I’ve been a parent for just over 90 days now. It’s easy to think one’s anecdotal experiences are empirically-verified facts about the reality of parenting, child development and how it all works, so take these observations with the same level of skepticism I have in recounting them. In no particular order, and solely from the perspective of a new father, here is a list of things I think I’ve learned so far about being a parent (formatted as bullet points this list would be extra annoying to read, but understand each paragraph is a separate idea):
There is an unreal adrenaline rush that occurs the first time you see your kid. It last about ten days. During that time, you are on a cloud and you feel invincible. When people start asking you, days after the fact, “Are you getting any sleep?” you don’t get why it matters, because you aren’t and you still feel GREAT!
Even if you think a successful relationship depends upon avoiding the temptation to manage one another’s emotions, your spouse will be going through some extreme hormonal swings and you may find it necessary to “slap” (verbally) some sense into them from time to time and in so doing, manage their emotions. Betraying your deeply held principles doesn’t feel right, but it does seem expedient.
Finding a “balance” of responsibilities with your spouse vis a vis the new child, housework, any pets or other dependents you own and maintain, work, “play”, etc., is obviously subjective and dependent upon your previous arrangements and ideas of what works, but it’s going to get flipped completely upside down and you’ll take turns feeling like life isn’t “fair” while occasionally stumbling upon a seemingly stable equilibrium that will work for awhile and then get blown apart, forcing you to scramble to find another.
You will quickly learn what is in fact essential for you to survive day-to-day, and it will probably involve the same kind of activities the child is engaged in– eating, sleeping, eliminating. You will convince yourself early on you “can’t function” without some kind of release or chance to relax, but the reality seems to be that if you just dedicate yourself to this mindless caregiving quest and cover these essentials, you’ll eventually be too tired to notice how little fun you’re having, but manage to get through your days quite satisfied with what you’ve spent your time on regardless. That being said, if you can ever find the odd thirty minutes for a mindless diversion, take it. It will be deeply satisfying.
A baby is an enormous time sink. You will suddenly understand why your friends, whose competencies and adequacies as adult human beings you began to question when they seemed to falter in the face of new parenthood, totally deserve some slack. You will begin to deeply question what kind of abuse or neglect of one’s family a person is engaged in who seems to be unphased by this humongous new responsibility in their life (in fact, you’ll find the theme is common that those who seem to balance it all without skipping a beat are shirking their duties and not admitting to the fact that someone else is shouldering the burden for them.)
It really does take a village. But not a democratic, collectivist political one. Having family and friends nearby to pitch in is invaluable. There’s no way to appreciate (besides reciprocating) what help they offer you in this time with cooking, cleaning and other care-giving. Doing a new parent a solid like that just has no equivalence to a non-parent in some kind of scrape. If you have relatives willing to live-in and help, let them, even if it means gritting your teeth when they interact with your child in unapproved ways, or do annoying things like treat your kitchen the way they treat their own, etc.
Most parents think they’re doing the best they can, know they don’t have all the answers, but really don’t have the bandwidth (emotional, physical, or otherwise) or desire to compare notes and try to “optimize” the parenting function. Beyond the odd sharing of “tips and tricks”, you might be surprised to learn that other parents really don’t want to explain their philosophy (or defend it), don’t want to learn what you do and why and they most certainly don’t want to be judged in any way, shape or form for the parenting choices they make. Having a new child gives one a completely new perspective on “live and let live” about a subject that comes to be deeply meaningful and personal, the perfect kind of subject for making one anxious about how others perform!
Your life has completely changed at this point, and there’s no going back to the way things were. For the father, this may or may not be a shock, but if the act of creating a child was willful and intentional, it probably doesn’t feel like a big loss and if anything is quite a profound and exciting realization to have. Life Before Child is relatively meaningless and boring by comparison. But for the mother, whether she thinks she was ready to be one or not, it is likely to prove quite devastating for her to accept that she’s never going to be a “maiden” again, as one friend puts it, and even if her LBC was equally meaningless (clubbing, being “young and sexy”, etc.), the stakes are perceived as higher for a variety of reasons for the woman and so this identity crisis can be quite sudden and jarring. Empathy is called for, if you have the little extra energy required to give it.
Your friendships will change with people. You now have friends with kids, who you understand a lot better and vice versa, friends without kids who are planning to have them, and friends without kids who don’t want them and will seem to be going their own way.
Back to the time sink thing– say goodbye to your library, your writing habit, and perhaps even your gym membership and anything else you do for recreation, at least for a little while. You’re just not going to find time for these things on a consistent basis and the more you try to, the more frustrated you will become. Let it go. They’ll be waiting for you when you get back.
Infants are very similar to puppies. Extremely needy. Extremely cute. But easy to trick yourself into thinking you made some kind of mistake if you project the present level of care (and lack of meaningful feedback) forward infinitely into the future and not expecting things to change and develop, as they will.
You will develop all kinds of arcane knowledge related to your infant’s cues and behavior signals which will essentially be useless 12-18 months later when their cognitive ability has significantly improved and they can verbalize most of their needs to you without confusion. The good news is your memory is so shot from lack of sleep that you probably weren’t going to have a solid long-term memory of any of this stuff taking up space anyway. This is probably why most people who have parented infants but are now in their middle age don’t seem to have many useful memories to draw upon about this period of time that can help you navigate it via best practices.
Also like raising a puppy, people around you will project their needs and most awkward insecurities onto your child (tabula rasa?) and it can be both terrifying and annoying to watch this adult “misbehavior” unfold. Your infant, who is new to everything around them and understands very little of not only what is going on, but its own behavioral responses to it, will nonetheless manage to “be angry with”, “be happy with”, “be faking crying (intentional emotional manipulation)”, “be so smart”, “be a little crowd pleaser,” “be so in love with”, etc., your parents, siblings, relatives, friends, neighbors and perfect strangers. Yet, none of these things are true besides these people wanting them to be so!
It does seem to be good, for you and your infant, to get on some kind of a predictable schedule… but it won’t always work and you can’t fool yourself into believing there is one when there isn’t one, or the infant into cooperating when they don’t want to.
It takes longer to do everything (time sink x3!), you can still get to where you need to be on time, you just need to start earlier and build in some time for a sudden diaper change, etc.
If you have any health concerns with your child, it’s worth seeking multiple opinions before acting, especially if the recommended action is rather drastic.
Infants follow Murphy’s Law, especially with regards to needing to feed at unplanned times or devastating diapers and outerwear when you least expect it.
You can get into a real dark place, really quick, if you start convincing yourself you can’t do simple caregiving things for yourself before tending to your child such as eating, peeing, taking a 5 minute shower, etc. That being said, get used to holding your pee, finishing your meals in increments (and/or starting them late), and so on.
And now that the Little Lion has awoken from his nap, this post has found it’s most logical endpoint!