To smooth your transition from working man to papa-in-chief, prepare like you’re starting a new job.

I’m four days into my parental leave now and slowly starting to get my feet under me. My suggestion to other dads preparing for the same transition? Do a little homework. Ask for a handover. And establish your baby baseline. Just like you would get ready for a new job.

Do a little homework (not a lot). I’ve changed companies a few times, and before my first day in a new workplace I always do a little background reading. Usually, I try to find out about the company’s history, achievements and goals for the future. What I read never fully explains the office realities, of course. But it does help me get a sense of what I’m walking into.

No different on the baby front, fellas. Last week, I pulled my favourite two parenting books off the shelf and flipped through them. I didn’t spent hours on them, but I did check out the chapters on sleeping and feeding. They gave me an important refresher on the range of normal rhythms for a six-month-old. My firstborn quickly taught me that no baby is “by the book”, but I did find it useful to have at least some guidelines in my head. Otherwise, where do you start?

Ask for handover notes (not instructions). When starting my current position, I was lucky to have a full two-week handover with my predecessor. In that period, I absorbed all his tips and tricks, learned where (some of) the organisational bodies were buried, and started identifying opportunities to make my mark. In other jobs, I’ve started with zero handover notes and a mountain of urgent work. Sure, I eventually figured things out. But it was a lot more frustrating in the beginning.

It’s the same with your child. In all likelihood, your partner has been home with your child for weeks or months already. Ask for a cheatsheet. Ask for top tips. Ask for current likes and dislikes. Anything like that will be gold in those first few days of leave, when you’re still figuring out how to be the primary caregiver. It still won’t be an easy transition, but it will help reduce your feelings of frustrating or helplessness.

Note that I’m not suggesting you ask for instructions (nor follow them if given). The point of parental leave is to learn how you want to care for your child. You need to establish your own connection. You need to figure out your own daily rhythms. You don’t need some sort of baby manual to survive. Go that route and I guarantee you’ll spend your whole leave trying to measure up to someone else’s experience.

Get a baseline. The first thing I do in a new job is to establish a baseline: I learn what is expected of me, and the status of anything I’m responsible for delivering. That’s my starting point. From there, I can make changes and improvements. But if I don’t know the basic facts on the ground, I won’t understand if I’m spending my time and energy wisely. 

My baby baseline scrawled on our whiteboard.

What does a baby baseline look like? This week, I tried to understand my son’s natural sleeping and eating routines; the essentials of caring for a baby. On day one, I didn’t have a good understanding of his basic needs: when he’s normally hungry, how much he eats, when he sleeps, or for how long. So I just jotted it down as it happened. Every time he ate and how many ounces. The time he fell asleep and the time he woke up. With our firstborn, I remember also writing down pees and poos, although I’m not doing that this time around.

Within just these few days, I can already see patterns emerging. He likes to have a short mid-morning snooze and a longer afternoon nap. He seems to prefer smaller but frequent feedings (in contrast to my daughter, who I recall was happy to chug down a big bottle). Not everything repeats every day, of course. But I’m starting to learn what he likes. And from there, I’m starting to build a routine that allows both papa and baby to thrive. Wish me luck!

— Alex is a father of two and the founder of Take The Time