How To Pick the Perfect Baby Name

Choosing a baby name is the best task of being an expectant parent. Sure, you have a nursery to build and a stack of baby books to read and once this kid pops out your life will never be the same. But you also have this — the opportunity to give your child an identity that he will carry for the rest of his life.

Now, finding the perfect name isn’t easy. First, there are many names to choose from and most the good ones are taken, either by people from your past who you’d prefer have no association with your child or by your asshole brother-in-law, who stole your dream name for his son just last month. Also, your partner obviously has a say in the matter, which means you’ll have to agree and compromise. But worry not, because today we’re covering all these issues and more. Here now is your painless but complete guide to finding the perfect baby name.

Make A List

When my wife was pregnant, I bought a big book of baby names and had all the intention of reading it cover to cover. I would leave no stone unturned in the quest for the ultimate name. My advice to you: don’t do this.

Don’t go A to Z. There are too many damn names. After the 2nd page of the ‘A’s I was ready to quit and name the child Aardvark. A much better approach is to use names you like to find others of a similar style.

Use the Name Matchmaker. Maybe you’ve had a baby name in mind for years. Maybe you want your kid’s name to reflect his Italian heritage. Or you want a short name so you can easily scold the child with a single syllable. BLAKE!

You can use these preferences to generate a customized list of baby names using the Name Matchmaker tool at babynamewizard.com. You have to sign up with an email, but you don’t have to confirm anything so just use a junk address. How To Pick The Perfect Baby Name

The tool lets you enter up to three example names and customize preferences for style, culture, popularity, and length. It’s also surprisingly accurate. I entered 3 of the runner-up names we had for our daughter and the database not only returned the name we decided on but others from our list as well.

Write but don’t rank. You’re brainstorming here, so write the names down but don’t worry about ranking them.

Don’t worry about middle names yet. First names are infinitely more important than middle names. Yes, you’ll need one, but it shouldn’t influence the first name decision.

Do this as a couple. When it comes to naming a child, expectant parents can follow one of two strategies. You can either a) each make a list and hope there’s overlap, or b) complete the whole process together. The latter makes it far less likely you will go off in wildly different directions.

When you feel comfortable, move on. We often believe that information drives better decisions. But too much information creates option fatigue and can actually result in poorer decisions. So don’t go searching the ends of the internet for the hidden gem of baby names. When you have a list of 8-12 names with a few very solid candidates, move on.

Make A Short List

Now that you’ve collected enough names to feel comfortable with a decision, narrow the list to 3-4 finalists.

Review and discuss. My wife and I had our list in a notebook. We’d run through it every few nights and after about two weeks, the finalists emerged almost subconsciously. Give it some time and a little thought and the contenders will show themselves. Then when you’re ready…

Make the cuts.

How To Pick The Perfect Baby Name

Select Your Name

You now have 3-4 perfectly worthy baby names. Good for you! But, of course, there can be only one. Run each name through the following tests and tiebreakers to determine the champion.

Bring in the middle name. You’ll need to make sure the initials as well as the full name vibe, so now it’s time to add the middle name.

A quick note: the middle name is a great place to incorporate a little family history. So if you want to honor Grandma Mildred, without giving her first name prominence, this is where to do it. Also, don’t be afraid to use a variant. If you think Mildred is a little too ancient, even for a middle name, use Millie instead.

Say every version of the name out loud. Benjamin James Dover is an excellent name. Benjamin J. Dover? That’s fine. So is Benjamin Dover. But Ben Dover? Not so much.

Consider the initials. If your last name is Johnson, then Pamela May is a fine first and middle name combo. But if your last name is Smith, your little P.M.S. might have a rough go in high school.

Consider the nickname. You will be saying this name many, many times. It doesn’t hurt to have a name that converts nicely into a single syllable.

Imagine the child as an adult. It’s easy to think of names only as they apply to a baby. But in two short years the child will be a walking, talking, deliberately disobeying toddler. And, of course, for most of his or her life, he or she will be an adult. Make sure the name is appropriate for all ages.

Get an outside opinion. I know The Thing right now is to not announce the name until the baby is born, but consider running it by a trusted advisor. A history buff, for example, could prevent you from raising a little Marshall Applewhite or Theodore Bundy.

Check trends for popularity. If having a unique name is important to you, make sure to check trends (available here on Baby Name Wizard). Just because Mila wasn’t popular when you picked it in 2014 doesn’t mean it wasn’t trending in that direction.

How To Pick The Perfect Baby Name

Don’t go into the delivery room without a decision. You’ll have other things to worry about. And if you’re expecting the kid to show you his name through his personality, you are expecting far too much from a newborn.

Recycle and reuse. You’ve done a lot of great work here. Make sure to save the fruits of your labor for your next child.

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10 Awesome Children’s Books That You (And Your Kid) Will Love

When my wife was pregnant, I went out and bought the fattest stack of parenting books because, like many expectant fathers, I feared I’d permanently screw this kid up before her first birthday. But as I started researching, I discovered the stuff that seemed most challenging — bonding with the child, developing her social and cognitive skills, etc. — could be handled with one simple strategy: reading aloud.

Reading to your kid promotes brain development by building communication, literacy and social skills. It’s also one of the best ways to bond with your child. In fact, reading is so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends parents read to their children daily beginning at birth.

So that’s what we did. We bought a bunch of children’s books. We asked that shower guests bring books in lieu of cards, and I built this forward facing bookshelf to entice the girl with fancy cover art.

Bookshelf

And our little reading plan worked. The girl is almost 2, and I think we’ve read to her everyday. The key to this consistency, of course, is having a solid library — books the kid enjoys and you at least can tolerate. Now, if I were an expectant father looking for 10 books that would run the gamut from newborn to toddler, this would be my list.

10. Dear Zoo

Dear Zoo is a lift-the-flap book about a kid who writes to a zoo looking for a pet. The zookeeper inexplicably fulfills the request and sends the child a series of exoctic and downright dangerous animals. The child then returns the animals because (surprise, surpirse) they’re too exoctic and/or dangerous, before eventually settling on a [SPOILER ALERT] puppy.

9. The Lion and the Bird

The Lion and The BirdThe Lion and the Bird is a wonderfully illustrated tale about friendship and loneliness. However, this book contains paper pages — whereas the rest on this list are constructed from sturdy cardboard — so to avoid your toddler turning it into confetti, wait to introduce it until she has developed the manners and dexterity to gently turn pages.

8. Ten Little Ladybugs

Ten Little LadybugsThis is a simple counting book with cardboard pages and 3D plastic ladybugs that disappear, one by one, as you turn the pages. Where do they all go? I cannot tell you that. It would spoil the surprise.


7. Baby Animals Touch and Feel

Simple yet effective, Baby Animals T&F features 5 animals, each with a uniquely textured body part: scaly feet, shiny nose, rough tongue, etc. Touch and feel books are a great way to engage younger kids who don’t yet the attention span to follow along with a story.


6. Little Owl’s Night

Little Owls NightFollow Little Owl as he visits bear, raccoon and all his other nocturnal friends throughout the forest.


5. Goodnight Moon

Goodnight MoonGoodnight Moon was published in 1947. Man, that’s old. But while the great green room has grown a little outdated, the story has not. It’s still a favorite


4. Brown Bear, Brown Bear – Slide and Find

Brown BearAnother classic, only now each page features a slide door that opens to preview the next animal. I don’t think the slide door version existed in the 90s, which is a bummer because my daughter loves it. When she gets older, I’ll complain: When I was growing up, I had to read Brown Bear without the slide door. Those were tougher times.

3. The Going to Bed Book

The Going to Bed BookWe have 3 books by Sandra Boynton, and my daughter loves all of them. But The Going to Bed Book is her favorite and is usually the last one we read before she says ‘nigh nigh’ and daddy goes downstairs to drink beer and watch sports.


2. Love Monster

Love MonsterJoin Love Monster as he searches high, low and middle-ish for a slightly hairy, a bit googly-eyed lover.


1. The Pout Pout Fish

Pout Pout FishThis is the consensus household favorite. If I tell the girl to pick out a book, there’s a 90% chance she comes back with Pout Pout Fish, which I’m fine with because the rhyme, rhythm, and repetition make for a short, enjoyable read. That’s the other thing: these books are short. If you take your time, it’s about 2 minutes from start to finish, so it’s nice to have a variety. And in your new world of outrageous childcare costs and diaper prices, a collection of $5 books is one of the best investments a parent can make.

 

The Big Ass List of Family Traditions, Christmas Edition

Welcome back to the Big Ass List of Family Traditions. Today we have the big one. Thanksgiving and Halloween are well and good, but this is Christmas, the merriest damn holiday in all the land. Children frolic over snow laden fields. Lines to see Santa stretch through shopping mall corridors. Mariah Carey’s Christmas album plays on repeat over bluetooth speakers. Christmas cookies! By God, christmas cookies are in the oven as we speak! Soon to be packaged in decorative tins and delivered by your favorite grandma. Are there haystacks in that tin? You bet there are haystacks. Will you eat the whole lot then hide your shame under 4 layers of outerwear? You know you will. Christmas transforms the otherwise cold and miserable month of December into 31 straight days of holiday cheer. So follow me, and let’s run through the most festive list of family traditions yet.

25. Get an Advent Calendar

What’s the best way to spread holiday cheer across all of December? An Advent calendar, a calendar used to countdown the days until Christmas. Each day you open a door to reveal a little surprise. There are a few options:

a. The Secret Door Calendar

Open each door to reveal a festive picture.

Advent Calendar

b. The Stale Chocolate Calendar

Open each door to reveal a festive piece of stale chocolate.

Chocolate Advent

c. The Surprise Christmas Activity Calendar

I bought this Advent calendar against my better judgement and against my wife’s wishes. But I have an idea. Next year, when our daughter is one year older, I’m going to stuff it full of activities. Weekday activites will be something simple like ‘read The Polar Express’ or ‘watch The Grinch’. Weekend activities will be more involved like ‘decorate the tree’ or ‘build a snowman’. The girl is gonna love it. She better.

Advent

d. The Christmas Book Calendar

Wrap and number books, and read one each night.

Book Advent Calendar

24. Read Christmas Books

Here are Amazon’s 5 bestselling children’s Christmas books.

The Night Before Christmas

The Night Before Christmas

Christmas in the Manger

Christmas In a Manger

Little Blue Truck’s Christmas

Little Blue Truck

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Grinch

The Polar Express

Polar Express Book

23. Watch a Movie

And the 5 bestselling movies.

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story

The Original Christmas Classics Gift Set

Classics

Elf

Elf

The Polar Express

polar-express-movie

Christmas Vacation

Christmas vacation

22. Decorate

Not sure where to start? Here’s a beginner’s checklist:

a. Hang Lights Outside

Christmas Lights

b. Get a Tree

Tree

c. Hang Stockings

Stockings

d. Hang Garland on the Banisters

Garland

e. Get a Wreath for the Front Door

Wreath

21. Take a Pic With Santa

Wanna know what $23 and 90 mins in line gets you? 2 4x6s, 2 crying kids and one Santa who, try as he might, can’t hide the fact that he’d rather be anywhere else on earth. Look closely, and you’ll also notice the quality of this image is shit. This is because the digital download was an additional $10, so I had to scan the physical print like it’s 2005. You listen to me, you bastards: for $23 and my entire Saturday morning, I should be able to relive this nightmare in digital form if I so desire.

Photo with Santa

20. Write a Letter to Santa

So you wanna tell Santa what you want for Christmas, kid? Here’s a sheet of computer paper and a forever stamp. No, we’re not going to the mall.

19. Build a Snowman

18. Go Sledding

17. Have a Snowball Fight

16. Bake Christmas Cookies

Bake Cookies

15. Send Christmas Cards

Every year I want a North Pole themed Christmas card where we dress the girl as Santa and the dog as Rudolph and it turns out super awesome and everyone loves it. And every year my wife overrules me with some family collage where I unfailingly end up looking like a dope. Example 1a:

Christmas Card

14. See a Play

christmas-carol-flyer

13. Look at Christmas Lights

Lights

12. Craft

Christmas crafts are the best crafts. Here are 3 you’ll remember from grade school:

11. Build a Gingerbread House

Gingerbread

10. Drink Eggnog

Eggnog

9. Drink Hot Chocolate

Hot Cocoa

8. Drink a Drink

Drink

7. Donate Toys

toys

6. Have a Fire

Fire

5. Listen to Christmas Music

Here’s a link to Mariah Carey’s Christmas Pandora, you know, just in case.

4. Wrap Presents

Gifts

3. Exchange Gifts

Nobody wants a Santa-sized shopping list. So instead of burning 2 month’s salary on presents for your entire extended family, simplify shopping with a gift exchange. Here are some ideas:

Draw Names

  1. Write your Christmas list on a sheet of paper, and put your name on it.
  2. Put the lists in a hat.
  3. Draw a list, and buy for that person.
  4. Receive a gift from whoever drew your name.

Secret Santa

  1. Write your Christmas list on a sheet of paper, and put your name on it.
  2. Put the lists in a hat.
  3. Draw a list, and buy for that person. Keep it a secret.
  4. Receive a gift from whoever drew your name.

Doubles

Full disclosure: I don’t know what this game is actually called. But I do know it’s fun. I played it last year and it created an atmosphere of competitiveness and greed usually absent from Christmas gatherings.

  1. Everyone brings a wrapped gift.
  2. Sit in a circle with the gifts in the middle.
  3. Select an order, youngest to oldest or whatever, and one person at a time, select a gift and open it.
  4. Once the gifts are open and everyones has one, set a timer for 10 minutes and take turns rolling a pair of dice.
  5. If you roll doubles, you can swap gifts with anyone you choose.
  6. When the timer is up, the gift you have is the gift you get.

White Elephant

  1. Everyone brings a wrapped gift.
  2. Sit in a circle with the gifts in the middle.
  3. Select an order.
  4. Whoever goes first unwraps a gift.
  5. Whoever goes next can either choose a gift from the pile or steal the unwrapped gift from the first person. If the gift is stolen, person 1 must unwrap a new gift.
  6. When subsequent players go, they can choose to unwrap a new gift or steal one from someone else.
    • A gift can only be stolen once during a turn. A new turn begins every time an additional gift is unwrapped.
    • The game ends once the last gift has been unwrapped.

2. Leave Cookies and Milk for Santa

Cookies

1. Play Santa Clause

When I was a kid, our gifts from Santa were never wrapped. They were laid out, like each pile of presents was its own toy store window display. The year Santa brought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sewer, the official headquarters for the Ninja Turtles action figures, that puppy arrived assembled, ready for me to play with as I piddled my PJs in a fit of uncontainable excitement. There is nothing like the raw, uncut joy of a child who believes some magic man just slid down the chimney and left a load of gifts. That type of happiness doesn’t exist in adulthood. But as a parent, playing Santa Clause might be the closest thing.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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The Big Ass List of Family Traditions, Thanksgiving Edition

Hello and welcome to the Thanksgiving installment of The Big Ass List of Family Traditions. If you’re looking for the Halloween edition, you can find it here. If you’re wondering why tradition is important in the first place, that’s right here.

BUT if you’re looking to baste your Turkey Day with family fun, then look no further because we got the juice right here! Do we have pumpkin pie shots on this year’s list? You bet your cranberry-lovin ass we got pumpkin pie shots! So let’s get to it and see what’s what.

Thanksgiving Morning

There are two schools of thought regarding Thanksgiving morning. You either A) get active, in an attempt to compensate for an afternoon of gluttony, or B) fully embrace inactivity and begin the day on the couch. Which is better? We’ll cover both and let you decide.

Drink Coffee and Baileys

It’s a national holiday, which means my home bar opens the moment my eyes do.

Run the Turkey Trot

Last year my family ran the Turkey Trot, St. Paul’s annual 5k. How was it? No idea. I stayed home to drink baileys and…

Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Did you know the first parade was held in 1924? That’s like 100 years ago. Now that’s a tradition!

Play Turkey Bowl Football

Not a fan of organized running but still want to get the blood pumping? Then how about some touch football?

True story: The last time I played backyard football, I was so sore the next morning, I literally couldn’t get out of bed. It was like every muscle below my waist had been torn from its connective tissue and then torn in half. This is what happens when you don’t run for 5 years and then one day sprint for 3 hours straight without any kind of warm up. Anyway, now I prefer to…

Watch Football

A day full of football is one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving; however, the Vikings play this year, so that sentiment will likely change.

The Meal

As a kid, I didn’t care for Thanksgiving. Without presents or pillowcases of candy, Turkey Day paled in comparison to its neighboring holidays. But as an adult, a weekday off of work spent eating and drinking like a medieval lord is the best present I could ask for. So with that being said, the following traditions are designed to keep the kids entertained while simultaneously allowing the adults to enjoy a well-deserved break.

Let the Kids Help With Dinner

Like with croissants. Croissants are easy. They’re pre-cut and you get to pop the dough tube. That’s always fun.

Establish a Kid’s Table

Confining kids to their own table spares me from a dinner spent listening to little Sally piss and moan about how Tommy Jr. wiped a boogie on her American Girl doll, and it saves the kids from hearing me curse openly about how the Vikings ruined Thanksgiving. Kid’s table. Adult’s table. Everyone wins. Of course, the challenge will be to keep the kids at said table. So here are some tips to do that.

Crafts. Provide construction paper and markers so the kids can design their own place settings. Then buy some fabric markers and a blank tablecloth and let them decorate that. Those two things combined should keep them busy for an entire 6 or 7 minutes.

Provide exclusive serving plates, so the kids can’t go running to the adult table anytime they want more food. Also, by giving them their own serving ware, they’ll practice table manners, passing and asking for things to be passed…I see no way this ends poorly.

Serve specialty drinks. Serving Kiddie Cocktails and/or warm apple cider will make their dinner feel fancy and exclusive. As for the adult table, take that cider and…

Add Some Bourbon

Here is a delicious bourbon cider cocktail recipe:

Ingredients 

  • 3 ounces Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon (or other bourbon)
  • 1.5 ounces cider
  • 1.5 ounces ginger beer
  • cinnamon stick for garnish

Instructions

  1. Combine bourbon, cider and ginger beer into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Stir.
  3. Strain into a glass filled with ice.
  4. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Take a Pumpkin Pie Shot

Pumpkin Pie Shots

The best thing about these shots is that I get to catch a quick buzz and disguise it as a fun, little tradition.

Ingredients 

  • 1/2 ounce Baileys (or other Irish Creme)
  • 1/2 ounce Dissarono (or other amaretto liqueur)
  • 1/4 ounce Goldschläger (or other cinnamon schnapps)

Instructions

  1. Combine ingredients in a shot glass.
  2. To make a dozen, combine 6 ounces Baileys, 6 ounces Dissarono and 3 ounces Goldschläger into a small pitcher and chill.

Wear Sweatpants

For years I’ve tried to make sweatpants a tradition. I’ve lead by example. I’ve broke barriers! It has not caught on. Please, can we make this a thing?

Break the Wishbone

wishbone

The key to the wishbone is to let your opponent do the work. Grab the bone as close to the ‘V’ as possible and don’t move. As he pulls, the breaking point will shift to his side and SNAP! May your many wishes come true.

Giving Thanks Traditions

According to Wikipedia, half of the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower died before the first Thanksgiving. Half! Christ, the inaugural Thanksgiving must have been a bummer. Anyway, let this be a reminder to those of us effortlessly existing in modern day America: We have a lot to be thankful for. Here are some traditions to help express gratitude this Thanksgiving.

Say Grace

This doesn’t have to be some holy sacrament. You can even make it a toast. Just express thanks for the food and the people there to share it.

Create a Thanksgiving Journal

Establish and maintain a notebook or Google Doc, and every year, let each family member write 1-3 things they’re thankful for.

Create a Thanksgiving Tablecloth

Same idea as the journal only you write on a tablecloth. A fabric marker won’t come out in the wash, allowing new items to be added every year.

I know gratitude can seem weird and awkward, but consciously giving thanks has its benefits, including improved physical and psychological health and increased levels of overall happiness.

After Dinner

The precise moment when the holiday season shifts from Thanksgiving to Christmas is heavily debated. Protectors of Thanksgiving insist Turkey day gets not only Thursday but all of the following weekend, while Christmas Maniacs just say screw it and hang stockings the day after Halloween. But both groups are wrong.

Thanksgiving ends when the meal is over. That is the purpose of the holiday and with that purpose having been met, it is officially acceptable to incorporate Christmas into your Thanksgiving Eve. Here are some post-dinner Thanksgiving traditions, with a few preliminary Christmas ideas included as well.

Take a Walk

Already feeling guilty about how much you ate? A walk can help regulate blood sugar and aid in digestion, which means more room for pie.

Play a Game

In addition to the classic board games, a round or two of charades or Pictionary would be interesting with 10 people full of Pumpkin Pie shots.

Draw Names for Secret Santa

Please don’t get weird Uncle Albert this year. Please anyone but him…DAMMIT!

Browse the Black Friday Ads

The only thing more intolerable than Black Friday is passing up all them sweet deals.

Make Your Christmas List

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The Benefits of Family Traditions: A Primer for New Fathers

My daughter turned 18 months old this week. This happened fast, and I was not prepared for how quickly dad duties escalated from the mindless tasks of newborn care to the doozies involved in raising this now self-aware mini human.

And here’s the scariest part…the girl won’t start preschool for 3 more years. This means until then, I am her exclusive source of education. It is my job to instill valuable life lessons deep within her impressionable little brain. The more I screw this up, the more likely she is to conjure some imaginary friend who convinces her to go grab a chef’s knife and stand over daddy’s bedside.

What I want most though — next to not raising a sociopath — is for the girl to be happy. I want to pack her childhood with so much fun and fulfillment that when she looks back on it as an adult, she shivers with nostalgia. As a parent, it’s my responsibility to manufacture these positive experiences. And as it turns out, one of the best ways to do this is with family traditions.

What is Tradition?

Tradition is defined as a belief or custom handed down from generation to generation. However, Meg Cox, tradition guru and author of The Book of New Family Traditions, believes that what we typically consider tradition is better referred to as a ritual, and she offers the following definition:

I sometimes use the words ritual and tradition interchangeably, but I prefer the word ritual because it covers more ground. It’s a stretchy word that covers everything from saying grace at the table to big ceremonies. Ritual is something you do in the same way over and over, on purpose. To me, family ritual is practically any activity you purposely repeat together as a family that includes a heightened attentiveness, and something extra that lifts it above the ordinary ruts.

Why Are Rituals Important for Children?

Instills a Sense of Belonging

Rituals promote togetherness, providing kids with a sense of belonging and security, traits that can help them adjust to the next stage in life…

Prepares Kids for College

A 1992 study performed on college students found that kids who grew up with family rituals possessed a stronger sense of identity, a trait that made them feel worthy of being liked and helped them transition to life outside the home.

Provides Security

As a father, you control only so much. A good portion of your child’s wellbeing is up to fate or God or the universe or whatever else you want to pin it on. But while I can’t prevent every boo-boo or violently threaten every playground bully (though I will try), I can provide a safe and supportive environment at home.

Decreases the Chances that Your Kid Turns Out A Screw-up

A study of 90,000 teenagers showed that kids who feel emotionally close to their families are less likely to engage in ‘risky behavior’.

Helps Navigate Change

While rituals have long been used to celebrate graduation, marriage, and many other major life changes, they can also help with transitions in daily routine. Take bedtime for example. My daughter avoids sleep like I avoid an old high school acquaintance I’ve spotted in a grocery store. But after a her bath and bottle and, like, 16 bedtime stories…presto! Right to sleep.

Provides Exclusive Family Time

I’m busy, man. Between work, maintaining the house, and constantly trying (and failing) to stay in shape, I have little time for anything else. Rituals, however, provide exclusive, pre-scheduled family time. And according to child psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim in his book A Good Enough Parent, regular periods in which a child is the center of attention is essential to his or her psychological development.

Teaches Practical Skills

A less obvious benefit of ritual is that your kid might actually learn something — a bedtime story teaches her to read, while conversing over dinner helps her communicate. If there’s anything the girl can learn without me having to lecture her 30 times, I’m all for it.

Creates Deep Emotional Experiences

Rituals create happy brains. Research shows that rituals stimulate both the left and right brain hemispheres simultaneously, creating deep emotional experiences (picture a shiver down your back). These positive emotions can lead to higher levels of overall happiness.

The 3 Types of Rituals

While rituals come in many shapes and sizes, Meg Cox recommends families establish and practice 3 overarching types:

1. Daily

A ritual doesn’t have to be some major production. Routine-based rituals can help kids navigate their day and include:

  • Family dinner
  • Bedtime rituals
  • Morning rituals
  • Before/after school rituals

2. Weekly

One fun family activity per week seems like a safe place between promoting togetherness and driving each other crazy.

  • Movie night
  • Weekend outing
  • Game night
  • Homemade pizza night
  • Saturday morning breakfast

3. Celebrations of Holidays and Major Milestones

  • Holidays
  • Birthdays
  • Graduations
  • Annual vacations
  • First and last day of school celebrations

How to Get Started Right Now

Some of my favorite traditions and most cherished memories come from being a kid during the holidays. Was there anything better? I remember our family’s Halloween parties, and Thanksgiving meals, and do you remember Christmas morning? Member!? The Christmas of ‘91 I got a Sega and omfg…16-bit graphics are what kids’ dreams are made of. To a kid, holidays are magic.

But now that I’m all grown up, I realize that was as good as it’s gonna get. You spend a few years dealing with the real world and all of its bullshit and the magic dies. This is why only the kids can hear the bell in The Polar Express…because the adults have had the magic beaten out of them by 40 hour work weeks and mortgage payments.

But since my daughter was born, a funny thing has happened: I’ve started to relive some of that magic vicariously through her. She’s reminded me of importance and awesomeness of childhood family traditions, and she’s the inspiration for this list:

The Big Ass List of Family Traditions

Here is The Millennial Man’s running list of family tradition ideas. We will start with the major holidays, adding new editions and traditions throughout the year.

Fall and Halloween Edition

Halloween Family Traditions

Thanksgiving Edition

Thanksgiving Family Traditions

Christmas Edition

christmas-family-traditions

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The Big Ass List of Family Traditions, Fall and Halloween Edition

If there’s one piece of advice I’d offer new fathers, it’s to really embrace the family activity. Traditions and rituals are shown to strengthen family bonds, provide children with comfort and security, and are often the source of the longest lasting childhood memories. Not to mention, you might kill each other if you just sit inside all day.

The good news is fall is the perfect time for family bonding. The weather is beautiful, and every hobby farm in the county is running its version of the autumn/Halloween family blowout. But should you need further incentive to get out and enjoy the season, here now, in descending order for dramatic effect, is the big ass list of family traditions, fall and Halloween edition.

30. Rake a Leaf Pile

The best way to dupe the kids into a morning of doing yard work is with the promise of an afternoon spent jumping into a pile of leaves.

29. Wear a Costume

I haven’t dressed up in 7 years, and you know what? I miss it. When I take my daughter out trick-or-treating this year, I will be in costume. That seems like a solid ‘cool dad’ move.

28. Go to a Pumpkin Patch

Family Traditions

27. Carve Pumpkins

Family Traditions

26. Don’t Carve Pumpkins

I am an awful artist, and trying to detail a pumpkin using a childproof carving knife is likely to test my patience. If you, too, aren’t much for pumpkin carving, here are a few pumpkin decorating alternatives.

25. Bake Halloween Themed Treats

If there’s one thing Halloween needs, it’s more sweets. Here’s a list of some Halloween themed snack ideas.

24. Watch a Scary Movie

I still can’t walk into an unlit room without imagining the girl from The Ring crawling out from a darkened corner. Therefore, I no longer watch scary movies. But in the spirit of the holiday, here are a few terrifying previews I’ve seen…for a few seconds…before scrambling for the remote and promptly turning the channel.

The Babadook

Goodnight Mommy

Sinister

The Conjuring

23. Watch a Scary Movie

Here is a much better list:

Halloweentown

halloweentown

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

great-pumpkin

The Nightmare Before Christmas

nightmare

Casper

casper

Hocus Pocus

hocus-pocis

Where does Hocus Pocus rank on the list of greatest holiday movies of all time? Top 10? Top 5? Higher?

22. Build Your Own Haunted House

When I was a kid, my aunt threw Halloween parties and turned her garage into a DIY haunted house. That was a strong Halloween effort.

21. Visit a Haunted House

A few years ago, my girlfriend (now wife) and I attended a ‘haunted basement’ with another couple. It was one of these new age, next level attractions designed for MAXIMUM TERROR.

They forced you to sign a waiver and gave you a safe word that would stop the show in the event that you were about to lose your mind or had shit yourself and were in need of a quick exit through the back door.

This was the last place I wanted to spend my Saturday night, but I manned up and took solace in knowing that the four of us would be together so, really, how scary could it be?

The first thing they did was split us up. Then, alone and afraid, I was ambushed by a zombie-nurse with body odor, strapped to an antique wheelchair, and pushed through some mock insane asylum while she called me ‘crazy fucker’.

It was then when I realized that the type of people who VOLUNTEER to touch strangers in a secluded room of a dark basement are the last type of people I want touching me in a secluded room of a dark basement.

Anyway, I’d stick to the basic, hands-off spookhouse.

20. Walk Through a Corn Maze

Family Traditions

19. Visit an Apple Orchard

Wanna know the best kind of apple orchard? One that doubles as a winery. Two weeks ago, I took the day off, packed up my wife and daughter, and we headed to an apple orchard and winery. The girl ate apples and played at the petting zoo, and my wife and I slugged wine. Perfect family outing.

18. Read Spooky Picture Books

Here are the top 3 from Amazon’s list of bestselling children’s Halloween books:

Little Blue Truck’s Halloween

family traditions

Room on the Broom

family traditions

The Spooky Wheels on the Bus

family traditions

17. Trick-or-Treat

I am pumped to take the girl out trick-or-treating this year…and then to taste test the candy to make sure it’s safe.

16. Start a Candy Exchange

The girl has a peanut allergy, which means she can eat about 3% of her trick-or-treating haul and exactly none of the good stuff. I have long wondered how I’m going to make this up to her but have now found my solution: a candy exchange.

Used by parents of kids with diabetes — or just those who don’t want their kids eating 5 pounds of candy — a candy exchange allows the kid to select a few pieces to retain while the rest is set out overnight for some ghoulish version of the Tooth Fairy. The Candy Fairy then leaves a toy in exchange for the candy and whisks the goodies away to a far off destination like my closet, where I can snack on the loot in secrecy until Christmas. Magic!

15. Craft

Remember Blow Pop ghosts? You know, where you wrap a Kleenex around a Blow Pop and use a Sharpie to color ghost eyes and a mouth. That is a quality Halloween craft.

14. Go on a Hayride

13. Drink Hot Apple Cider

12. Light a Candle

Fall scented candles are the best scented candles. We’re about halfway through a ‘Pumpkin Butter’ WoodWick right now and omg does it smell good. I want to light it and drink it’s wax.

Also, scent, more than any other sense, can trigger positive emotions and memories. So using a similarly scented candle every fall can activate Halloween happiness from years past.

11. Play Halloween Music

10. Take a Hike

Family Traditions

9. Decorate

My neighbor across the street rocks an immaculate Halloween display. But this year I’m going to outdo him. Poor guy has no idea he’s about to get his ass whooped in a competition he doesn’t even know he has entered.

8. Eat Caramel Apples

Family Traditions

7. Roast Pumpkin Seeds

6. Build a Bonfire

5. Tell Scary Stories

family-traditions-halloween-stories

4. Bake Apple Crisp

Below is my mom’s apple crisp recipe. This is my absolute favorite fall dessert, likely because it contains 200 calories per square inch.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1.5 cups shortening
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 5 apples
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Instructions

  1. Peel and core 5 apples. Then slice.
  2. In a Ziplock bag, mix sugar and cinnamon.
  3. Add the apples to the bag, shaking to coat. Set the bag aside
  4. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a mixing bowl and gently mix with a fork.
  5. Add the brown sugar and oatmeal to the mixing bowl. Mix gently.
  6. Add the shortening to the mixing bowl.
  7. Using a pastry cutter, cut ingredients. The final mixture will be grainy.
  8. Spray a 9×13 baking pan.
  9. Add half the mixing bowl mixture to the pan. Pat lightly.
  10. Add the coated apple slices to the pan.
  11. Cut the butter into chunks. Place on top of the apples.
  12. Add the remaining mixture to the pan.
  13. Bake at 350°F for 45 min. – 1 hour.
  14. Serve warm and top with ice cream.

3. Play Backyard Football

2. Watch Football

This Sunday I’m gonna make some apps, drink beer, dress the girl in her Vikings jersey, and as a family, we’re gonna watch the Vikings march toward Super Bowl 51. Also, I’m going to count this as a family tradition.

1. Take Pictures

I swear every year passes faster than the last. Last Halloween seems like it was only months ago. The only thing that has really changed is the girl. Last October she was a baby. Now she’s not. Next year she’ll be a mini human. The one thing I don’t want is to forget any of this. And with my trusty dad camera hanging from my neck, I won’t.

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The Safety Dad’s Guide to Babyproofing Your Home

Kids really do grow up fast. Milestones come and go, which makes fatherhood fresh and rewarding and awesome. But it is also dangerous, because while one day little Sally is learning to crawl, the next she’s cartwheeling right into oncoming traffic.

In fact, in the US alone, an average of 6 kids die each day from accidental injuries at home. So if you’re thinking — I don’t need to babyproof. My kid is smart; she won’t crawl down the stairs/eat that battery/play in the toilet — I encourage you to think again. Because while a toddler’s motor skills are continually improving, her judgement is still years away.

But worry not, because what we have here is your painless, but complete, guide to babyproofing. We’re not gonna overdo it — there’s no need to cover your walls in bubble wrap and sleep the child in a hazmat suit. No, instead we’re gonna use research and facts to uncover your home’s most dangerous areas, and then babyproof the shit out of them. Sound good?

When should I babyproof?

Some kids crawl at as early as 5 months, so the child’s 4 month birthday would, by default, be a good time to start babyproofing. But if you’ve read any baby book, you know your child is UNIQUE and SPECIAL and develops at her own rate. So if you want a custom plan for your special little girl, then the motor milestones below often precede crawling and are a sign that mobility is coming:

  • Sitting independently
  • Rolling
  • Doing mini push-ups
  • Rocking on hands and knees
  • Crawling backwards

Don’t wait too long, though, because babies learn fast. My wife and I lost a week of our lives watching the girl crawl around the house unprotected, waiting for our babyproofing items to arrive from Amazon.

Safety around the house

Some rooms are more hazardous than others, but before entering the bowels of the bathroom and kitchen, let’s look at safety throughout the house.

Stairs. A toddler has all the coordination of a frat boy after a box of Franzia, so it should surprise no one that falls are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries among children 0-4. Clumsiness becomes downright dangerous, though, when its mixed with a flight of stairs. To avoid a nasty tumble, install safety gates at the top and bottom of each flight.

Bad news: You will likely need to purchase some babyproofing items. The good news is the Equipment section at the end of this post summarizes every product we’ll cover and also includes links to specific recommendations.

Windows. Safety gates won’t prevent your child from falling from a window, but here’s what will:

  • Keep all reachable windows locked.
  • Move furniture away from windows (to prevent baby from crawling up and out).
  • Install window guards (more info in the equipment section).

Blinds. If you didn’t spring for cordless window treatments (and with the price of blinds these days who can blame you) make sure the cords aren’t a strangulation hazard:

  • Eliminate cords from the nursery and play areas.
  • Install blind cord wind ups.
  • Replace shades with looped cords, as they have been banned since 1995.

Sliding glass doors. We bought our house with all the intention of adding a deck, but then we discovered how much decks cost. Now, a sliding glass door is all that separates the kitchen from a 15 foot death drop into the backyard. If you, too, have a death drop, it might be wise to consider a permanent door stopper.

Bookcases and dressers. I just spent 10 minutes reading about tipping furniture tragedies and it ruined my day. In an effort to raise awareness regarding this not-so-obvious household hazard, the Consumer Product Safety Commission established Anchor It!, a campaign dedicated exclusively to preventing furniture related injury and death. Using the guidelines from this program, here are 3 ways to keep kids safe.

  1. Remove tempting objects from the top of furniture.
  2. Anchor top-heavy furniture to the wall using brackets, braces, or anti-tip straps.
  3. Avoid purchasing cheap, unstable furniture like this MALM dresser from Ikea, which is responsible for 3 deaths since 2014. Further details on the recall here.

Babyproof

 

Flat screen TVs. In truly tragic living room news, toppling televisions send a child to the ER every 45 minutes. The easiest way to preserve both your child and centerpiece of family entertainment? Mount the TV to the wall and ensure cords are up and out of the way. If you don’t want the TV on the wall, secure it to a TV stand using anti-tip straps.

Electrical cords. Hide cords behind furniture and eliminate instances where pulling a cord could bring an appliance down onto the child.

Electrical outlets. When drafting my babyproofing to-do list, I wondered how dangerous are outlets really? Like is the girl actually gonna find a conductive item, crawl to an open outlet, and fill it full of metal? Do I need to secure EVERY unused outlet in the house? Well, as it turns out, it depends.

Babyproof Electrical Outlets

Pictured above are two outlets. If you look closely at the tamper resistant (TR) version, you can see plastic within the vertical slots. These are spring loaded shutters, which close off access to the, how do I say this, electricity part. The only way to complete an electrical circuit and bypass the shutters is to compress both simultaneously, like when inserting a plug.

To increase home safety, TR outlets were made standard in 2008, and because of the shutters, are already babyproofed (TR outlets are usually marked with  ‘TR’ somewhere on the outlet face; however, on the outlets in our house the marking is on the metal screw plate).

Now, if your house was built before 2008, it likely is equipped with standard outlets, and you DO need to babyproof. Every year 2,400 kids suffer shocks or burns from electrical outlets, and 12 of these injuries result in death, hence the birth of the tamper resistant outlet. The good news is securing standard outlets is easy and inexpensive.

  • If you can, bump furniture up against unused outlets.
  • Use outlet covers for any remaining outlets.

Houseplants. A few years ago, we removed all houseplants (real and fake) because the dog would eat the dirt and fake moss then barf it up on the carpet. If, however, you don’t own some big dumb animal and are allowed to have nice things like houseplants, make sure they aren’t poisonous. Here is a list of the most common toxic houseplants from Better Homes and Gardens.

  • Daffodils
  • Dumb Cane
  • Easter Lily
  • English Ivy
  • Oleander
  • Peace Lily
  • Philodendron
  • Pothos
  • Sago Palm
  • ZZ Plant

Miscellaneous choking and strangulation hazards. Tiny windpipes and the incessant need to ‘mouth’ any object in sight make suffocation the leading cause of accidental death among kids 0-4. It’s important to keep all choking and strangulation items out of reach. Here are some dangerous and not so obvious hazards:

  • Beads (from toys or bean bags)
  • Belts
  • Coins
  • Daily vitamins
  • Dog food
  • Jewelry
  • Laptop cords
  • Pens (parts)
  • Phone chargers
  • Ribbon
  • Scarves
  • Ties

Button batteries. My grandma warned me about button batteries — that allegedly kids swallow them, and they burn through the esophagus in as little as 2 hours.

Now, initially I ignored this warning because it sounded a lot like old person paranoia, but then I saw this online. Then this. And then this. And now here I am warning you about button batteries. Common items that use these batteries include:

  • Calculators
  • Cameras
  • Garage door openers
  • Key fobs
  • Remotes
  • Watches

If you think your child has ingested a battery, head immediately to the emergency room. If you don’t know where the nearest emergency room is, you should probably figure that out. Signs of battery ingestion include:

  • Fever
  • Throat pain
  • Vomiting
  • Gagging
  • Difficulty swallowing

Bathroom

Drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among children 1-4, and poisoning is the 3rd leading cause among children under 1. The bathroom has water and usually prescription pills and household cleaners. Consider a gate to prevent jr from wandering in unsupervised. Additionally…

  • Set your water heater at or below 120F to prevent scalding.
  • Never leave standing water in a sink or bathtub.
  • Lock cleaners, medicine, mouthwash, toothpaste, and hair and skin products in a cupboard with a safety lock.
  • Install a safety lock on the toilet.
  • Add the Nationwide Poison Control number to your contacts 1-800-222-1222.

Note: 38% of all child poisoning cases are a result of a grandparent’s medication. If your kid’s gonna visit granny, make sure her house is safe, too.

Kitchen

I try to keep my girl out of the kitchen because of, you know, the boiling water, and glass dishes, and my wife dropping knives at a frequency that will make you swear to God she is doing so intentionally. But of course when I’m in the kitchen, the child also wants to be in the kitchen. A few simple adjustments can make for a safer cooking area.

Use high chair straps. I’m a big fan of the high chair. I plop the girl down. She’s contained. She’s off the floor and away from falling cutlery. She can see us. We can see her. We toss her some fuckin Cheerios. She lets us cook dinner. Everyone is happy.

Then, one day, the sanctity of the beloved high chair was compromised when the girl realized she could simply stand up. Fortunately, I was there to grab her, but many other children aren’t as lucky.

High chairs are the second leading baby product associated with infant injury. Of recorded cases, 93% were caused by a fall and in 66% of these incidents the child was reportedly standing or climbing prior to injury. So use the straps before you realize that you need to.

More kitchen safety:

  • Rearrange cupboards so all glass and hazardous items are stored up and out of reach.
  • Don’t leave knives sitting on the counter. Keep them in a knife block or an out of reach drawer.
  • Consider a safety lock to keep the oven closed when in use.
  • Install covers on trash and recycling receptacles.
  • Store household cleaners out of reach or in a cupboard with a safety lock.
  • Use back burners, and keep pot handles from hanging over the stove.
  • Pay special attention to appliances on kitchen islands. My daughter’s favorite thing about breakfast is grabbing at the low-hanging cords of the waffle iron and griddle.

Nursery

The baby product associated with the most infant deaths? The crib. And while it’s always important to keep sleeping areas free of stuffed animals and other suffocation hazards, take extra precaution once the child becomes mobile.

  • Lower the crib mattress to avoid climbing/tumbling out.
  • Remove mobiles to avoid entanglement.
  • Re-evaluate baby monitor placement. Now that the child can crawl and climb, a baby monitor, and its cord, need to be a minimum of three feet from the crib.
  • Use open-air toy bins to avoid slamming lids.
  • Never leave a child unattended on the changing table — the fifth leading baby product associated with injury.
  • Use only cordless window coverings on all nursery windows.

Garage

  • Store lawn products, gas and other chemicals up high.
  • Keep sharp and dangerous tools in a locker or out of reach.
  • Ensure garage doors are equipped with both automatic reverse and automatic stop features. Unsure if your garage door has these features? Watch this video.

Backyard

  • Clean up dog shit so the kid doesn’t help herself to a snack.
  • Make sure your deck has a gate and all railings are secure.
  • Use extra caution around pools and ponds.

Equipment

I have good news, and I have better news. The good news is I’m done lecturing on the dangers of your home. The better news is, regardless of how dangerous your home may be, here is a complete list of items to make it safer, all of which can be purchased right here on your computer or mobile device by clicking on the links.

Safety gates

Safety gates are available both with and without swing doors. To help determine which style is best for you, consider the following:

  1. How often is the child in this specific area?
  2. What are the consequences if I take this gate down and forget to put it back up?

For example, our stairs (going down) are right outside the girl’s nursery. Because the girl hangs out here, and because forgetting to put the gate up could mean a serious head first tumble, we installed this walk-thru gate.

Walk-thru gate (click to view on Amazon)

Baby proof Safety Gate

Rubber wall savers

Because the gate is at the top of the stairs, the installation instructions recommended I screw the gate into the wall for maximum stability. However, that sounded like a project, so I said to hell with the screws, purchased these rubber wall savers instead, and am happy to report that this gate is rock solid. You couldn’t drive a tank through it.

baby proof gate wall guard

Quick install gate

We also purchased this easily moveable bamboo gate for when the girl must be temporarily contained.

Baby proof Safety Gates


Safety locks for cupboards, toilets and ovens

Baby proof safety locks


Anti-tip TV and furniture straps

Babyproof Anti-Tip Straps


Window guards

Baby proof Window Guards


Sliding glass door guard

Baby proof sliding glass door lock


Blind cord wind up

baby proof blind cord wind ups


Outlet covers

Baby proof outlet covers


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Sources:

http://www.cdc.gov/safechild/nap/index.html

http://www.safekids.org/search?search_api_views_fulltext=grandparents+medication

https://www.cpsc.gov//Global/Research-and-Statistics/Injury-Statistics/Toys/nurseryproductsinjuries121313FINAL.pdf

http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/news-room-articles/new-study-finds-24-children-a-day-are-treated-in-us-emergency-departments-for–high-chair-related-injuries?contentid=122507

http://www.safekids.org/safetytips/field_risks/tv-and-furniture-tip-overs

https://www.health.ny.gov/prevention/injury_prevention/children/fact_sheets/birth-19_years/choking_and_suffocation_prevention_birth-19_years.htm

http://onsafety.cpsc.gov/blog/2011/02/11/baby-monitor-cords-have-strangled-children/

http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/causes/electrical/tamper-resistant-electrical-receptacles


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Childbirth: The Survival Guide for First Time Fathers

I was never confident in my ability to just ‘be cool’ while my wife gave birth to an entire child, so for the sake of remaining upright in the delivery room, I decided the anatomy of birth was better left unknown. I avoided videos, skipped labor chapters in baby books, and entered the hospital with no expectations regarding blood or pain or placentas. When it came to birth…ignorance was bliss. And this, in hindsight, was just the worst goddamn approach.

Because when labor started, and contractions disabled my wife’s ability to speak, and the medical people—now flying in and out of the delivery room—started talking about broken water and bloody show, I, balls deep in the most momentous moment of my entire existence, just sat there like some horse’s ass.

The lesson here? Know your stuff. When your partner is in early labor, know how to relieve her discomfort. As labor intensifies, know when to leave for the hospital. Most importantly, childbirth is controlled by a woman’s hormones, which can either thrive or falter based on the surrounding environment, so know how to create the right environment. How many baby books and birth classes will you have to endure to learn all this stuff? Zero. It’s all right here.

Birth: The 2 Minute Anatomy Lesson

For the average guy, interest in female anatomy begins and ends with where he sticks his wiener. But for the soon-to-be father, knowledge must penetrate a little deeper, and here’s why: medical people use labor lingo like you and your buddies use dude and fuck. Without a basic understanding of the pieces, process and terminology, you’ll have no idea what is happening. Consider this your crash course—everything you need, and nothing you don’t.

The Organs

Childbirth for Dads

Uterus (womb)
The uterus or womb is a hollow muscular organ that houses the fetus during pregnancy. As seen above, it has 2 parts; the body and the cervix.

Before conception, the body is the size and shape of a pear. It then expands with the growing fetus, and by full term, reaches the size of a goddamn watermelon! The walls of the uterus contain a muscle that is—depending on your definition of strength—the strongest in the human body and responsible for contractions during labor. Safely inside the womb is the amniotic sac, a membrane that contains the fetus and amniotic fluid. This fluid protects the fetus and provides lubrication to prevent his body parts from growing together.

Cervix
Below the body, in the lower region of the uterus, is the cervix—a cylinder-shaped pack of tissue covered cartilage that connects the body to the vagina. Think of the cervix as the baby’s gatekeeper. During pregnancy, it remains hard and closed to contain the 11 pounds worth of fetus and fluids. Then as labor begins and progresses, it effaces (softens) and dilates (opens), preparing for delivery.

The status of the cervix offers the single best estimate as to the arrival of the baby and is therefore continually monitored. Beginning in the final weeks of pregnancy and throughout the entirety of labor, the cervix will be poked, prodded, and assessed.

Vagina (birth canal)
The vagina is a multi-purpose organ, and for this purpose—giving birth—it is often referred to as the birth canal. Joined in the back by the cervix, the vagina stretches to many times its normal size as the fetus passes through and into the real world, completing his transformation into a breathing, eating, never sleeping baby.

Placenta
The lifeline of the fetus, the placenta does the work of the lungs, heart and digestive system while these organs develop. Attached to the uterine wall, the placenta delivers oxygen and nutrients from the mother’s blood through the umbilical cord to the baby.

The Terminology

childbirth for dads

Cervical effacement (aka thinning, softening, or ripening)
As labor approaches, hormones called prostaglandins transform the cervix from hard and inflexible to soft and stretchy—picture the consistency of your nose vs that of your lip. Effacement is measured in percentages. For example, a doctor may determine the cervix is 50% effaced, or halfway between not effaced and fully effaced.

Cervical dilation
As the cervix softens, it is able to dilate, creating a passage from the womb to the birth canal. Dilation is measured in centimeters, ranging from 0 (not dilated) to 10 (fully dilated).

Mucous plug
During pregnancy, the opening of the cervix is plugged with mucus, which protects the womb from outside infection. As the cervix dilates, this plug is dislodged and can pass through the vagina and, say, into a toilet. Its passing isn’t necessarily a sign that labor has started, but that it will start soon—usually within a few days.

Bloody show
Bloody show is a blood-tinged mucous plug. Because the blood is a result of ruptured capillaries in a dilating and effacing cervix, it is a sign that labor is underway.

Contractions
The tightening and relaxing of the uterine muscle, contractions push the fetus from the womb out into the real world.

Water breaking
Contractions, pressure from the descending fetus, or both cause the amniotic sac to rupture, sending a rush or slow trickle of amniotic fluid out of the womb. Most of the time (85%), labor precedes broken water. In almost all other cases, labor will begin within 24 hours. Regardless, broken water warrants a call to the doctor, because the fetus is no longer protected by the amniotic sac.

The Process: A 5 Step Guide to Birth

Nobody knows exactly how labor starts, but it’s believed that the fetus sends a message to the mother, informing her he’s ready for life outside the womb. From there, hormones trigger cervical effacement and contractions in the uterus.

Labor then progresses through 3 phases (early, active and transitional). Once the cervix dilates to 10cm, it’s time for pushing and delivery. After delivery of both the baby and placenta, your new family will be sent to postpartum for exams, monitoring, and other administrative items.

So, uh, how long does all this take?
Since no two births are the same, tying the process to a single timeline is often misleading—early labor alone can last several hours or several weeks, and both would be considered normal. But if your partner has the average birth for a first time mom, then your experience will look just like this:

Childbirth for Dads

The Many Roles of the Ultimate Labor Dad

If you’ve ever wondered how the female body can deliver an 8 pound baby, the short answer is it can’t—not without the hormones that promote labor. These hormones (oxytocin and endorphins) flourish in environments of relaxation, safety, and support. In a stressful or tense environment, however, the body produces adrenaline, which can impede labor and even cause complications.

Your role during childbirth is to create this tranquil environment, and the best way to do that is with preparation. Here’s what to expect and how to respond during each stage of the process.

Early Labor

Most often, early labor occurs at home. Use this time to a) help your wife relax—she’ll need the energy, and b) get things ready for the hospital.

Get ready. If you read our post on pregnancy, then you’re already packed. Nice job! If not, late is better than never, so install the car seat (baby legally can’t come home without one), and of equal importance, prepare your survival kit.

Childbirth for Dads

Know when to go: The 5-1-1 rule. First, know to call the doctor immediately if your partner experiences:

  • Broken water
  • Bright red bleeding or discharge
  • Decreased fetal movement

Hopefully, and most likely, things will go smoothly, and you can follow your doctor’s instructions regarding when to call or come in—standard protocol being the 5-1-1 rule, or when contractions are 5 minutes apart, 1 minute in duration, and have been this way for 1 hour. Simple enough…assuming you know how to time contractions.

Time and record contractions. The life of a contraction is as follows: begins, increases in intensity, peaks, then subsides completely before the start of the next one.

  • Duration is measured from beginning to end. The length of the contraction below is 1 minute.
  • The time between contractions is measured from beginning of contraction 1 to the beginning of contraction 2. The time between contractions below is 5 minutes.

Childbirth for dads

Early contractions will likely be 10-20 minutes apart, so don’t go overboard with the timer. If you—armed with a stopwatch—are continually in the face of a laboring woman, you might not live to see your child. Start with once an hour or so, and in the meantime…

Be a distraction. In a good way. Watch a movie, play Connect Four, take a walk. Do anything besides sit and stew on the fact that you’re literally having a baby.

Eat. This might be your last chance. This is also a good time for your partner to have a small snack (crackers, toast, cereal) IF her doctor says it’s okay to do so—the rules of eating during early labor vary by medical professional.

Know pain management techniques. While early contractions won’t take the breath away, they are uncomfortable. Here are 3 basic techniques for relief during early labor.

Apply counter pressure. Many women experience back labor caused by the baby’s head pressing against the pelvis. Applying pressure to the lower back can offer relief. Try tennis balls or the heels of your hand, and use a circular motion.

Suggest a position change. Doing so can relieve pressure from the descending fetus. Have her lie on her side with pillows between her legs, sit backwards on a chair like AC Slater, or get down on her hands and knees.

Alternate hot and cold. Have heat and ice packs on hand.

Active and Transitional Labor

Your role in the final stages of labor will depend on the birth plan. If your partner elects for a natural birth, learn about breathing and advanced pain management techniques commonly covered in birthing classes. If she elects to take pain relief like an epidural, the breathing methods commonly seen in movies won’t apply. My wife opted for an epidural, so some of this section is written from that experience.

Prepare for check in. Many hospitals now permit pre-registration, allowing you to complete a portion of the paperwork prior to arriving for delivery. If offered, certainly do this, because the less administrative bullshit required of a laboring woman, the better life is for everyone. Still, upon arrival, expect someone from the hospital to:

  • Issue ID bracelets
  • Ask you to sign some consent forms
  • Show you to your room
  • Give your wife a hospital gown
  • Examine her cervix
  • Start an IV (not all the time but often)
  • Discuss pain medication
  • Hook up the fetal monitor

Ask how to read the fetal monitor. Most hospitals use a fetal monitor—a device resembling a Power Ranger belt, which wraps around your partner’s belly and measures both fetal heart rate and contractions. The readings are then displayed on a monitor and printed on continuous feed paper.

Either by (poor) design or coincidence—maybe a nurse was out sick—I was in charge of reading the fetal monitor during my wife’s delivery. This was a big deal because, as is often the case with an epidural, she couldn’t feel her contractions. So as the monitor spiked I would say something like DURRRR get ready to push honey. Then she’d push, and I’d count 1-2-3-4-5-and-relax. Then the midwives and I would all hoot and holler and congratulate my wife on a great push.

Anyway, the more you understand, the more useful you can be, and the more useful you can be, the better you will feel.

Set the Mood. Once you get settled:

  • Dim the lights.
  • Control room temperature
  • Massage your partner’s hands and feet
  • Play some slow jams. Research shows that music decreases anxiety, in some cases more effectively than anti-anxiety medication. Seriously, Bose Soundlink Mini wins labor and delivery MVP. If you’re waiting to pull the trigger on a Bluetooth speaker, now is the time.
  • Just be there. Hold her hand, look her in the eye, tell her everything is fine, and goddammit, you both are in this together.

Roll with the punches. The final stages of labor are intense and nerve-racking as your partner prepares—physically and emotionally—to deliver this baby. This is also when labor might start to get the best of her, so be flexible and don’t take it personally if one minute she’s asking that you rub her back and the next that you BACK THE FUCK OFF.

Update those who need updating. If you need to send one last update, do so now. Because with the cervix fully dilated to 10cm and the baby descended into position, it’s time for…

Pushing

What surprised me most about pushing was the synergy. It was nothing like the frantic fiasco I imagined. There was counting and resting and coordination as mom and contraction bore down together. The additional nurses who arrived for the main event each had a role. I had a role. The medical people will take the lead, so follow it, but be ready to assume the following responsibilities:

Contraction notifier. Using your newfound knowledge of the fetal monitor, as that little line starts to climb uphill, signalling a contraction, notify your wife so she can prepare to push.

Body part holder. If you’ve ever seen a dog take a shit, then you’re aware of the coordination involved. Every muscle from head to tail aligns and contracts so Spot can dump and get back to chasing squirrels.

The midwives continually instructed me to pull my wife’s legs and push on her back—like I was folding her in half—so she could bear down and ‘wrap around the baby’. I imagine this is the same efficiency of that in the shitting dog. It was hard work rolling my wife into prime pushing position, which makes it the perfect job for the strapping labor dad.

Encouraging progress updater. Because your wife is focused on pushing and isn’t best positioned to see the action, update her on the progress. When you see the head, tell her. Help her visualize the baby, and then stick that visualization in front of her like a rabbit at the race track. Eventually—in what is sure to be one of the most fucked up visuals of your very existence—the tiny, hairy baby skull will appear from the vagina (or crown), and delivery is imminent.

Delivery

Once the head is out, the doctor will likely halt the process to clear the mucus from your half-born baby’s nose and mouth. Then with one final guided push, the baby (and so much fluid) will burst from the vagina like the end of a water slide. You are now officially a father…congratulations and holy shit. Here’s how to deal:

Expect a newborn. I have never anticipated anything like the first sight of my child. I spent so much of the pregnancy imagining her appearance that—by the time the girl was born—she was almost mythical. Try not to do this, because a newborn isn’t pretty. Expect the following:

  • Swollen face and genitals
  • Cone-shaped head
  • Pink or gray skin tone—pigmentation doesn’t show up until after birth
  • A lot of vernix—a cottage cheese-like substance that protected baby in the womb

Know there is no right way to feel. 25-40% of new fathers report feelings of indifference after the birth of their child, while other dads cry tears of joy in the delivery room. This is a major life event. You’ll respond in your own way, and that’s okay.

Cut the umbilical cord. As soon as the baby is born, the doctor will clamp the umbilical cord and hand Jr. to your wife for skin to skin contact—this calms baby and regulates body temperature and heart rate. After a minute, you’ll have the opportunity to cut the cord, which has a consistency unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Then baby is handed back to the staff where they will do the following:

  • Assign an Apgar score based on an assessment of baby’s condition (appearance, pulse, reflex, tone, and respiration).
  • Issue a matching ID band to prevent you going home with some random-ass baby.
  • Measure height, weight, and head circumference.
  • Apply eye ointment to prevent infection.
  • Return baby to your wife as she prepares to deliver the placenta.

Prepare for the placenta. Anywhere from 5 to about 30 minutes after delivery of the baby, the placenta will detach from the uterine wall and descend through the birth canal. Once delivered, it will be examined—enthusiastically in some cases. The resident who analyzed my daughter’s ran over to show me the thing like he had just used it to win a science fair. It’s appearance was shocking, by the way, and most closely resembled that of a jellyfish having just been tossed from atop the Empire State Building. Be ready for it.

Anyway, now that your partner has completed both of her deliveries, she will be inspected and stitched (if necessary). Then the cleaning crew will come in and whisk away the fluids and bloody bedding, and within 10 minutes, it will look like nothing ever happened. Then you’ll pack your shit and your newly established family and head to the postpartum floor.

Postpartum

The main event is over, but your hospital adventure has just begun. Thanks to the 1996 Newborns’ Act, which mandates insurance agencies cover postpartum care for at least 48 hours after childbirth, you’re likely 2 days away from being home.

Now, it may be sooner—the average stay is 40 hours—but research shows that being discharged prior to 48 hours increases the risk of rehospitalization. Besides, there’s a lot to do and even more you’re gonna want to learn before you become the (oh god) primary caregiver.

Ask an insane amount of questions. The postpartum nurses spend entire days caring for newborns and recovering mothers. Additionally, most are experts on breastfeeding, which you’re about to discover is maybe the most frustrating aspect of newborn care. Who better to learn from than the pros? Watch and take notes as they swaddle, dress, and change baby. Here is a checklist of skills to acquire before discharge:

  • Changing
  • Burping
  • Swaddling
  • Dressing
  • Sponge bathing
  • Feeding and basic troubleshooting

Regulate visitors. Childbirth is a lot of things (emotional, exhausting, bloody). One thing it is not, however, is something I’d like to share with a shit ton of visitors. The room is small, your wife is recovering, your baby is adjusting, and the medical people are in and out constantly—all valid reasons to postpone visits until you get home.

Keep your wife comfortable. The hospital staff will assist with her recovery, but you can help with physical tasks like retrieving baby for feedings.

Let baby room-in. Years ago, babies stayed in a nursery while their mothers recovered in postpartum. You’ve probably seen the cartoons of a young couple staring through the window of a room lined with babies in bassinets—that’s the nursery.

Recent research, however, shows that the mom and baby who stay together (or room-in) in the days after delivery have an easier time breastfeeding and bonding. As a result, many hospitals now encourage rooming-in, while some have eliminated the nursery option altogether.

You, too, can bond. You don’t need boobs to bond with your baby. In fact, many studies show that a new father is just as nurturing as his partner. And even if you’re not a natural nurturer, bonding with a newborn is easy. The key? Take off your shirt and snuggle up. Skin to skin contact comforts baby, familiarizes him with your scent, and can help regulate his heart rate, breathing, and temperature.

Bring baby to his screenings. While chances are slim, some babies are born with life-threatening conditions that, without a screening, could go undetected. Because early intervention is critical in maximizing long term potential, all 50 states require some sort of newborn screening, including exams for hearing loss, congenital heart disease, and blood tests for approximately 50 other conditions.

Complete a few final administrative items.

  1. Complete paperwork for a birth certificate.
  2. Request a social security card.
  3. Schedule baby’s first well-child visit with his pediatrician—typically 48 hours from discharge.

Enjoy the experience. The birth of your first child is a major milestone, so enjoy it. Because once you buckle that car seat and exit the hospital parking lot…you’re on your own. Welcome to The First Week of Fatherhood.