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My girlfriend and I are sure that we want children someday, maybe even in the not so distant future. I will be working full time, as will my girlfriend after the first year. We have a decent income and currently live in Germany.

I have been trying to find out what the day to day life as a father will really be like. All I hear is horror stories about not sleeping and not having any time to do anything. What I did not find is any actual reference on what my life is going to be like as a father.

To be honest, I imagine it to be pure horror until the children are old enough to go to school. I don't have people with children in my private life and I have never had to do with children for years. Most people I speak with just tell me what a joy children are but how horribly difficult the day to day life is like (which doesn't seem very objective to me).

Is there anything I can read up on to see how it could be like (well knowing, that all children are different of course)?

13 Answers 13

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It depends on the child - some babies sleep through the night when young, some insist on feeding every couple of hours. Some need constant entertainment, some like wriggling in a basket. You'll probably be tired, and not be able to do as much non baby related stuff as you are used to, but you might not care. You'll probably want to spend lots of the time you are home with your baby - they're fascinating to watch, especially when they start to learn things like repeating your actions or babbling. Your partner will probably be exhausted, especially if breast feeding - it takes a lot of effort, and results in the baby sucking nutrients out!

Every baby is different, and you can't tell in advance what they're going to be like. Babies of calm parents might be demanding. Babies of active parents might just want to lie down all the time. They might change this preference every couple of months. You might think you've got a routine, only to find it stops working the very next day.

All this means that it is very difficult for a generic "this is what fatherhood is like" guide to exist. And that's before taking your lifestyle into account. For example, I work full time, but mostly from my home office, so I see my baby throughout the day. If you work full time in a remote office, you won't - and your experience will be different.

There are some books on being a dad around, but they often tend to have a jokey style, as if fatherhood is something that doesn't need serious details. It's a bit frustrating...

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    WRT "sucking nutrients out," all that milk takes a lot of energy for the body to produce. Breastfeeding is actually a very good way for the mother to lose the extra pounds left over after pregnancy. – Mason Wheeler Dec 27 '16 at 3:35
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No one seems to have put it the way I would. Many years ago I was browsing in a bookstore with my daughter on my shoulder. An older gentleman asked her age. I told him; she was about 1 at the time. He looked at me wistfully and said, "enjoy them while they're young. They grow up very fast."

Now I'm the older man, as that little girl is now 23, and visits from time to time. Being Dad to her and her older brother was the greatest thing I could possibly imagine. Sure there's a huge number of things you have to do, and it's impossibly exhausting. You give up a lot. But I look back on all the teaching, the coaching, the reading, the bedtime stories, the sports, all that driving, and wish it was still happening. I look back on those sleepless nights, being exhausted, the hours and hours of rocking a sick child to sleep with regret, because they're over.

Because I'll never get to do anything that was more fun than that.

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    "...I'll never get to do anything that was more fun than that." +1 - So true. But no one knows that going in, and in retrospect, one doesn't remember all the worrying, doubts, and second guessing that occurred. – anongoodnurse Dec 25 '16 at 5:34
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I hope that if you and your wife are ready and truly want children that you will go ahead. However you have to be prepared to parent which is another full-time career and one that should have priority over any other one. In a perfect world, you'll have perfect children. I am not trying to be a naysayer, but if you would be unhappy giving up your usual freetime activities, parenting may not be for you. It could be years until you and your wife have the freedom to go out to a late party or concert. Parents should not ever be so inebriated or stoned that they pass out, for example.

What happens if your child has special needs or a health issue? Special needs range from full time intensive care to gifted students who also have important needs -- and everything inbetween. Health issues cover anything you can think of. Most kids are thankfully average, but you have to be willing and able to parent the child you have.

Children are expensive. Children need positive attention. If the very thought of watching your kid at the hockey rink or gymnastics classes bores you to tears -- would that mean your child would be denied those sorts of activities?

Also remember that your wife's priorities will change with pregnancy and giving birth. Her children will become the centre of her life and you will take second position after the children. This is a normal biological function of motherhood.

Day to day will depend of how organised you are and the well-being of your children. (My niece did not sleep through the night until she was six, though by five she could entertain herself and not disturb her parents. Now she's a teacher, so they do grow up and become independent.) You'll have to feed everyone and get them to school or daycare. You need to make arrangements for them being ill or school holidays. They have to be picked up after school and they'll need some free time activities or sports and homework time. There's bathing, reading and TV that is suitable for kids. There's watching them when they are on social media. Your free time is when they are safely asleep or in the care of another trusted adult. Weekends are about family activities. You and your wife might take turns sleeping late, but kids do not often sleep late. I loved these weekends, but if it isn't for you -- decide that ahead of time.

I think parenting is extremely rewarding and could easily be the best thing you'll ever do. BUT, please go into it with your eyes open.

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For me, it has been absolutely fantastic. Really fun.

I have worked in exciting careers, and had the opportunity to travel extensively to many parts of the world. I have partied all night in many cities, and done many crazy things. I have worked in science, and experienced the thrill of discovery. None of these activities comes even close to the joy I've experienced in raising my son from birth to 4 years old.

He was so cute as a little baby - I saw him learn how to see, how to operate his fingers and arms, and really felt his happiness when he learned how to smile. As he learned to walk and now starting preschool, it has been fantastic. Reading is a very difficult thing to learn, but he seems to be just picking it up. He likes to play in the snow too. Really silly.

Of course, it hasn't been 100% easy; there were (are?) many sleepless nights, just like college. I remember the first time I slept 6 hours straight when he was about 8 months old; it was crazy. Around 2 years all-night baby care became rare.

So the question is, what becomes of the old life? Working late at the office, heading to the bar, drinking all night, going to fancy restaurants, spur of the moment road trips and weekend travel? I found that while I miss that lifestyle a bunch, I'd rather be spending time with my boy. The local public library has a nice play area. This is more fun that anything.

What has seemed to happen with work is that instead of wasting time on the internet and socializing, when I have time to work (I am a student), I am very focused.

My partner and I followed advice similar to what Stu W wrote in his answer; we downsized our apartment to make more time. What if you prefer to work like crazy and own a huge house and all kinds of really expensive crap? I have a friend who did this - when the kid was about 6 week old, they put him in daycare 15 hours a day, and went to work like crazy. The kid after a few years seems normal - they choose a nice(expensive) daycare - and their life wasn't that impacted.

The biggest challenge for us was how having a baby changed the relationship with my partner; instead of a two person relationship, there are 3. Combined with the exhaustion in the first year, there is a huge potential for conflict. This is one reason why they say it is important to be married an in a strong, committed relationship. Because it is natural to want to take part in the raising of your kid, if there is separation it generally leads to 20 years of suffering.

  • I liked your answer -- Welcome! – WRX Dec 25 '16 at 19:29
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As others have said, there are many variables that affect the overall impact on your life.

I'm just going to talk about time. I only have an 18 month old thus far. I'm speaking as a father who works full time (not at home) with a stay at home mother/wife. Babies and parents differ. YMMV.

Truth be told, the absolute time, so far, they require isn't as much as you might think. The real catch is that you can't much control when they need it.

For example, when younger, my daughter would sleep 4 to 6 hours during the day. But it was spread over two naps. That gives you just a few hours of "you" time at a time, which isn't much. Similarly, when they're awake, they generally operate on 90 minute cycles, and then they tend to get fussy for a bit. Again, not much time to do something.

In the evening, they usually go to bed around 7. They usually sleep through the night. But not always. So you have to make a cost/benefit gamble: stay up a few more hours, or get some extra sleep? Staying up late and then having to wake up a couple hours later to a crying baby is very hard.

When they're awake, they don't always need 100% of your time, but again, regular doses. Not much time to yourself to focus on something.

So, how much can you adjust your time allotment? I used to play videogames for 6-8 hours on the weekend. Now I only have a few hours here and there. I can still play games, but have to approach it differently.

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    "you can't much control when they need it" is a key insight. One of the most difficult adjustments is that children tend to operate on their schedule, not yours. – microtherion Dec 25 '16 at 22:50
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Labour of love - children give deep meaning to your life, but you must embrace that to succeed

Once you become a parent you have to learn to love and embrace the work of parenting and (sometimes) the struggle. You have to love your children. Appreciate that everything children do is from curiosity and learning and requesting help with their basic needs.

You have to come to terms with the fact that it's not about you anymore. That life has more purpose than just you. Your life will end and theirs will be a continuation of yours, in some form. It's increasingly about their future and less about yours. It is impossible to be a successful parent and be self-centered. But if you can embrace the sacrifice and responsibilities joyfully, you will be rewarded beyond measure with their joy, perspectives and companionship.

One final note remember, that everything you say to your child, becomes their inner voice.

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    "...remember, that everything you say to your child, becomes their inner voice." What a great comment! +1 (wish it were more.) – anongoodnurse Dec 26 '16 at 19:35
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Every child is different, as Matthew said, but as a rough approximation expect that raising children is a full time (24 hours a day) job for years or decades.

Caring for a child is great, but trying to do it while doing anything else is often very challenging because children want/need your attention. You can be lucky but you need to be ready to deal with any other situation. For example, I could bring my daughters to my office; with the older one it went fine for more than a year and we just worked a little less than when she wasn't there, but when my younger daughter was in the office at least one person had to stop working to be with her.

The same is true for any other activity you want to pursue with children around: cooking, reading, enjoying a film, working... and sleeping.

The first months are the worst for the sleeping issue. It's often said that it takes until the child get used to sleep all night, but I'm afraid that it takes until parents get used not to sleep - or to sleep in short periods. It becomes less a problem when children grow up, but it may take a lot of months, and even when children are a few years old they can often have bad nights that need attention.

That said, having children is great if that is what you want, but expect to do it instead of whatever you do now, not in addition to it.

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I'm not sure if its like this in Germany, but in the US, people tend to live in the largest place they can afford in the nicest neighborhoods. Thus two incomes are necessary.

If on the other hand you find the smallest place you would feel comfortable in, probably a rental, it can still be in a nice neighborhood, but you will allow one parent to stay home.

There is no comparison in the day-to-day benefits to your child or yourselves by having a full-time parent. You become not only your child's caregiver but also their best friend.

There's plenty of evidence regarding the benefits of a full-time parent, but if that is what it takes to consider this, there are books on the subject.

Take-out can be your friend, but drink your coffee at home for a little extra family time. As hard as you try, your sex life will suffer. This is highly variable of course, but that's just the way it is. The last thing you want to do is wake your sleeping kid with crazy monkey sex with your partner.

  • But this is extremely risky, it can be impossible to get a career back on track after taking care of kids only for a decade. Much better to both work four days or so. – Remco Dec 25 '16 at 13:37
  • Perhaps. That suggestion is far more likely to work in Western Europe than the US. When God closes a door, he opens a window? – Stu W Dec 25 '16 at 16:43
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Ok, I'll speak from my experience. Yes, babyhood is hell in some ways. They don't sleep through the night for several months after birth (on average), so someone usually has to get up with the little bugger every night for a while. So the unfortunate truth is that sleep will be at a premium for several months. But after a few months they sleep all night and you're good to go....until about six in the morning.

As it shook out with us, I would get up with the kids at about 6:00, I'd make us breakfast, and we'd hang out until Mom got up. (This was her break from taking care of them during the week; on my salary we can just manage the stay-at-home mom thing).

There were several unexpected things I found hardest about parenting. One was the whole 24x7 nature of the job: even when the kids are in bed, you're still (potentially) on duty. You can be happily enjoying your favorite pre-kids activity, whatever it is, then suddenly brought back to the parental grindstone by a wail from upstairs.

Because of that 24x7 thing, for a few years it made it almost impossible to really focus on projects. You know how you set out to get something done on the computer, or whatever, but something that you have to focus on to get done? Well, knowing in the back of your head that you can be interrupted at any time gets in the way of concentrating on those projects and getting them done. That fades after a while; several years after the kids were born I was able to focus on projects just fine.

Also because I was getting up at six on the weekends in addition to during the week for work, my body clock got into that habit. So once the kids were taking care of themselves in the morning (getting their own breakfast, playing quietly so Mom & Dad could sleep), I woke at six anyway. It's taken several years to be able to sleep in again on weekends.

Oh, I should mention the elephant in the room. If you're the sort of guy who's interested in sex (and who of us isn't?), having kids is going to Ruin Your Shit. Remember, when a woman hosts a pregnancy, her body gets flooded with all sorts of hormones etc. that are intended to get her through the pregnancy, not get her into another (i.e., not geared toward the activity that causes pregnancy). And then she's flooded with hormones for the care of the results of the pregnancy. That's kinda nice at first, because it means the Titty Fairy comes, but now those are for the baby.

And mom's not interested in the activity that could get her pregnant (i.e. sex) but in dealing with the Little Pooper. So even if she assures you in advance that having kids won't interfere with your sex life, IT WILL. She doesn't mean it to; it just happens. It's not her fault--she didn't mean it to be that way, but the end result will be that your sex life may well take a tumble. YMMV, and that depends sharply with age, I think. We started late, so our marital bed is pretty sterile, though from what I hear that's not universal. So at your age it'll probably be a temporary lull. Just be aware that it's very likely to happen, especially if she assures you it won't.

Another thing to be aware of is that having children really chops up your day, because you're forced to punctuate it with things that were no big deal before but are productions now. Going out anywhere (say, to Grandma's) is a production because it's not everyone grabbing what they need and piling into the car. You have to stop and think what you and, especially, them are going to need (pak 'n' play, books, toys, sippy cups, etc.), then gather all that stuff, and round up the kids and corral them into the car. And you know how on a given weekend you'll have a particular project that will take part of Saturday or Sunday? Now that project becomes your single goal for the entire weekend, because you just can't get as much done as you used to.

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Your day to day life as a father would depend a lot on the choices you and your girlfriend make about parenting. For example:

  • I heard of a family of six kids, where the parents were drug addicts. They would leave the kids at home alone to fend for themselves, and go and get high on drugs with their friends. The day to day life for these parents was just as if their kids did not exist! (Fortunately, child protective services removed the kids from these negligent parents, and they were adopted by a caring couple.)
  • On the other hand, suppose you and your partner decide to practice attachment parenting, which Google defines as

    an approach to raising infants that aims to promote a close relationship between the baby and its parents by methods such as feeding on demand and letting the baby sleep with its parents

    Clearly, your life after baby will be dramatically different if you choose to practice this parenting way of life.

So you will need to talk with your girlfriend about what your parenting philosophy will be. For instance,

  • Will you both be working, or will one or both parents stay at home?
  • How involved does she expect you to be in your child's life?

When my first child was born, my wife was a stay-at-home-mom, so she was responsible for most of the childcare (breastfeeding, changing diapers, etc). We were fortunate that my mother was able to travel to live with us for the first few weeks, and help with cooking, cleaning, laundry and childcare.

After a few months, we figured out the routine of naps, but it took us a few years and additional kids before we really figured out sleep training for night sleeping. You should really read books and talk to people about sleep training, it is extremely important!

As the kids grew into toddlers and kindergartens, my interactions with them as a father have changed. I would have to read books to them, sing songs with them, and play with them. My eldest can now read by herself, and sometimes the kids will entertain themselves, such that they don't need my attention so often. But as the kids have gotten older, I find myself spending more time teaching them things, such as piano, writing or math.

One of the other most significant differences before and after kids is that you and your partner will have much less time without kids around. Almost all of our time is spent with at least one of the kids. You will have to consciously make time regularly to leave the kids with parents/babysitters so that you can find time to enjoy your marriage/partnership.

I would also encourage you to see if you can find other families from which you could learn by observing, or even by asking them questions. In addition, you could try to babysit for a family with young kids. Another possibility, if you attend church, is you could try to help out in the Sunday School to teach young kids.

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We cannot answer this for you, it depends 100% on you, your wife, your children and your circumstances. There is a spectrum ranging from pure, lifelong bliss to pure, lifelong horror.

One thing is clear: a child, much more than a pet, is something you do not simply send back if it is not to your liking. It will bring out the best, and the worst in you and your wife. If you have been fighting a lot before, you will fight more later, very likely. If you didn't fight before, you probably will, now.

It will constrain your choices in many decisions much more than before. You will find out emotional things about yourself that you never knew. You will find out how much stress you can really stomach, and you will find out what happens with you if your maximum stress level is exceeded substantially.

Back to the question: the day to day life as a father is simply what you make it. If you decide that the child is the business of your wife, then nothing much needs to change. If, instead, you decide to go all out, then you will re-prioritize literally everything and your life will change totally.

  • These are very good points. One of the stereotypes out there is a woman getting pregnant in an attempt to hold onto a guy, but the reality is that that would be more likely to break up a couple. Children add stress to their parents' relationship; they amplify whatever differences/disagreements you already have, so if you don't have a very solid bond to begin with, they can cause your relationship to fail. That's part of why there are so many divorced parents out there. – peyre Dec 26 '16 at 17:06
  • "If you decide that the child is the business of your wife, then nothing much needs to change." .... weeelllllll, that could be true if your wife also agrees and if she also continues to agree after the baby is here and if you consider a massive realignment of your wife's entire life to be not much of a change, then, sure. If that's not all true but you go in with that "decision", you are in for a shock! – mattdm Dec 26 '16 at 17:47
  • Yes, of course, @mattdm. Read the "you" as plural, and of course it is a very theoretical point. As in the first paragraph, the last one is there to define the range of what could happen, more to make sure the OP sees that it does not make much sense to ask what will happen, but to work it out on his own (with the knowledge he has about himself, his wife and so on). – AnoE Dec 26 '16 at 17:53
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Your genes tell you to reproduce but it is a serious task that needs rational decisions. Asking other people what you should do is not the right way to rationality. Nobody will admit that they made the wrong decision in taking children. Make a list a give each item a value. Do you mind being the responsible person. Can you withstand a whining child. How are you when you are kept awake. Do you want to invest most of your time in a child. What will you do when the child is born with a defect. Parenthood does not stop at a certain age, you could very wel have worries for the rest of your/their life. How are you with children. Take some for staying for a week. Making sure it is not the genes talking is the hardest bit. Do read some literature but be realistic about it. As it is the basis of all life it will probably be rewarding, but many people have children because they want sex not because they want children. It is a hard bargain to make the right decision and you will never be sure. just hang on to your decision, however hard it is at some times, and you'll be all right.

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I have 6 kids, 2 by blood and 4 by adoption. They are ages 15-24. As others have said, every kid is different. But all of them are hard work for the first couple of years. That being said, is there anything greater to do with you life than to bring up another human being? Make no mistake, to be a good parent, you will have to sacrifice at times. You will have to serve and not just be served. But think it is worth it. As for books, "Bringing up Boys" by Dr. James Dobson is very good.

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    I highly recommend discarding any book by James Dobson. Just my opinion as a doctor, mother, wife, Christian, female and former operator of a free drug addiction and mental illness clinic. – anongoodnurse Dec 25 '16 at 5:41
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    For an opinion from an atheist, father, husband, IT professional, I'd agree with anon on the James Dobson stuff. Some misguided, unhelpful stuff in there. – Rory Alsop Dec 25 '16 at 9:45
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    "Bringing up Boys" doesn't sound like it would help much with daughters, and there's a 50% chance that's what the OP would have. – Acire Dec 25 '16 at 15:11
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    I have to agree with anongoodnurse & Rory. Steer clear of anything by Mr. Dobson unless you're willing to bring your kids up emotionally scarred. He heads an extremist Catholic organization that makes the current Republican party look wildly liberal. – peyre Dec 26 '16 at 17:01
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    The gentleman asked for a book. As a dad of four sons, I recommended one by the former head of Focus on the Family. That program was on over 1200 radio stations at one time and he has spent his life writing books on the family. Perhaps your views don't agree with his or mine. But he is as mainstream as you can get. I would love to hear from some more "tolerant" and "open-minded" people. – Dadofsix Dec 27 '16 at 1:21

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