Build Your New Family Dynamic in 6 Easy Steps

[Note: Something like 99.9% of the awesomeness and 100% of the ideas in this post came directly from The Best Mom, my wife.]

Introducing Beanie (almost 5) and Bug (almost 3) to Baby Squish was a long-term project. FullSizeRender

It had to be: a baby coming into our family would completely change the entire dynamic. Their roles were established and once the baby was born, would never be the same again.

We had to prepare them over several months and utilize multiple tactics to make sure they excitedly showered Squish with love, and knew how to act around him.

  1. Constant References: We first told the kids about the impending arrival roughly four months in advance. There was no real reason to loop them in earlier, since they didn’t know what was happening. But after they knew that a baby was coming? We spoke about ALL THE TIME. In the car to and from school. At dinner. Before bed. Running errands. A day didn’t go by that we didn’t mention the baby.
  2. Engage Their Brains: We knew that just talking about the baby would definitely familiarize them with the baby’s arrival, but wouldn’t be enough. Later in the pregnancy, we started asking them questions about the baby. Would it be a boy or a girl (since we didn’t know!)? What were they most excited about? What did they want to teach the baby? We found that asking these questions allowed us to build their excitement every day.
  3. Give Them Something New: Their world was about to change in ways they had no control over. We needed to counteract that, so they both had a sense of newness in their lives beyond the baby. Best solution? Upgrade their bedrooms!
    1. First, we moved our daughter out of a toddler bed and into a twin bed! This was the most exciting change in her daily life since…moving into the toddler bed. Since she loves rainbows and unicorns, we decorated her entire room in them (plus a Star Wars poster she was beyond excited about!). Now, every day, she went to sleep and woke up in her happy place.
    2. Second, we transitioned our son out of the nursery and crib into his “big boy room” and into our daughter’s old toddler bed. Her told us he wanted his new room to be a firetruck. So we went to work, strategically spray-painting the white toddler bed into the best firetruck bed ever. (separate post on that coming one of these days)
    3. Separately, they also got new “big brother/big sister t-shirts to wear when the baby arrived. We kept these as visible to the kids as possible over the final week of the pregnancy, so they could see them and get excited to wear them.
  4. Involve Them In Prep: Another great way to get kids excited about a new baby is to have them actively involved in getting ready. Giving them small jobs, like taking a box from one room to another, or helping check and replace batteries on swings and toys are things they can do that are meaningful contributions. Plus, it provides a fun parent-kid activity away from the TV.
  5. Gifts From The Baby: Let’s be honest here, little kids prefer to get instead of give. We bought the kids gift bag from “the baby” that included play sets, pajamas, and other fun things. As soon as the baby was born, my parents dropped these bags at the hospital, so when they brought the kids a few hours later, there were magically presents from the baby to Beanie and Bug! We also said that Amzi catered the room with hospital graham crackers. Don’t judge – it got the job done. Both kids gave the baby kisses and thanked him for the presents…and the snack.
  6. Snuggles All The Time: The best way to build that new sense of family belonging and responsibility is to be together. Sure, we aren’t trusting our kids to babysit, or even hold the baby unsupervised. But finding those key moments where we can all snuggle in bed, or Beanie can hold the baby while sitting on a couch next to Mommy, or Bug can sneak in a quick kiss…those go a long way. That is where the magic is. We started this the day #3 came home from the hospital.

Our new world is just getting started. We know there are mega-challenges ahead, most of which we can’t even imagine right now. But making sure our foundation — our happiness and togetherness as a family — is set, will help us stay strong in the weeks ahead.

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The Bittersweet Beginning

With the impending arrival of Baby #3 comes a somewhat harsh reality: We are done.

We don’t intend to have any more kids, which evokes a mess of emotions.

  • Joy: Three kids! How lucky are we? Watching them grow up healthy and happy will be the greatest joy a parent can have.
  • Completion: In football, three-and-out is not a good thing. It means no touchdown. Or even a field goal. But this is more a sense of accomplishment and finality. We reached the end zone. And retired on top.
  • Sadness: This is where it gets bittersweet. We will never expect another kid. That’s sad, right?

 

For nearly six years, we’ve been planning for babies, building our lives around the expectation of children. It’s been six years of fun, adventure, and growth. Six years of transformation, personally and professionally, for both of us.

We started it as ambitiou12924499_10101003302540599_8843305299805675720_ns newlyweds, living the sweet city life with our puppy.

We bought a house and left for the suburbs.

Had a girl. Then a boy.

Became mini-van owners. [They are so practical!]

Decided two kids definitely did not bring enough craziness to our lives.

Along the way, we grew our careers significantly, traveled extensively, and lived meaningfully.

And now this phase of life, which has brought me more satisfaction and happiness than any other phase, is just about done forever.

Nine years ago, my grandfather passed away. A form of leukemia he had been fighting for quite some time took him from us. At the time, I was in my mid-20s, getting over a traumatic break-up, and recovering from a wrong-turn in my career.

As I mourned my grandfather, I had a moment of self-reflection that honestly caught me off-guard.

I felt like, with the loss, I had moved up a rung on the “mortality ladder,” one step closer to the end. With my grandfather gone, the lineage was my dad, then me. It was a strange notion, especially since I still had two living grandmothers. But, for some reason, the loss of a grandfather struck a chord with me. It was a clear marker that my future was getting shorter and my past was getting longer.

I drove my grandmother home from a family dinner a few days after the funeral and she told me, “It just went by so fast.” Talking about her life with my grandfather.

Single, confused, mourning…it scared the shit out of me.

An innocently ignorant phase of my life was over. Forever. And I knew I had to live differently. Taking advantage of every opportunity, because they may be in limited supply.

The clock was ticking and wasn’t stopping.

A few weeks later, I met the woman that would be my wife and the mother of my children. Not long after that, I re-imagined my career.

One phase ended, paving the way for something different. And better.

That “better” phase is about to end. I’m beyond excited about what’s next…I know that after “better” comes “best.” But I still feeling like I took another step on the mortality ladder. And I’ve got the next generation lined up behind me.

This is the phase that I, like my grandmother before me, will eventually look back on as going “too fast.” It will be a bittersweet beginning to a new chapter.

 

Advice Needed: Time for All Three

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Quality Time Can Be Anywhere

Adding a third child to our family is pretty much the most exciting thing to happen to our family ever.

We’ll have a new human person to play with!  Plus, both Beanie and Bug will be big siblings, completely changing their dynamic with us and each other, and the baby.

But besides excitement, I’m honestly feeling another emotion right now: anxiety. But not for the reasons you may think.

Sure, having another mouth to feed and behind to wipe and such is a daunting task. The responsibility is immense. But we’ve done that before. Twice. I’m not worried about that.

No, my anxiety is as much logistical as it is practical.

Our two kids both have their full calendars – daycare, soccer practice, swim lessons, birthday parties, playdates. After the baby is born, I’ll be “owning” those calendars for a while, preparing, packing,  picking-up, everything.

Add a baby to the mix and I’m sincerely concerned about spending enough quality time with all three.

For dads of three (or more) – how do you balance time with all of your kids?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart of the Matter

As parents, we pass a lot of our traits on to our children.

We see ourselves in their actions and realize that the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

Sometimes it’s adorable (“Let’s watch baseball!”). Sometimes it’s horrific (“Where did you learn that word???? Oh…me. Got it.**”). Needless to say, it’s always an adventure…and even a game. Can you “program” your kids to be a better version of you?

[**When I was two, I apparently ran around a pharmacy screaming “SH*T!” repeatedly.]

But what about the things they can inherit from you besides behavior? Eye color. Hair color. Height.Those are definitely passed down across generations. It’s fun to have someone running around the house that looks a bit like you, right?

But what about health problems.

Knowing that your health history could impact your kids from Day One…this is what keeps parents-to-be awake a night.

For our kids, it was all about their hearts.

I was born with a heart condition that required surgery when I was an infant. Nothing to worry about now – 100% fixed and zero complications (*knocking on wood*). And, while I visit my cardiologist for regular check-ups, the condition has had virtually zero impact on how I live my life. But I was really fortunate. Others with the same condition I had aren’t as lucky.

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Me, circa 1983

When we first started talking about having kids, well before we were married, my heart surgery was a big topic of conversation. Was the condition hereditary? [Not likely, but…] And if it was, what types of procedures exist today that weren’t available when I was a patient? Would my children be as lucky as I was?

Every time we’ve gone in for sonograms with all three kids, the first thing I look for is the heart. Even without going to medical school, I could identify any problem areas pretty easily after 30+ years of cardiologist visits.

Thankfully, neither of my children have any cardiology issues, and all tests show the new baby will be free of heart troubles, as well.

For me, this takes on an added meaning. My kids didn’t inherit the thing I feared them getting the most. So now it’s on me and my wife to instill them with the best things possible. Making sure they face the world with confidence, balance optimism with realism,  and take advantage of all opportunities in front of them…and fight for the ones worth fighting for.

Still, the occasional naughty word is going to come through. Sorry. I think I get that from my mother.

 

 

22 Items for the Hospital “Dad Bag”

ryk hospitalEvery movie or TV show with an expectant mother talks about “The Bag.” You know, the one that is packed and waiting by the door for Momma Bear’s water to break while she is sitting on the toilet, so you can then fight city traffic to get to the hospital, with her screaming in pain and you screaming in fear? Duh.

Spoiler alert: Real life isn’t quite exactly like that. [However, that happened with our daughter – a GREAT story for another time.]

In reality, “The Bag” may be more than one actual bag. And for good reason.

While Momma Bear is by all definition a patient at the hospital, you, my friend, are a visitor. Your comfort is last on anyone’s to-give-a-crap-about list.

The time you spend in the hospital will be hectic and restless, as you try to contort yourself into a position to get a few minutes of rest on the Least Comfortable Surfaces Ever. I used capital letters, because I’m certain it has to be trademarked. Hospital visitor couch/beds are the worst. Know it. Acknowledge it. Move on with your life.

Putting comfort to the side, you, pops, have a lot of responsibility as a documentarian (just be careful where the lens is pointed at all times), advocate, and part-time medical assistant (trust me, it will happen and you will go pale. Suck it up.)

So, let’s assume that you read and did the 7 Things Dads Must Do Before Baby Arrives and present the follow-up list of items for the “Dad Bag.”

  1. Cell phone
  2. Cell phone charger
  3. Laptop computer
  4. Laptop charger
  5. Video camera
  6. Video camera charger
  7. Bluetooth/wired speaker
  8. Speaker charger (notice a pattern?)
  9. Deodorant
  10. Protein snacks – for the long-haul
  11. Sugary snacks – for the bursts
  12. Sports drink (like Gatorade) – Momma Bear will want it after delivery
  13. Toothbrush
  14. Toothpaste
  15. 24 hours worth of any medication you take
  16. Dollars and coins (for vending machines)
  17. Written Birth Plan – have it in writing in case your brain goes blank. It happens.
  18. Pediatrician’s number – you’ll want to call them soon after baby arrives
  19. Reading material – bring a magazine or book, but you’ll be too amped to actually read it
  20. Comb/brush/hair product – you’ll want to look as human as possible in pictures
  21. Sneakers – if labor is extended, you’ll be walking around the hospital to get things, uh, moving
  22. Anything else Momma Bear wants you to pack. You did this to her. The least you can do is carry some stuff to the hospital.

 

electronics

7 Things Dads Must Do Before Baby Arrives

The end stage of pregnancy is strange for everyone involved. Momma Bear is uncomfortable (at best). And Poppa Bear is waiting on pins and needles for the new Baby Bear to arrive.

For Dads, it can feel like there is literally nothing to do at this point, as you wait for active labor or a scheduled Cesarean. [All of our kids were delivered via active labor, so that’s the perspective I can share.]

electronicsCharge Everything Every Day

Phones. Cameras. Laptops. Portables Speakers. Make sure that every device you will need on-site for delivery is at 100% charge. Also, put all of the cords in a bag you will take to the hospital/delivery center. Highly recommend a “dad bag” for such things.

Clear Device Memory

Memory cards, device memory – clear it all. Who wants to see “iPhone Memory Full” when you are taking pictures of your new bundle of joy? We have an external hard drive for all kid-related photos and videos. Makes it so easy to clear devices.

Just Choose Sleep

You’re holding on to the last vestiges of no children (or just one less than you currently do). I get it. But this is no time for binge-watching House of Cards, bud. Trust me, you will have plenty of time in the coming weeks, as babies LOVE letting you stay up all night. Keep your latest obsession for then. Plus, let’s just say Momma Bear is in active labor for a long time. You’ll wish you slept tonight instead of staying up to watch literally anything.

Bathe, Ya Filthy Animal

Once it’s go-time for delivery, you switch into Dad Mode. You’ll be at the hospital/birthing center where you are NOT the patient. They do not support you there, nor should they. Plus, after the baby comes, you won’t want to leave. So stay clean…it may be a while before you can freshen up you musk. [Note: toss some deodorant into the Daddy Bag. Please.]

Groom, Ya Filthy Animal

Chances are pretty damn high that over the next few weeks, you’ll be taking pictures you will cherish for a lifetime. Every day when you wake up past, say, 36 weeks into the pregnancy, you could end up meeting your baby for the first time. It’s an event you’d want to remember. So if you were thinking about getting a haircut, do it. If you were thinking experimenting with a new facial hair style, this may not be the time.

Stock the House

Hunting and gathering is part of our instinct. We want to provide for our families. And a new baby kicks those hard-wired instincts into high gear. However, this is the 21st century. As a modern dad, you want to bond with your baby over those precious few hours and days. The last thing you want to do is stand in line at the grocery store. Also, when the influx of friends and family come to see the baby – let them help you so you can stay home.

Support Without Overwhelming

Like I said above, this is a strange period of time in a woman’s pregnancy. Something little can mean EVERYTHING. And something that feels big can mean NOTHING. And since each pregnancy is different, even on Baby #3, like us right now, there are new experiences to be had. Your job is to support. Be calm. Ask questions. But don’t be annoying about it. Momma Bear likely has as many questions as you do. You aren’t a doctor (…unless you are, then, apologies, doc), you’re a dad-to-be. Enjoy the ride.

The Umbilical Dilemma: Cutting the Cord

ScissorsBelly buttons are magical.

We all have them, but we don’t generally think, on a regular basis, about WHY we have them. And if you do, umm, ick.

Our belly buttons were our conduits to nutrients in utero. Not to be confused with In Utero. [Click the link to look it up, kids.] Basically, the umbilical cord connected us to placentas, which are so nutritious, some parents actually eat it. I’ll take a pass, but suit yourself. Chop off the cord, you get a belly button.

 

Here’s the crazy part:

Doctors and scientists still don’t know when you should separate baby from the placenta by clamping or cutting the cord. We’ve been at this birthing babies thing for a little bit of time, but this is still somehow up in the air.

A recent study showed something interesting: if babies are attached to the placenta via umbilical cord longer, it may provide cognitive benefits years down the road.

Over-simplifying: waiting a few minutes to cut can make your kid healthier and smarter.

On the other hand, babies can be deprived of oxygen during delivery and clamping the cord can apparently help doctors diagnose if that’s the case.

With our third kid arriving soon, we are discussing the talking points we’re going to share with the doctors and nurses in the delivery room. This study definitely gives us food for thought. Still not going to eat a placenta, though.

[Image via CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12418]