your parenting?
AS: They are crucial, and I’d say for every family, your needs will be different, but it’s so important to have a reliable person who can watch your kids who also isn’t just a member of your family — don’t burn out Grandma! We regularly use sitters to help us juggle our work schedules, but also to make sure we get regular date nights. Especially when you have little kids, you need to make your relationship take the front seat sometimes. Your kids benefit when you are doing well, mentally, and your relationship is a big part of that. Or if you’re a single parent, take that night out. Your kid will be OK with one meal and bedtime away from you!
SS: How have you balanced working from home while having your kids at home during the pandemic?
AS: First of all, I’d like to say anyone who is showing you on Instagram they are flourishing with tons of educational activities and smiles all around is not being real with you. It’s tough. I work from home now, as does my wife, and in the early months, our son had to suddenly learn from home, too. That was extremely difficult, as we never felt settled, ever, although my wife did an amazing job keeping our kids busy with hikes, etc. We eventually found routines that worked, and now all three are in school (kindergarten and second grade), which is giving some semblance of normalcy. But what we’ve learned is to keep reminding ourselves that the pandemic is stressful on our kids, too, even if they don’t directly say it. So we cut them some slack—and try to cut ourselves slack, too.
SS: What’s your top advice for first time dads?
AS: I just told a new dad this: Diapers. Get more diapers on hand than you’d ever expect, and store them everywhere. And beyond that, don’t set the bar at being a perfect dad. Know you will mess up, but that your baby will love you anyway. They have a short memory, and all they really want is for you to love them. You’ll be great!
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