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I don’t have any immediate plans for a child. At the earliest (probably), I’ll become father in 3 years.

I can imagine that the time will become stressful as soon as the child is on the way, not to mention the time when the child is finally born. I guess there are so many things to consider/decide/plan that you’ll hardly have enough time for all that.

I like to be prepared. Is there anything useful I could do now? Parents, in retrospective, is there anything you would have liked to do (or learn, or think about, …) beforehand?

So far I read about picture-books and add good/valuable ones to a list. Not sure how useful this is, but anyway, there has to be more.

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Learning about the mechanics of parenting and looking after a baby is not that hard. You have almost a year to learn about a newborn, then a year after that to learn about a toddler, then another year to learn about two year olds and so on.

There are some skills you can learn now that will help you tremendously when you become a parent even though they are not technically parenting skills:

  • learn to cook.
  • learn how to do the banking or make a car appointment or do the laundry or buy the groceries or whatever else your spouse normally does.
  • teach your spouse the things you normally do
  • learn to bank online and other techniques for not having to be at place X by time Y in order to meet deadlines like paying bills or the rent
  • learn to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep, if necessary by acquiring accessories like eyeshades or CDs of soothing music
  • learn a stress relief technique like yoga or meditation or brainwave feedback
  • develop an exercise habit and acquire what you need to do it at home (yoga mat, weight set, exercise DVD, ...)

If you do all those things, you and your spouse will be interchangeable and can spell each other off doing urgent things when there just isn't enough time in the day. You'll be able to fight off sleep deprivation and remain calm when things are hard. You'll need that because they will be hard at times. They will also be wonderful too.

  • learn how to take good pictures. I know folks who've taken courses on it and they're way better at it than I am, and you won't have time after the baby is born to learn how to do it, but you'll want to be good at it.

For extra preparation, get right with money:

  • make a budget
  • understand what aspects of it you can and cannot change
  • get all your credit cards paid off to zero and get up to date on student loans, car loans etc so that bankers love you and want to lend you money, and so your interest payments are as low as can be
  • start saving now so that you have an emergency fund
  • know your credit rating
  • get a line of credit but don't use it

In other words, make yourself financially stable. Not having the money for emergency car repairs and having to take the bus for a week until you get paid is the kind of thing that makes your life so much harder when you have a small child or when you're pregnant.

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1) Save money.

2) Wear loose shorts! and consider your nutrition.

3) Collect books and toys.

4) Prepare the home - babies crawl and need safe places to be changed; toddlers walk and need stair gates and all tvs to be bolted to walls; small children get everywhere! Getting some of this stuff done now is good because you'll be busy later on.

5) Prepare areas for sleeping during the daytime.

6) Investigate support mechanisms. Having children can be disruptive, sometimes destructive. You'll need friends to help you with parenting and with destressing.

7) Practice politely ignoring half of the unsolicited advice you get.

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There's only so much preparation you can do realistically, books are good but nothing prepares you for the real thing.

One of the things you should think about is good childcare and schools, if you don't have these things in your area then move to an area where you will. Moving before having a baby is much easier than moving after!

Look into building a support network, this could be family, but also fellow parents near you who will be having children at the same time. Being able to compare notes, borrow this or that when you're short of something, and just being able to talk to someone who understands what you are going through makes such a difference. In the UK there is a group called the NCT, they have classes for expecting parents which are useful, but even more handy is that you meet other people in your neighborhood so it is an instant support group. In the US or other places there are probably groups that organize that sort of thing regularly.

If you are an impatient person try to learn patience, you'll need it.

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You could try reading this book on infant sleep, that book on baby care, and the other book on solid feedings, but if you are anything like me half the important stuff will fly out the window in the midst of sleep deprivation anyway. I found out after my daughter hit one year that I had helpfully saved information on newborn growth spurts on my computer somewhere when I was pregnant and promptly forgot about them. I rediscovered growth spurts at 3 weeks post-partum when I experienced my daughter's second and most epic spurt and I will now never forget them. Book learning has nothing on experiential learning.

Instead of trying to learn about babies now, I recommend trying to figure out what type of person you want to raise. Get the big picture in mind - what person to you compromises a good citizen and good moral human being? Then strive to be that person. Why? Modeling is the most important thing in training children. Under the pressure of parenting the morals you have will be more tested than in many circumstances, so you want them down pat now. Second you want to figure out how, exactly, you guide a little human being who begins life not even being able to control his or her limbs into a good moral person. Get that big picture in mind. That would help.

I'd also underscore the financial element of Chrys's answer. Children are expensive and you will appreciate being fiscally prepared.

Finally things that I wish I'd done before pregnancy and did not do:

1) Sleep - everyone tells pregnant moms and their husbands to sleep. By then it's too late. Do it before pregnancy. Sleep like you're a college kid on winter break. Sleep enough that you have about a 2 years' supply of extra sleep. OK, you can't really do that, but it sure would be nice.

2) Take that blow-out vacation you always wanted because it's not going to be so simple again for decades. We only did one of our dream vacations and I wish we'd done more.

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Start going to the gym. If I'd realised before I had my first child how quickly she'd increase in size and weight, and if I'd realised that my sedentary lifestyle was not equipping me for picking up and carrying around babies, I might have made more effort to get stronger beforehand.

I'm not suggesting you need to be an Olympic weightlifter in order to happily wrangle your child, but you want a strong, flexible back for when you need to lean over and pick your child up, and good strong legs if you need to bounce your child to sleep. Sadly (at least in my case) it turned out the ability to run marathons didn't correlate well with the ability to bounce up and down for twenty minutes while holding a 6 kilogram weight.

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I'm going to make the assumption that you're a fully functioning adult in a respectful relationship; as such, I'm not going to tell you to get your finances in order or learn to feed yourself. I'm also going to refer to you and your partner as "you", because this is a team endeavour.

  • Hang out with children. You might want to confirm you really really want to have kids - they're super-annoying. After you have kids, you won't look at the nanny accused of shaking her child to death with such judgemental eyes. The government is totally against people putting kids up for adoption and will try to talk you out of it if you decide after the fact that this isn't actually for you; you'll be stuck with kids that aren't like the cute ones on TV. Be aware, children are on their best behaviour around strangers (that's basically anyone who's not their parents).
  • Babies are photogenic, especially when they start smiling at around four weeks of age. Get yourself a digital camera and somewhere to store the thousands (no, really!) of photos you'll have by the time they hit their first birthday. Put in place a backup régime - for example, to the cloud - that means after your hard drive crashes the little youngster's 21st birthday isn't missing any periods of their life. Your hard drive will crash. Get the camera many months before child arrives, and practice lots. Make sure it does indoor non-flash photography well (imagine what flash photography does to a newborn baby).
  • Finish any projects you were hoping to get done in the next five to ten years. Seriously. My partner has been working on an 8 inch by 12 inch embroidery for the last eight years. Our ceiling is still not painted. We've been missing a kitchen cabinet door for the last six years.
  • Resign yourself to never seeing your friends again, unless they too have kids. Then you'll see them twice a year, once at your child's birthday party and once at theirs. Face it: people with kids are boring. Your friends will never actively seek you out again.
  • Buy a couple of dozen squares of cloth nappies (diapers) in terry toweling or flannelette - in addition to any you're going to use for diapering. Babies are messy, and get worse and worse until they're about three or so. Having some of these suckers around is great - wipe up the mess and toss in the wash. You'll be using these for the rest of your life.
  • Work up a plan for respite care. Technically baby-sitting, the reason you need this is to concentrate on keeping your relationship with your partner functional. Being a single parent is many times harder than a double parent, so you need time away from the unceasing demands of your offspring. This might take the form of a "date night", but having just one night where you get to sleep through will make the world of difference to your outlook. Grandparents are great for this.
  • Not so urgent, but check out any Toy Libraries in your vicinity. Kids love new. They're also flighty, so you can get away with two boxes of toys, rotated: wheel out the old box of toys and hide the current one, and it will be just like Christmas day for the kiddies. Repeat weekly.
  • Buy an Infrared thermometer; parents of newborns are perpetually convinced that their child is ill, and being able to provide a temperature history to your medical specialist will make you seem less insane when you claim your child is crying because it's sick.
  • Make up a kit that's always in the car, containing a change of clothes in the child's current size, one or two of the cloth nappies you've bought, a diaper or two, two plastic bags (one for dirty diapers, one for dirty clothes), a thin change mat and a small pack of baby wipes. This is your emergancy kit. Your normal baby bag will have all of this stuff; this is for when you forget the baby bag (it will happen), or the baby bag hasn't been reset, or you exhaust the baby bag's resources because you've stayed out to long or there's a case of explosive diarrhea. Our kit was a foot by six inches by an inch or so.
  • You can't "bank sleep", so please don't try. But be aware, there's a good chance that you're going to experience sleep debt for a number of years. The only ways I know of dealing with this is either tag-teaming the child, or having one parent (typically the father) doing every last scrap of non-child-facing work, and additionally picking up some slack in the child-facing work.
  • Join your local Breastfeeding organisation. Being able to call someone at 3am who understands cracked nipples is priceless, and you'll be supporting an organisation that advocates for parent's rights.
  • Find someone who's got a child about a year older than yours and is willing to hand-on clothing. Go shopping at your local op-shop and lay in a supply of 0000 (good for a week or two) 000 (good for 2-4 weeks) 00 (good for 1-3 months) and perhaps size 0 (good for as much as 6 months) clothing. You're not going to be able to make it out to buy clothes once baby's born. Children don't need shoes until they're about two.
  • Get a safety switch installed. Don't bother with those plastic socket-filling doodads. Use painter's tape to keep the switches on your power points switched on; discovering your TIVO was off the one night that show's on will drive you bonkers.
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I like this. Very down to earth and realistic. – haylem Sep 5 '13 at 10:49
Whoah - no need to be so pessimistic. Many people with kids see their friends (with kids and without) on a regular basis even if it is less often than before and many people with kids are not boring unless you define boring as no longer going clubbing every Friday and Saturday night. Also while other people's kids are great birth control your own tend to be a little different. My aunt was a nanny who never wanted kids, until she adopted and very much loved one of her own. – justkt Sep 5 '13 at 10:50
I know several people who have been completing projects with newborns, though it does go more slowly. I have friends who just finished getting a banister in. We organized our entire basement after our daughter turned 1. Sure it's more of a pain to do things during naptime on weekends or with your toddler in a backpack, but it's doable especially if one partner is a stay-at-home parent (which is in many ways the point of a stay-at-home parent, to have someone responsible for not only caregiving but for house care). – justkt Sep 5 '13 at 10:53
As for clothes for kids, if you live in a country where baby showers are a common tradition, don't do it. Many people find that the baby shower outfits the kid at least through size 0-3 months (what you listed as 0) if not through the first year or even two. Infrared thermometers are not acceptable for most US pediatricians for children under 4 months - they require a rectal temperature because it is more accurate. – justkt Sep 5 '13 at 10:53
There's a lot of good info in here, but a couple of your points were a little... melodramatic :) Your social life and recreational activities don't automatically die a bloody death the moment you have a kid (okay, maybe for the first few months, but definitely permanently, or even for years). – Beofett Sep 5 '13 at 12:21

Read about parenting. All of the practical techniques are relatively easy to pick up, but techniques for raising a decent, well-adjusted human being are often unintuitive.

Some books I'd recommend are:

  • It's OK not to share by Heather Shumaker
  • Teach your children well by Madeline Levine
  • How to talk so kids will listen and listen so that kids will talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
  • The happiest toddler on the block by Harvey Karp

These books are actually aimed at parents of children from various different age groups, so they won't be appropriate for dealing with a baby. That said, a child is a baby for only a small fraction of its life.

If it hasn't already been said, you probably want to find your position on "the cry it out method" and other approaches to getting a baby to sleep through the night. Some sound brutally primitive and cruel, whereas others take 2 years of not sleeping well.

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Talk with your significant other about things that involve the child. Will she breastfeed or use formula? Cloth or disposable diapers? How much paternity and maternity leave will you both take? Will she go back to work at all? Will you find out the sex of the baby while she's pregnant? Those are things you can do now that will help work you towards the rest.

Working out those particulars will help you prepare for the rest. The stuff is easy. Hopefully you're a little bit adaptive. Every child is different. Sure, there are generalizations that can be made but children develop at different rates and in different ways. You'll have to learn to roll with the punches as they come.

Hope this helps. Good luck and future congrats!

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