Becoming a dad is full of amazing moments: The first time your child smiles at you; feeling her tiny hand grip onto your thumb so tight it’s like she never wants to let go; having her fall asleep on your chest.
But there are plenty of other perks of “dad-dom” that no one talks about. And when you’re running on no sleep, too little food, and your work emails are piling up so fast that your phone actually feels heavier in your pocket, the little day-to-day bonuses make it all worthwhile. In no particular order, here are five positive side effects of parenthood I wasn’t expecting.
People are nicer to you when you’re holding a baby
It’s amazing how much more pleasant people are when you go through the world tethered to a tiny person. Strangers hold doors for you. Other passengers make room for you on the bus. Most drivers will at least slow their cars when you’re attempting to cross the street. One or two might even stop to let you go. (This might not seem like a big deal to some of you, but my fellow Bostonians understand what a big gesture this is in our neck of the woods.)
When you’re struggling to wrangle a stroller, diaper bag and 10 lbs. of screaming, squirming baby in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store, a quick smile or nod of encouragement from a passerby goes a long way. And after being on the receiving end of so many supportive encounters with strangers, I find myself doing it for others who look like they’re having a tougher day than they bargained for. The interactions are quick but always leave me smiling. Kids bring out the empathy in grown-ups like nothing else; learning to embrace that and reciprocate has been surprisingly uplifting for me.
Office small talk is so much easier
I hate water cooler talk at work. Granted nobody really likes it, but for whatever reason, it makes my skin crawl. If I had to pick between discussing the weather with Janet from accounts payable or field- testing sandpaper with the back of my neck, I’d pick sandpaper. Every time.
But having a baby means there’s always something to talk about with the near-strangers I share a kitchenette with at work. And for once, it’s a subject I actually care about. Baby Underwood has become the go-to topic of conversation for virtually every person I run into in the halls of my office, and I couldn’t be happier. I get to talk about whatever mildly hilarious thing she’s up to that week, show off a picture or two, and we’re both on our way in no time.
But it’s not just the brevity I enjoy. When we’re done talking, I feel like my office mates and I made a real connection instead of just sharing casual observations about last night’s TV shows. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to win a workplace congeniality award any time soon, but talking about my kid with the folks I work with has helped me open up to a lot of people I normally wouldn’t have had anything in common with at all. It’s strengthened a lot of my interoffice relationships, pushed one or two people into the friend category, and generally made my work day that much better.
Fashion faux pas forgiveness
If clothes make the man, then I am a perpetual teenager. My fashion sense hasn’t changed much in 30 years. Give me a well-worn pair of jeans and a ratty old T-shirt, and I’m happy.
Prior to having a baby, people might have regarded my cat-hair-covered coats, unpressed shirts or occasionally stained pants as my not caring about my appearance. But I’ve come to realize that in the post-baby world, looking frazzled is a badge of honor. Stain on my hoodie? It’s from burping the baby. Untucked shirt? That’s what happens when you’re playing on the floor to engage a child on her level. There’s probably still no excuse for my mismatched socks, occasional pairing of plaid and stripes and terrible taste in footwear, but I do get a lot more leniency in my wardrobe choices than I used to.
Get out of anything, always
Just like they are an instant topic of conversation, babies are also the ultimate get-out-of-jail free card when it comes to avoiding chores and unwanted social obligations. When your child is first born, most people respect your space: needy friends looking for a ride to the airport or help moving stop calling for a few months. And when they do start showing up at your door again wondering if you wanted to come by and help them install a new water heater, the response of “Can’t. Gotta watch the baby.” is never questioned.
Since my daughter was born, I haven’t felt obligated to travel across town to see a late-night performance by any of my friends’ bands, get duped into seeing some terrible movie with one of our couple friends or attend one of my wife’s dull office parties. It’s awesome.
But be warned: the baby trump card cuts both ways. Our child is always hungry, and as her official food source, my wife is constantly breastfeeding. So when dishes need washing, trash needs taking out, or if the cat just threw up, yours truly is the only able-bodied adult in the house to take care of it. Staying home and cleaning cat puke still beats an office party, and I’m gradually learning to accept that in most cases, mom will always have one up on me when it comes to prioritizing baby over less desirable activities.
My relationship with dawn has changed a lot in the past few weeks. In my old life, if I was seeing the sun come up, it meant I was out too late with people I probably shouldn’t have been with in the first place, or lying in bed, staring out a window, worrying about some work thing that eventually sorted itself out anyway. Not a great track record.
But lately, my daughter has been getting me up about 20 minutes before the sun, and I watch it come up every morning with her in my arms. I could give you some hyperbole-laden metaphor about the glory of ushering in a new day with a new life, but to be honest, I never think about it that deeply. It’s simply one of the few quiet moments of my day, and the only alone time my daughter and I get on a regular basis. I wouldn’t trade it for all the extra sleep in the world.