Building a Family

“The hardest part for me is she's still the center of my universe
and I know I'm not the center of hers anymore." - New Dad

Building a Family

“The hardest part for me is she's still the center of my universe and I know I'm not the center of hers anymore." - New Dad

Your Family’s Cornerstone

A good relationship between Mom and Dad is necessary for a strong and happy family, but a new mother’s whole world is focused on her baby. This means you have to take the lead, or the relationship will suffer.

Mom is usually the foundation for a family, but Dad needs to be the cornerstone, anchoring your family by taking the initiative on your relationship in terms of teamwork, organization, problem-solving, and romance. If this has not been your forte, especially when it comes to romance, it's time for you to dive in or it will not happen.

The first sleep-deprived months are a minefield of potential conflict as you both struggle with and sort out your new roles.  This is also your family’s formative period when you learn to work together to handle conflicts, despite still having too much to do.  Spending that time being ticked off at each other over the standard triggers new parents encounter is the norm, and is hazardous to the health of the family. 

Prepare with a proven approach that new parents find simple, constructive and effective. If you haven’t already, check out our Invest In Your Relationship

Russell: Proactive Conversations (2:25)

Neal & Jaclyn: Splitting Responsibilities (1:33)

“The hardest part mentally for me is that she's still the center of my universe and I know I'm not the center of hers anymore. This makes me sound spoiled, I'm sure, but remember: we've been looking after each other for 10 fun years. I know it's supposed to be this way, and I chose her and I'm attracted to her because she's responsible, but it still feels wrong. I'm not done with the transition yet. I know she’s progressed to a place I haven’t yet, but I know I will get there.”

Mommy Brain, Daddy Brain

Brain research on new moms and dads has opened a window into what's going on in you and your partner's brains as you become parents. Also, with the experiences of many new parents to draw upon, there are a few things both of you will want to understand about each other.

What's On Her Mind?

What's on her mind? Not you. In Boot Camp for New Moms, both rookie and veteran moms tell our coaches what they feel is on their minds, and this illustration represents what they say. The mind space she previously allocated to you is now largely devoted to her baby. Her thoughts about herself have also declined, along with everything else on her mind. She has a voracious appetite for any information about babies, which includes alarmist, clickbait nonsense she gets from the media and internet. If you think she no longer cares much about you, you’re half right. She still cares for you, just not nearly as much. 

READ: Why She's Crazy and You're Stupid 

Check out our full Mommy Brain, Daddy Brain section

mommy pregnancy brain

Heads Up on Key Issues

You and your partner are doing something momentous, which is easily forgotten when you're debating who should get out of bed this time for a screaming baby. You already know new moms tend to be tough on new dads; here are some additional factors you need to be aware of:

Taking care of Mom is usually a new dad’s first priority, while he is her last. The dads we heard from in Boot Camps understood a new mom has more pressing matters on her mind than him, but were shocked at the depth of their disconnection. We talked to new moms too; they hadn’t thought about Dad at all. 

In 1992 we started telling the dads-to-be to “plan on being dumped when your baby arrives.” Now biological research tells us how and why moms dump dads; at birth, she gets a flood of oxytocin and then booster shots from her baby every time she holds him. You used to generate most of her oxytocin, but her now overwhelmed system gets more than she needs and doesn’t want any more. It’s tough to get used to her rejecting your caresses and cuddles; your biology helps out some by substantially reducing your testosterone for the first six weeks after the birth.

Plan on getting dumped so you will be able to respond constructively with patience. BTW, the research shows that the way back into her heart is for her to see you caring for your baby.

Nowadays, the tribe and village are largely gone and a mother’s primary support is the dad, so you have a lot on your plate and you're on your own. Birth is when it gets real; once the baby arrives, your support is what she’ll remember in the years ahead. Bottom line – your performance during this crucial post-birth period will form the basis for her new perspective of you as the father of her child and her partner as a parent. The long-term potential of your actions during this initial period will easily justify any effort you can muster, and then some. 

Her hormonally induced aggressive behavior during pregnancy will amplify conflicts you experience as a couple and may identify relationship challenges that will likely become more acute after your baby arrives. While the advice of dads is to support her no matter what, your relationship is a two-way street and needs both of you doing your part. 

Her baby onboard status dramatically shifts the balance in your relationship to her needs, and she may leverage this in your conflicts. This dynamic is a big part of why new parents go south, and there is a point where your patience needs to end and constructive engagement begins. Check out our Relationship section for ideas on how to proceed. There is no magical solution, but you can assume that if you don’t act, her behavior will fester and become more entrenched.

Building A Team

Your baby needs Mom and Dad working together. You do too, and so does Mom; it's by far how families work best.

So what does teamwork between parents look and feel like? Trust, appreciation, collaboration, tag teaming, communication, synergy, working out problems, sharing the load, a common vision for your family, backing each other up, a positive attitude, attention to each other’s needs, optimism for the future, balancing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, etc. Not all days, of course, but with commitment and some luck, most days. 

If you work as a team, the work gets handled efficiently, she feels supported, has lower stress, is happier, thinks of you in positive terms, and looks forward to your time together. You will also feel more engaged with your baby and family.

To parent as a team, you’ve got to have some proactive discussions, and get on the same page. Check out our Agenda for Starting a Family to cover common new parent challenges. Also, the checklists in the next section are simple tools that will help you stay on track.

Discuss how you might work out sleeping after your baby arrives. Talk about each of you having a four-hour block to be “off duty” on everything each week; this is more for her. Talk about maintaining your romance; this is more for you. This is how you build a parenting team.

We all have our bad moments. And when you do, the greatest thing in the world is a partner who can tell when you’re at the end of your rope or one to whom you can say, “I can’t deal with this right now, can you take over?”

Nothing creates a feeling of closeness between parents like working together on building a family. It greatly impacts how much you enjoy the time you all spend together and makes every aspect of your life with your new family better. When you team up with Mom on baby care, it lowers the friction in your home, strengthens a relationship between both of you, and improves the relationship each of you has with your little one.

There are many elements that factor into how we parent: our family experience as a child, personality, culture, religion, temperament and whether we're dads or moms. It makes sense that your partner and you have different parenting styles, which can be great for raising well-rounded kids. 

Unless you end up fighting over your differences, which is bad for kids and parents. It also precludes constructive solutions in which Mom and Dad balance each other out on Mom’s addiction to stress-inducing, clickbait nonsense on the internet, and dad’s aversion to perhaps keeping the kitchen clean. 

One of the coolest things about the karma of parenting is that we pass on the best of ourselves to our children, or more accurately, that’s what they tend to adopt. Yet as parents, we tend to focus on negative factors in each other. To lead with respect for each other’s differences, pick out one good thing that you would like your child to get from Mom, and ask her to do the same regarding you.

Here are common hurdles you can anticipate, and then get beyond, by just talking about them:

  • Biology drives Mom to be super-attached to her baby, which can make Dad feel like he’s on the outside looking in. 
  • Mom may resent Dad because she feels like the baby hasn’t impacted his life as much as hers. 
  • Dad will feel like he’s not appreciated for his contribution.
  • Due to lack of sleep, nerves will be frayed and patience with each other will be in short supply
  • You’ll both have less couple time to build up positive “money in the bank” in your relationship, which is what keeps it strong and helps you weather the adjustment.
  • Both of you can become dissatisfied and not know how to change it

Whatever the issue is, just talking will generally get you over it.

The teamwork that is carried out in your house is much more than teamwork. It’s a reflection of the strength of your relationship and how you are supporting each other as parents. It’s a sign of the trust and respect you have for each other in caring for your new baby. It’s an opportunity to take your family to a whole new level, one that gets lost for two-thirds of new parent couples.

Edel & Ryan: Always Teamwork (1:50)

Organizing Your New Family

So just how do new parents build a happy family? Step-by-step...

There will be many issues to sort out including deciding who does what with the large workload that accompanies a baby. These decisions will cover new turf for both of you and involve an enormous number of choices, choices you may not agree on. Conflict is normal, and it develops quickly and festers with either too much or nothing said, so learning to get beyond it is essential.

After nights of being awakened 3-4 times to care for your baby, you will suffer from a case of compromised attention and negative moods. New moms have a lot of added stress, and both of you can become ill-equipped for collaboration and compromise. It’s good to have a plan when it hits. 

Fun is one of the first casualties, and that’s exactly what can help you the most. Fun helps you let off steam, manage stress and develop a better attitude. It generates new energy, rejuvenates you, builds family bonds and makes you happy. Learn to laugh at your circumstances.

You become real partners. You talk about the important issues and get on the same page before the birth. Once the baby arrives, you learn and cope as best as you can for the first weeks, and figure out how to manage the workload. Then you work your problems out, and after a few months, you do a reset to get out of the typical new parent ruts. 

This sounds sensible, but round-the-clock baby care, hormones, and sleep deprivation triggered by the birth can sweep “sensible” aside. So we developed some tools to keep you on track:

New Family Checklists

This is a simple, effective way to get a good start as a family. They are similar to a checklist a pilot goes through before launching a jetliner but much shorter. These lists get all the important issues addressed regularly and efficiently. 


Make Your Family Special

Family traditions are the glue that holds a family together. They help kids feel secure and loved and makes their family unique and special to them. Traditions like camping trips, outings with Dad, and building things together even though it takes twice as long. Little things like nicknames, a song when you give them a bath, and peek-a-boo are traditions too. However you do, it'll work great. 

You are inventing your own family culture, so have fun and make it your own.  Your ethnic background, favorite sports teams, bands, religion, and holidays provide lots of opportunities. Be creative; one dad was seen dipping his baby’s toe in his ice cream cone and sticking it in her mouth. She couldn’t get enough. 

Starting a tradition with a baby may seem a little premature, but since the longer you observe a tradition the stronger it is, it’s never too early to start. 

  • Give your baby a nickname (even in the womb), and write it down.
  • Play your music during the last month so your child is a fan from the start.
  • Peek-a-boo turns into hide-and-seek which turns into flashlight tag.
  • Build a fort with blankets and couch cushions. Start simple when they start crawling and expand your fort to the point they can help build it.
  • A ride in a front carrier to the hardware store for introductions to every tool known to man; baby girls are just as fascinated as boys at nine months. 

It is also never too early to start thinking of things you want to do with your child as they grow.

  • A secret handshake for just you and your child; start with a fist bump and then expand from there; here is a little inspiration.
  • Make Saturday breakfast together, or make it a road trip with Dad.
  • Fishing starts with a toy in the bathtub.
  • Plant corn in the yard with your toddler. He will slowly become amazed at how tall it gets and will be an enthusiastic farmer the next year.
  • Get your six-month-old to swimming lessons and then to the beach a year later. Going to the beach is an awesome tradition.
  • Read a story, sing a song, say a prayer; the traditional still works great.

“There were five kids in our family and my dad was a doctor and worked long hours. But he would spend every Saturday with us kids, and we'd all go do something. We'd do things like go to Disneyland, out to lunch, hike, anything we wanted to do. We knew we could always count on it and we all loved it. I think my mom was the one that loved it the most, though.” -  Veteran Dad

“I'd never told a story before, but when I had a one and four-year-old, I found inspiration in a Native American ancestor. Our stories revolved around an Indian family that just happened to be like ours (they added two more children as well), and those amazing kids did cool and amazing things. Like caring for a baby eagle and returning him to his nest, taming horses and inventing irrigation. We were even involved with warring tribes but always were the peacemakers. Of course, Dad was a cool and amazing Chief, brave and strong with a great bod and a tribe that happily followed his lead.” - Veteran Dad

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