The greatest parenting tips of all time are the ones that are timeless. They apply no matter how old kids are nor when in history those kids lived. That said, there is a bunch of very practical advice and a number of tips that apply specifically to new parents preparing for the arrival of their first-born. These are things that are easy to do, that don’t require unique skill, that you know intuitively you should or will do eventually, but that have a massive beneficial impact if you do them now.
1) Read These Books
Do you remember the break-up scene from Knocked Up. Seth Rogen’s character walks into the clinic after Katherine Heigl’s character kicked him out of the car on the way there. Her frustration with him has been mounting. He hasn’t been taking her pregnancy seriously. She finally lets it out: you didn’t even read the baby books!
“I didn’t read the baby books,” Rogen mocks, “What’s gonna happen!? How did anyone ever give birth without a baby book!? That’s right, the ancient Egyptians engraved What to Expect When You’re Expecting on the pyramid walls—I forgot about that! Who gives a flying fuck about the baby books!?”
Until relatively recently, much of the dad world subscribed to that peevish Seth Rogen school of thought: the job of parenting in the first couple years of life is to feed them, clothe them, change them, and just make sure they don’t die. There is some truth to this perspective insomuch as this is the absolute bare minimum to keep your child alive and yourself out of jail, but to be a great parent and to raise happy, healthy kids demands so much more.
That is the long-term logic for reading the baby books. In the short-term, it’s about knowing what to do, where to go, and how to think with each new thing your baby does. Because trust us, that first cry that does not get solved with food or a diaper change, that first fall on the floor, that first time they put something dirty in their mouths–you’re going to want to sprint to the emergency room, call the CDC poison control hotline, pack them in ice to bring down swelling and prevent concussion trauma. Put more simply, you’re gonna freak out. But if you know what to expect…when you’re expecting…those moments are much, much easier to manage. .
So here’s a list of amazing books that maybe you’ve never heard of that are good to read not just before you have your baby but in the months and years after you’ve had your baby as well.
- Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster
- Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong—And What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster
- How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes: Science-Based Strategies for Better Parenting—From Tots to Teens by Melinda Wenner Moyer
- The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control over Their Lives by William Stixrud and Ned Johnson
- Baby 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Baby’s First Year by Dr. Ari Brown & Denise Fields
- What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff
- Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman
- We’re Pregnant! The First Time Dad’s Pregnancy Handbook by Adrian Kulp
- Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis
If you read those, you’ll also arm yourself with a ton of practical knowledge that will set you up to be a great parent.
2) Practice Your Car Seat Mechanics
You’ve probably imagined the impending birth of your child hundreds of times already—the contractions, the water breaking, the trip to the hospital, the (long, hopefully not too difficult) labor, then getting to hold the baby in your arms for the first time. You’ve probably rehearsed the whole thing in your mind down to the most minute, personal detail.
But what about the moment you leave the hospital?
If you have a standard Western birth, you’re typically in the hospital for two days before you’re discharged. Then a nurse gives you a wheelchair, you push your partner and newborn child out to the parking lot, and just like that you’re on your own.
It’s not uncommon to see first-time parents head through those big sliding doors and then freeze, as if they’re imagining something along the lines of, “Um…what now?”
It’s a normal feeling to have, but one that is really hard to manage when your newborn starts crying, or when it’s really hot or really cold outside, or when some insensitive jerk is idling impatiently because they want your parking spot. Of all the questions going through your mind, and all the uncertainty swirling around your life in this moment, how do I work this carseat should not be one of them.
And while that sense of “what now?” that you will feel in those first moments can extend all the way from the hospital doors to the doors of your child’s freshman dorm at dropoff, we find that it’s usually best to break a big task—like the task of parenting—into smaller, more manageable bites
So start with the car seat.
One of the things that reinforces the new-parent sense of unpreparedness is the struggle we face with getting the little things done in anticipation of coming home—like knowing what to do when it comes to the car seat. Is rear facing or forward facing safer? Which back seat is the safest spot for the car seat? Can the car seat be too tightly secured? What’s the optimal angle for the seat to be reclined?
These are questions most parents don’t think to ask before they walk out of the hospital for their baby’s first car ride. So before it’s too late, take some time to get in a few reps with your car seat. Practice installing the car seat, taking it out, and putting it back—and make sure both of you have it down.
It’s a myth that you can go to a firehouse and have them install the car seat for you, or that they’ll show you how to do it at the hospital—so unless you know some especially helpful firefighters or nurses, you really are on your own here. If you’re struggling, ask an experienced friend, or check out an internet tutorial:
- Car Seat Safety By Age: Infants in Rear-facing Seats (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)
- Car Seat Safety Teaching
- @safeintheseat on Instagram
- Car Seat Safety for New Parents
So much of parenting is beyond your control—mastering the car seat isn’t. And, of course, that goes for all of the other pieces of parenting equipment, too. Practice folding and unfolding the stroller, and make sure it fits in the trunk of your car (the last thing you want is to have to buy a new stroller…or a new car). Practice strapping on the baby carrier. Memorize the pockets on your diaper bag. And enjoy the new-stuff smell while it lasts.
3) You Must Have These Things
When we first conceived of this article, our intention was to focus on timely inspiration and timeless wisdom for parents with children of all ages. We didn’t want to wade too deeply into specific age groups or overly tactical advice or brand and product recommendations. Everyone’s situation is different. Options vary from state to state, country to country. We didn’t want to leave anyone on the outside looking in.
But as we did our research and talked to hundreds of parents, it became obvious that for many of them there were a host of products that they credit for saving them countless hours of stress and aggravation. So we decided to compile the creme de la creme of those items that will make your first years as a new parent that much easier.
For most items, we researched to find both the best option out there and the best affordable option. For some, we’ve included lifestyle options (i.e. the best jogger stroller). In some cases, you might be able to track down a hand-me-down from parents a few years ahead of you on their journey. In any case, these things will be a life-saver:
|Crib||Best: Babyletto Hudson
Best affordable: Delta Children Lancaster
Best travel: BabyBjörn Travel Crib Light
|Bedside Crib||Best: SNOO Smart Sleeper
Best affordable: Baby Bassinet
|Sleep suit||Best: Baby Merlin’s Cotton Magic Sleepsuit|
|Stroller||Best: UPPAbaby VISTA V2 Stroller
Best affordable: Summer 3Dlite
Best jogger: BOB Gear Revolution Flex 3.0
|Car seat||Best: Chicco KeyFit 30
Best affordable: Graco SnugFit 35
Best stroller/car seat hybrid: Doona
|Baby motion swing||Best: 4moms® mamaRoo 4 Multi-Motion™ Baby Swing
Best affordable: Nova Baby Swing
|Baby Carrier||Best: BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier One Air
Best affordable: Ergobaby 360 All-position Baby Carrier
|Baby monitor||Best: Owlet Duo Smart Baby Monitor
Best affordable: Infant Optics DXR-8
|Noise machine||Best: Hatch Baby Rest Sound Machine
Best affordable: HoMedics White Noise Sound Machine
Best portable: Yogasleep Hushh Portable White Noise Machine
|High chair||Best: Graco EveryStep 7 in 1 High Chair
Best affordable: Cosco Simple Fold High Chair
|Bounce swing*||Best: Jolly Jumper
Best affordable: Evenflo Exersaucer Door Jumper
*Some child development experts are weary of bounce swings because they have been linked to delays in and difficulty with walking, as a result of keeping babies on their tiptoes for extended periods.
A great alternative to a bounce swing is an adjustable, seated activity center that allows your baby to stand flat-footed, move, work on balance, etc.
|Baby gym||Best: The Play Gym by Lovevery
Best affordable: Fisher-Price Deluxe Kick and Play Piano Gym and Maracas
|Humidifier||Best: Venta LW25
Best affordable: Pure Enrichment MistAire
|Snot sucker||Best: Nosiboo Pro Baby Electric Nasal Aspirator/Nose Sucker
Best affordable: Baby Nasal Aspirator NoseFrida
|Baby bottle warmer||Best: Philips AVENT Fast Baby Bottle Warmer
Best Affordable: Dr. Brown’s Deluxe Baby Bottle Warmer
|Baby bath tub||Best: Fisher-Price 4-in-1 Sling ‘n Seat Tub
Best inflatable: Mommy’s Helper Inflatable Bath Tub
Obviously, you don’t have to buy all of these products, or all of them at one time. But if you’re like most modern parents, you’re going to be looking for solutions to problems and situations that each of these products was designed to service.
So if you’re going to take your time, or you want to do your own research…by all means! Just keep this list handy and maybe use it as the standard against which you evaluate other options that come across your desk.
Either way, you won’t regret having this list at your disposal.
4) Fix All the Little Things
In season 10 of The Big Bang Theory, Howard and his wife Bernadette welcome their newborn daughter Halley. It’s only then that they begin to notice the problems in their home. The squeaky floorboards are no longer a quaint quirk of their home, they have the potential, with even the quietest squeak, to wake a sleeping baby and ruin Mom and Dad’s night, morning, day, and week. There’s only one problem: to fix this minor inconvenience requires tearing up the entire floor, which is both costly and time-consuming. Still, something has to be done.
The rest of the episode is dedicated to figuring out what that ‘something’ should be. In a lot of ways, it’s a microcosm of early parenthood because the biggest change that comes from having a kid isn’t financial, it’s not the sleep deprivation, it’s not even needing to take care of another person or the stress it puts on your relationships. It’s that you’ve taken on a permanent responsibility. Before you have kids, much of life is malleable. You can do what you want, when you want. Things operate on normal timelines, your timeline. When you have kids, these luxuries are no more. You are on their timeline. You cater to their needs. And you can no longer put off tearing up the floors to fix that squeaky floorboard. There is always something that has to be done.
Everyone tells you to babyproof your house. The internet floods you with checklists and how-tos and complete guides to making sure even the high-risk areas are safe for your newborn. But no one tells you how to fix all the little nagging problems in your home that pretty soon you won’t have the time, the patience, or the energy to fix.
…the squeaky floorboards
…the dripping faucets
..the running toilets
..the faulty garbage disposal
…the sagging drawer bottom
…the aging appliances
…the dirty HVAC filters
…the torn window screens
…the rusted door hinges and strike plates
…the holes in the drywall
…the clogged the gutters
Do these things now. Because when you have the least amount of time and energy is going to be exactly when the bill comes due on them, and you will no longer be able to put them off. Call that friend, hire the handyman, watch tutorials on YouTube or read DIY articles—do whatever you have to do. Fix all the nagging problems in your home.
5) Get All The Good Old Stuff Out of the Way
The comedian Pete Holmes has a great line about expectant parents: before your kid comes, you’re going to want to watch every movie where anything horrible happens to a child. Because you can’t watch Manchester by the Sea after you have kids.
It’s true—things that made you go “Oh, that’s kinda sad” as a childless twenty-something are going to absolutely destroy you, leave you a weepy, sobbing mess, once you have kids. So if you ever felt like watching those movies, check them off the list before it’s too late.
Of course, this advice applies to a lot more than movies, and to way more good things than bad things, which will actually make them harder to give up once the baby arrives. And make no mistake, you will be giving up a lot of things, because as soon as the baby is born your life is going to change. It’s probably the most profound change you’re ever going to experience: your priorities, your habits, your schedule, your sense of who you are as a person are all going to be transformed. And that can be great—few things in life genuinely give you the chance to become a new person, and fatherhood is one of them. But it’s up to you whether you decide to embrace the changes that are coming—to embrace your new identity as a dad—or to fight against them.
A big part of your attitude toward those changes has to do with regret. If you’re trying to live your new life as a dad and looking back with regret on all of the things you missed out on before you had kids, it’s going to be really hard to embrace and enjoy what’s new in your life. What you want is to be able to genuinely say, “I lived my pre-kid life to the fullest. I’m ready for what’s next.”
Watching a couple of movies before your baby is born isn’t going to make the difference between those two outcomes—but checking things off your baby bucket list in this period can help. What might one of those look like? Here’s some ideas:
- Go on a babymoon
- Take a trip with a group of friends
- Have the neighbors over for a party
- Go out to dinner at your favorite restaurants
- Binge watch a show on Netflix
- Sit on the couch all weekend watching football
- Go barhopping/clubbing until closing time
- Read for pleasure
The idea is that a chapter in your life is closing: you want to be aware of the fact that it’s closing, not in denial. You also want to end it on a high note. So get all that good stuff from your old life out of the way now. Give yourself one last guilt-free trip through your pre-kid world, and end this chapter of your life with a smile as you joyfully turn the page.
If you are a new or expecting parent, we created The Parent-To-Be: A Daily Dad Parenting Challenge* for you! It’s a 30-day challenge, designed to give new and soon-to-be parents a kind of preparation that new and soon-to-be parents need. The Parent-To-Be: A Daily Dad Parenting Challenge weaves together thousands and thousands of responses from Daily Dad readers to our questionnaires, lessons from philosophy, history, science, and literature to equip soon-to-be parents with real advice and useful insights that will help them prepare to have kids and set them up to become a great parent. We’d love to have you join us…or invite someone else who needs it to join us.
*We know that, for a percentage of the Daily Dad readership, it will not make sense to take this challenge. We also know that everyone knows or will know expecting parents. Our goal is for The Parent-To-Be: A Daily Dad Parenting Challenge to become a must-take for those expecting parents. Which is why we hired a software developer to help us make it easy to gift The Parent-To-Be–to a friend, a sibling, a colleague who is expecting.