Advice to new parents.

April 12th, 2010


Because some of my friends are in this category — or are about to be — I offer three very basic pieces of advice. These are drawn from some things that I believe my wife and I have done best in our lives as parents.

1. Be aggressively solicitous of each other’s needs. I would hope that you would automatically cut each other a lot of slack when Baby comes along — and I’m especially looking at the dads here — but I’m telling you that you should cut each other even more slack than you think could possibly be reasonable.

Dads: Internalize the reality that you have no idea what Mom is going through — physically, mentally, emotionally, and every-which-way. Not really, you don’t.
So if Mom says something that sounds ridiculous, or gets short with you for reasons you can’t discern, or asks you to do something completely beyond the pale . . . just go ahead and assume that she has a very good reason for it. That reason might translate to “Our little bundle of needs joy is DRIVING ME CRAZY.” Or it might be, “You know that ‘last nerve’ that I’ve mentioned before? You’re treading on it, heavily, right now.”

Clue in, and remind yourself of all the wonderful reasons why you chose this woman to be the mother of your children.

Moms: Yes, you’re doing the lion’s share of the work — and we all admire the heck out of you for it. But remember that Dad didn’t stop loving you when you gave birth. Anything you can do to refresh your memory and his that you love each other, like each other, and enjoy each other’s company will be welcome.

Also, please do not assume that all the ramifications of new-mom-hood are obvious to Dad. He’ll probably need to have some things spelled out to him; please spell them out gently.

2. Set a reasonable bedtime for the kid and stick to it, come Hell or high water. Sure, you’ll need a little flexibility about this, especially with newborns. And as your kids get older and need slightly less sleep, you can be reasonable when you permanently reset bedtime for half an hour later. But in general, take it as a given that YOU will establish a certain bedtime to which the child WILL adhere — seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

A couple of reasons for this:

  • Bad sleeping habits are bad for Baby. Kids need LOTS of sleep EVERY night so that their little brains can mature properly, and simply so that they can get through tomorrow on an even keel. Don’t short them — and especially don’t short them just because you’re too much of a wimp to enforce a given bedtime.
  • Bad sleeping habits for Baby can ruin things for everyone else. This applies to siblings, but it especially applies to Mom and Dad. While it’s a moot point for most couples during the first several weeks after Baby arrives, at some point Mom and Dad are going to remember that they once found each other physically attractive. Even before that point, it’s going to be a huge benefit if Mom and Dad can sit on the couch together to talk about the day and maybe share a glass of wine. This needs to happen without Baby around. Don’t let the child’s bad sleeping habits — which YOU control — drive a wedge between the grown-ups.
  • Kids need limits. I would hope this one doesn’t need a lot of explaining, though unfortunately I’ve seen plenty of parents who don’t seem to be familiar with this concept.

3. Don’t contradict each other openly if front of the children. Especially about decisions that affect the children. Your little angel might be the sweetest child in human history . . . but she’ll still leap into the breach and exploit any dissension between you the moment you openly undermine each other about what goes or doesn’t go.

If you tell your child “No sweets today” or “Yes, you can watch t.v. after dinner” or “Go to your room!” . . . that’s what’s happening, period. If your spouse doesn’t like it, the two of you should definitely take it up with each other — but away from the child. If I lay down the law on something like this and my wife takes it up with me later, it’s easy for me to come back to the child and say, e.g., “Mommy told me you haven’t had anything sweet for two whole days. I didn’t realize that. So we’ve decided it’s okay for you to have some ice cream today.” But spouses shouldn’t undermine each other.

I’m not saying that your daughter should never see the two of you have a difference of opinion, but that she should expect to meet a unified front when it comes to setting boundaries for her. Otherwise, it’s inevitable that a tug-of-war will unfold, with the child plus one parent pulling against the other parent. This is a terrible habit to form — terrible for all parties. Beyond that, it makes parenting, which is already hard enough, even more difficult.

Bonus tip for achieving #3: Repeat after me:

Did you ask your mother about that? . . . What did she say?

And then, when the child says, “She said No,” you say,

“Then why did you think I would say something different? Mommy already told you No — that’s the end of it.”

Believe it, live it, and practice it until these answers are automatic and authoritative.


I honestly think that these three points, rigorously applied, could save many new parents from untold hardships.

And now . . . audience involvement! Prospective parents, new parents, and veteran parents — what do you think of this advice? What would you add?


(Photo by Bridget Coila, used under a CC-Share Alike license.)

4 Responses to “Advice to new parents.”

  1. Glenda Spain Says:

    You were never this little!

  2. Liz @ Peace, Love & Guacamole Says:

    Great advice! Agree with them all. One related rule we’ve used raising our 3 kids: You have to teach the rules before you can teach how it’s ok to sometimes break them. Every blue moon we completely spoil our dinners and have dessert first, or keep them up too late, or let them call the shots on something…but they know what a huge treat it is because we’ve been very consistent on a daily basis.

  3. Tim Walker Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Liz. What I love most about what you said: “Every blue moon.”

    Exceptions are fine — but only if they’re rare & it’s clear to the kids that they are huge treats, not something that they can argue for from day to day.

    (It pains me how many parents miss this.)

  4. Paul Brownell Says:

    Tim, you really nailed it with number 3. Kids accentuate two core human tendencies: 1) craving predictability and constancy (hate change) and 2) manipulation of our environment.

    Some good friends of mine regularly get their credibility shredded by their kids asking mom and dad independently the same question (and getting a different answer).

    Nice way to summarize some healthy philosophies of parenting.


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