Parenting Is Amazing, But It Isn't Easy
My daughter is eleven months old today. She is the most amazing and brilliant thing I have ever helped to create. I’ve been asked a lot over the past eleven months what fatherhood is like. I don’t feel like I’ve ever responded appropriately, so I’m going to try and do that here.
For the longest time I was scared of having children. How could I possibly look after a child, when I’m barely able to look after myself? But one day something changed, and a pregnancy test was no longer a source of fear and anxiety, but one of hope and excitement.
Becoming a father for me started at this moment. When I lost that fear and gained an anticipation.
Having a child holds up a mirror to your soul
During the long nine months of pregnancy you do a lot of thinking. I would imagine what my child would be like. Which attributes that I see in myself and my wife would she inherit? How do we encourage the good things in us to naturally form in her? What changes do we need to make in ourselves so that we can be the best example to her? What do I see in myself which I don’t want to see in her?
One of the big things for us has been snacking on sugary treats. We both have quite the sweet tooth, but we want to make sure our daughter has a healthy diet. We don’t want to be hypocritical by telling our daughter “You can’t have that chocolate bar”, and then eating one ourselves. Another similar area is screen time. We’re trying to encourage natural organic play as much as possible, but when she see’s that we’re on our phones, it sends the wrong message. She knows that there’s something interesting about these black rectangles, because mummy and daddy always look at them.
Every day we have the opportunity to be better for our daughter, and we have such a wonderful and beautiful (and noisy) reminder staring up at us. We don’t always do great at it, but hopefully we’re doing good enough. Which brings me nicely on to my next point.
Perfect parents do not exist
Perfect people do not exist, so how could perfect parents? There are some strict right and wrongs when it comes to raising a child. You should definitely feed them and comfort them. You should definitely not mistreat them or put them in danger.
There are a lot of areas which are pretty grey though. We’ve made decisions on how we want to raise our daughter, but friends have made different decisions. Neither of us are right or wrong.
The thing that I’ve felt the most guilt and shame about is shouting at my daughter. She was screaming because I wasn’t preparing her food quickly enough, and I was worn thin, like butter over too much bread. I felt so bad as soon as I did it.
I felt ashamed for the longest time until my sister in law mentioned that she did something similar. She’s an amazing mother, so knowing that even she could slip up really helped me to let go of that shame. I wouldn’t use that as an excuse to shout at your child, but it helps to be able to forgive yourself. I’ve not done it again either, so I feel pleased about that.
You feel love and joy like you’ve never experienced before
It sounds clichéd I know, but it’s so true.
I can be having a tough day at work, and then I see my daughter. She recognises me. She starts to do her happy wiggle and squeals with glee. My heart swells. I’ve never been so happy.
There’s been so many times over the past few months where my wife and I have looked at each other and just said “I love our life”.
You’re actually not that tired
One of my biggest fears was that I would be exhausted all the time and falling asleep at my desk. I hate that feeling where you’re trying to stay awake, but your body has already started to shut down. I thought that’s what my life was going to be like, and other parents didn’t help! It’s the most stereotypical thing that new parents say: “I’m tired”, but I think it’s just a reflex for most.
We are very fortunate that our daughter sleeps well, but even when she’s up throughout the night I much prefer it to being woken by my alarm. There’s a difference. When it’s your daughter, you know she needs you, and your love for her makes it easy.
Don’t get me wrong, there are moments in the day where it’s a real struggle to not just lie down and sleep, but it’s not as bad as I had imagined anyway.
You have less time for yourself
This one is probably obvious. You have windows of time where the baby is asleep and you can do your own thing, but often you’ll probably just want to rest. I’ve had to lower my expectations of what I can do in certain time frames. For example, I built a cabinet that would have taken maybe a day or two of solid effort. It took me about three months to finish while juggling baby care.
The restrictions bring freedom
We have our daughter on quite a regimented nap schedule. It works well for us as a family as we can plan better knowing when she will be asleep and awake. It does mean that our excursions are limited to a few hours in the morning or about two hours in the afternoon.
Before having a baby I think we wouldn’t have bothered to do as much stuff as we do now. During the summer we went to the beach for about half an hour. We spent more time driving there and back than we did on the beach. We would have decided that it wasn’t worth it before we had a baby. But to have our daughter experience the beach, even for a short time, made it worth the effort.
I used to just plan one thing in a day because I didn’t know when it would finish. I always left room for the possibility of something else happening. Now that I have a fixed schedule it’s very freeing. I know that we’re just going to be back by lunch time whatever happens.
For the introvert part of me it’s great as well, because I know that we’re only going to be at that social gathering for a few hours and then we need to go home because of the baby.
You need help
There’s a saying “it takes a village to raise a child”. I’m coming to realise just how true that is. My wife and I are a great team and we’re able to help each other, but it’s a lot of work. It’s hard to ask for help, especially because you feel like you’re doing ok.
It’s a bit like spinning plates. You can keep all the important ones spinning, but I’m sure there’s been a few less important ones that have smashed and I’ve not realised. When friends or family just give help without us asking, it’s such a blessing. I think it also helps our child to get more varied input from adults, helping her to develop more. So if you have friends or family with a baby or young child, get involved!