The First Three Years: An Encouraging Letter to New Dads

The First Three Years: An Encouraging Letter to New Dads

I told my husband that I was pregnant during his lunch break one February Tuesday.

We were smack in the middle of an ice storm that had resulted in a large portion of the DFW metroplex being without electricity, and the temps were resting in single digits for days on end. As one of the lucky houses to keep the coveted trifecta of power, water, and WiFi, we had few excuses not to work remotely, so my husband continued to trudge through his busy-season spreadsheets as we waited out the storm and checked on friends the best we could.

In the span of the half-hour break he had from work, I shared the news we had both hoped for and somewhat expected. And yet, it was still a shock to his system. I think he paced our living room for the entire rest of the workday.

You see, even in the early stages of a pregnancy, women tend to connect to the idea of a child more readily. The nausea, the brain fog and exhaustion, and strange food cravings or aversions make the presence of a new life quite evident—despite the challenges of these symptoms. We have (usually) around nine months to feel the changes of a child in utero.

But for dads, even though they are actively watching a belly grow and fielding demands for greasy carbohydrates, they sometimes do not necessarily grasp the reality of parenthood as quickly as women do until a piercing cry fills the room.

Yet, Dads are a vital aspect to the wellbeing of a child from prenatal development onward, and their confidence in their role as fathers is of great importance to the health of the family system.

This is one of the topics that ChristianWorks cares strongly about. Good dads are important, and we seek to help new, pacing dads recognize that they are capable and that they have what it takes to succeed as a father.

Click here to read a previous year’s article on International Father’s Mental Health Day, Cheers to the Good Ones.


There is a whole lot of hype in the child development world about “the first three years” of life, due largely in part to the rapid development of the brain during this time. It is estimated that “1 million neural connections per second” are made in the first 36 months of a child’s life [9].

A child develops more quickly in his or her first 3 years than at any other point in the lifespan [6, 9]. Ongoing research confirms for us that one of the strongest predictors (if not the strongest predictor) of healthy development in early childhood is a stable, nurturing relationship with caregivers. The Fatherhood Project asserts that a fathers “emotional engagement” and “active participation” promotes positive outcomes for children in several areas of life: social and emotional stability, academic performance, and behavioral regulation [7]. A father’s intentional presence is also found to be a “significant protective factor against high-risk behaviors” throughout both childhood and adolescence [7].

This research means that fathers are not just a nice additional relationship for a child to have but are a dominant force in the trajectory of a child’s life.

An encouraging aspect of this is that the specific amount of time a father spends with a child is not always the biggest determining factor for positive outcomes; it is the level of emotional engagement that exists when he is present with his children that proves the most beneficial (TFP).

The following tips are meant to encourage men in these first years of parenthood. You are indispensable, and we want to help you be the best version of yourself.

Dear New Dads,

Mom may seem like the MVP right now, but your role is incredibly vital. Your support in the early days and months of your child’s life is not actually as complicated as it may seem; your presence and participation in basic caregiving activities is needed most of all. Research shows that skin-to-skin contact between newborns and their fathers promotes better sleep and regulatory abilities than newborns who went to the hospital nursery [10]. Your connections to your child continue to build when you change diapers, facilitate bath time, soothe your child, talk and sing to them, etc. The goal of infancy and beyond is building a relationship and connection to your child [10].

One study even identified that “children with fathers who were more involved with them in infancy displayed a lower level of mental health symptoms at age 9 than those with minimal paternal input in infancy” [10].

You can still be helpful even if you are not the default parent. A default parent is the family’s “first responder.” The default parent (who is usually mom) is not the “favorite” or “better” parent, but she is the parent who has been identified by the children as the go-to for most concerns, large and small. From my own observations, this phenomenon typically tends to even out a little more as children grow and seek different kinds of advice and support from each parent. But especially while children are small, it is natural for a default parent to exist in a family system.

I recently saw a viral video clip from a family’s Ring doorbell in which a couple of young children called their mother, who was at the grocery store, to tell her that their tablets were not charged. Their father was only around the corner from the camera.

Default parenting can be difficult on the first responder, who feels like they are managing countless tasks and requests. We call this the “mental load” of parenting. But also, the other parent can be impacted by not being a default parent, too. It can be easy for the other parent to feel boxed out of family schedules or routines, or feel unneeded in household management.

Open and honest discussions about default parenting in your house can be incredibly beneficial. But be advised that the goal of these conversations is not to make the work of parenting perfectly 50/50.

Honestly, the workload of parenting will never be absolutely “fair” on a day to day basis; trying to make it completely fair is a fast track to bitterness in your marriage or parenting relationship. But there are still ways you can offer to help lessen the mental load and task management that the default parent in your house may be experiencing. Open conversations and open eyes to helping in new ways can support the health of both your marriage and your child.

Remember this: Just because you may not feel you are not “good” at something does not mean you can’t be. Never washed a bottle before, or never had to google how long breastmilk can be in the fridge? Well, neither has Mom. Never changed a diaper before? Her either. Learning these new tasks can be done together and set the standard that the default parent does not have to operate in isolation.

I understand that parenting requires sacrifice. I refuse to sugarcoat this fact. Parenting demands of us tiny and large parts of us at every turn. Sometimes the trendy narrative about parenting lends itself toward over-the-top complaints about the effort involved in parenting. And truly, I get it. Parenting is hard. But also….it was meant to be. You are the catalyst for your child learning how to operate in the world. You are literally helping start a human from scratch with the help of some genetic background and the Lord. It is going to be hard. But it does not make the experience impossible or unfathomable.

Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Parenting writes,

kids’ needs are rarely ‘convenient.’ What they require in order to succeed rarely comes cheaply. To raise them well will require daily sacrifice of many kinds, which has the wonderful spiritual effect of helping mold us into the character of Jesus Christ himself [p. 197]

He also shares,

Without sacrificing ourselves, we can’t really appreciate Christ’s sacrifice—which means that children, which all the demands they place on us, usher us into a deeper understanding of and even an astonishment at what God has done on our behalf [p. 206]

One fascinating study suggests that a “commitment to parenthood” carries more importance that biology in terms of the impact of fatherhood [2]. Here’s lookin’ at you, step-dads and uncles and grandpas! Your intentional decision to be truly present in the life of a child has lifelong ramifications.

Your parenting sacrifices will not only benefit your child, but will also benefit you. The Fatherhood Project discusses how the role of parenting is actually a large part of adult development. When someone assumes the role of parent, seasons of drastic transitions lead to seasons of personal growth that, when approached in a healthful and supportive manner, extend to growth in other areas of life too, such as professionalism, academia, relationships, or morality [2].

The community at large needs you to take care of yourself physically, emotionally and mentally!

Your Fatherhood role is important, and your sacrifices have benefits, but these facts cannot be separated from the reality that parenting is challenging. It is likely that you will need some level of support along the way.

According to Postpartum Support International, Postpartum Health is a men’s issue, too.

One in ten dads gets postpartum depression, and up to 18% develop a clinically significant anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder at some point during the pregnancy or the first year postpartum [4].

Visit this site for a variety of resources to support you in your fatherhood journey. Or, contact ChristianWorks to learn about our free counseling services for any expectant parent or a parent of a child under 36 months of age.

Your faith development journey is important for your child and in your marriage.

One way to develop a network of other fathers seeking to be present in the lives of their children is to be connected to a local church. Your faith journey impacts not only yourself, but your family and the people around you. I highly recommend the book Sacred Parenting that is quoted throughout this article.

Maybe you are wondering how to talk about faith to a person so small? The Ages and Stages Levels of Biblical Learning booklet published by Lifeway has been a huge help to our family! It breaks down topics of the Christian faith into developmentally appropriate categories to help you have discussions with the tiniest of humans about what you believe.


Mostly, Know that we are rooting for you!

You are not alone.

You don’t have to have it all figured out.

Parenting is hard.

But–it is doable, and you are capable.



1. The daddy factor: How fathers support development. Zero to Three. (2016, February 22). Retrieved April 14, 2023, from

2. The Fatherhood Project. (2014). Research Review The Fatherhood Project at MGH. Boston; Massechusett’s General Hospital.

3. First3Years Home Page. First3Years. (2022, December 15). Retrieved April 14, 2023, from

4. Help for Dads. Postpartum Support International (PSI). (2023, March 6). Retrieved April 113, 2023, from

5. Lifeway Christian Resources. (2021). Ages and stages: Levels of biblical learning a discipleship framework for church and home. Nashville, TN; Lifeway Press. Retrieved from .

6. Ray, D. C. (2016). A therapist’s Guide to Child Development: The extraordinarily normal years. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

7. The research. The Fatherhood Project. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2023, from

8. Thomas, G. (2017). Sacred parenting: How raising children shapes our souls. Zondervan.

9. Why 0-3? Zero to Three. (2022, August 26). Retrieved April 14, 2023, from

10. Yogman, M. W., & Eppel, A. M. (2021). The role of fathers in child and family health. Engaged Fatherhood for Men, Families and Gender Equality, 15–30.