Editor’s Note: For years now, I’ve gained a lot of wisdom about being a new parent simply by knowing Matt Schneider and Lance Somerfeld, of the NYC Dads Group, and Natalie Diaz, of Twiniversity and the Manhattan Twins Club. Helping people prepare for and survive their first year as parents is at the core of their missions—and they bring to it a mix of understanding and support that makes you feel like they’re in your corner. So who better to talk to about the first year? – Eric Messinger
PLANNING FOR PARENTHOOD
Lance Somerfeld: Most dads want to plan ahead to be an involved parent from the start. We encourage them to maximize paternity leave, to take some vacation time if they don’t have paternity leave, and basically to dig in early on and get involved.
Eric Messinger: To start planning for being an involved parent from the get-go, ideally before the birth?
LS: I think that most new parents would like having some training in essential parenting skills and questions, like how to fall in love with their child; how to communicate withtheir spouse; how are you going to restructure your life. With couples, you need both people active and engaged from the beginning.
Natalie Diaz: And truthfully, in couples who have the resources and the desire to have a stay-at-home parent, we have many stay-at-home dads. Don’t be short-sighted in your parenting plan.
EM: Do you advise a one-year plan or a longer plan?
ND: Get through the first year. I think people think this is so cookie-cutter, but it really isn’t, especially in this city. It has to be what is best for you and your family today. Not how your parents do it, or [your] neighbors.
LS: And of course you don’t necessarily have to have one parent at home and one at work. Every family should choose their own
destinations, without being pigeonholed because of gender stereotypes. Families that chose what’s best for them as a team usually navigate the first year the best.
SOCIALIZATION & ISOLATION
Matt Schneider: I lost myself in my first year, I didn’t feel good. I felt disconnected and needed to get involved in something.
ND: I feel like a lot of parents feel that parenting is supposed to be this miserable. And it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to just sit home, you can get involved.
LS: Finding your rhythm and people—that’s so important, finding social connections that validate what you’re going through, whether it’s in person or online. Social groups allow you to, in a sense, crowd-source what you’re going through. They can also allow you to turn off the parent switch and tap back into the person you remember.
PARTNERS IN PARENTING
EM: Matt, take us into the partnership aspect of all of this. Routines are changing, emotions are changing, sleep is changing, sex is changing, life is changing. How can you be a good partner?
MS: Tune into your partner, both of you are going through a lot. Moms often feel this tremendous pressure to be the best mom possible, and their instinct might be to push dads to the side. Ahead of time, couples need to talk about how you need both people involved from the beginning, because the mom won’t feel comfortable handing over the baby unless she feels like dad knows what he’s doing.
EM: Moms have to step back but dads have to step up, right?
ND: Yes, but it needs to be handled with care. A mom is a bear in the woods, and if you walk over with a stick and tell it how to do things, it becomes very territorial. This is tough for dads and I feel bad for you guys. I see so many dads who want to get involved, but just don’t know how, or aren’t trained to do so.
LS: But it is so much easier on the mind and body when you know you have someone at home who can pick up the slack and be a true partner. In my mind, that’s the goal.
EM: To me, this is love: Couples who talk through this stuff, who are honest about their frustrations and really hear each other and do for each other. Those are the new parents who are building the foundation of a great parenting partnership—not to mention a great marriage.
MAINTAINING THE MARRIAGE
ND: For me, when asked if my priority is my parenting or my marriage, it is my marriage. And people think I’m nuts for saying that. I cannot tell you the amount of divorces we see, even in my personal life.
LS: The benefit of having a solid relationship on your parenting is huge.
ND: Yes, but people always lose perspective. People are like: “We’re always going to have these kids and they’re always going to be crying at 3am.” But you know what? That ends. At the end of the day, they are going to be here for this much time and then they’re gone, off to college, starting their own adult lives. It is alarming to me how little people prepare. It all goes back to that first-year plan and planning together.
ASK FOR HELP
S: I said: “I am going to stay at home. I am going to be the best stay-at-home father ever. I am going to make all the food, I will go to every class, blah blah blah.” The best gift was hiring a babysitter to come just a couple of afternoons. I remember walking out the door thinking that I had just handed my child over to the Russian mafia. But sure enough I came back and my baby was fine.
ND: It’s the household chores, the regular stuff that you often need help with. In Twiniversity, we put up a chore chart, with anything—really anything—that would be helpful, even if it’s your mother emptying the dishwasher.
LS: You have to build time for me time and sleep time. That’s the only way everything else will work out.
ND: Agreed, you’re no good to anybody if you are not good to yourself. And that goes for both parents. Do I need that 10 minutes of music when I get home from work, or do I need to go see my sister once a week for my salvation? Whatever. There is nothing to feel guilty about. Time for yourself will make you a better person and parent.
LS: When I reflect back… How many times was I shoveling down a sandwich trying to shush my baby down in the carrier because I didn’t have time for lunch? There wasn’t enough time for getting all the domestic chores done, and time to care for the baby when they’re awake. I suffered, I fell by the wayside. I didn’t go to my own appointments. I didn’t see my friends at all. Babysitting was a huge help for us, especially me in the role of the primary caregiver. I needed that babysitter to break away from my role as a parent. My wife and I needed the babysitter to turn off parenting for a little and just go for a walk and enjoy each other as a couple.
EM: Do you have the name of a good sitter?