Reflections on Fatherhood: Year 3
Side note: while I had intended on writing an article every year on this subject (see Reflections on My First Year of Fatherhood ), I apparently skipped last year. That’s probably an accurate reflection of how busy and chaotic was at the end of year two! That said, I'm recommitting to this yearly tradition.
This was a big year for the entire family. And like each chapter of a story, there were highlights and struggles. I’m sharing this to not only process and acknowledge how far we’ve come, but it’s my hope that this may be useful for other parents out there that are just behind us on their own journey.
Without further ado! In no particular order…
Holistic Family Approach
It’s easy to get swept up in the current trend of putting the needs of one’s child ahead of everything else. Emily and I certainly love Evelyn and always want to do what’s best for her, so it was easy to get caught up in that trap without every questioning whether it was the most effective approach.
The problem, as you can probably guess, is that this approach may sound noble and viable, but it quickly becomes counter-productive. If you continue to put your own needs second (or in some cases, last), you eventually lose yourself and the vitality that keeps you growing and thriving.
This year, Emily and I both came to the conclusion that we needed to adopt a more balanced approach. It wasn’t always easy, because of all the pressure to always do what’s best for our kids. However, we’ve noticed and marked improvement in our overall patience and our ability to be present with Evelyn when we’re able to fulfill our own needs and desires at the same time.
To School or Not to School?
When Emily and I first started talking about having kids, we were both adamant about homeschooling. As a result of this mutual desire, we structured our lives such that Emily could stay home so we could have a trial run as well as save money by not needing the added expense of daycare.
As time went on, we started to question this decision. Evelyn craves social interaction with children, while Emily and I are not ones to get out much. Additionally, the demands of being a stay at home mom run a wide gamut of experiences. For better or worse, Ev needed a considerable amount of attention and was a terrible sleeper. This put a ton of pressure on Emily, who needed even a brief respite now and again. After all, there is truth to the adage that "separation makes the heart grow fonder." And that was equally true for Ev, who seems happiest when she has an equal split of consistency and variety in her days.
Ultimately, we waited until she was almost 3 before we tried taking her to the Goddard School (there were other viable options, but heard great things and were sold when we took our tour). Not only does Ev get exposed to new things, but gave Emily time to start her new businesses and get some much-needed adult time.
To Tech or Not?
There are a lot of strong opinions out there regarding when and how to introduce technology. I don't claim to have a magic, catch all solution, but I have changed my stance since last year.
I acknowledge the many, many risks of screen time. It can become addictive and even put children in danger by allowing unrestricted access to the Internet without some level of oversight. After all, even adults can struggle with developing a healthy relationship with technology as well as understand the long term ramifications of a digital trail that can follow one forever.
That said, I feel it's short-sighted to pretend technology isn't ubiquitous. Pandora's box is already open and we will continue to see technology infiltrate every aspect of our lives. So I'm pushing to introduce Ev as early as possible with the expectation that I need to be actively involved in helping her understand the pitfalls from an early age. I'm sure this approach will be hard and problematic. After all, we live in an age where people literally feel like they lose part of their identity when they lose access to the Internet. But just alcohol, I prefer her first experiences to be with family versus a college party.
These are a bitch. Once Ev counted to 10 when she was 18 months. I was so proud I literally cheered her on. Now at age three she really doesn't seem to care about letters and numbers, and the overly concerned parent in me starts to worry if we aren't doing enough or if I steered her off course.
Of course, it's all BS and in my head. I know this because every now and then she says something that reminds me how brilliant she is and that her memory is better than mine at times!
Putting so much pressure and focus on what Ev learns each day is a recipe for disaster, and yet I get sucked back into it every couple of months. The only way to escape the emotion roller coaster is to adopt a more supportive approach, where there are no expectations. This can be a hard perspective to maintain, particularly when comparing to other children and fending off expectations and opinions from friends and family. They mean well, but they can sometimes get you second guessing yourself and that's when it's easy to get sucked back into the emotional rollercoaster.
Children’s Books for Parents
While every parent gets bored with reading the same book X dozen times, I’ve been impressed with the quality of the books that have been coming out the past decade. Similar to how Pixar will layer in subtle jokes that only parents will understand, I get the impression that some authors are making sure there is embedded educational and/or entertainment value for the parent. Otherwise, books that bore tend to make their way to the donation pile.
Still No Silver Bullets
One can go crazy trying to sift through all the parenting advice out there. It's not to say it's bad advice, and it usually comes from a place of good intentions. The challenge is that, while one is desperately searching for that one magic technique to "fix all the things" (and in short order), it can be difficult to discern what is relevant to your specific situation. A Harvard professor may have the perfect solution that works for 98% of kids and you just happen to be the outlier. Now your search is even harder because edge cases themselves will have edge cases, leading you down a research rabbit hole until you shout "ah fuck it" and go back to consoling your in-meltdown-mode child.
No Solution Is Permanent
Just when you think you found the magic formula for dealing with INSERT RANDOM ISSUE, she gets older and everything changes again. This certainly keeps us on our toes, particularly as it pertains to sleep habits (or lack thereof). This doesn't mean give up. It just means one has to have realistic expectations that "the only constant is change" when they are growing up so fast.
They Are Little Geniuses
Despite how quickly they begin learning things at this age, it's easy to get accustomed to this to the point that it can lose its magic. And then out of the blue, they will tell you about some random memory from 6-months ago and you'll get a big reminder at just how impressive they are at this age. They are all little geniuses in their own right. And while they develop on their own timetable, they are all learning to process an incredible amount of information while their brains are still nowhere close to fully developed. I've made it a point to watch for those moments because they fill my heart with awe and appreciation for life.
I'm looking forward to what year 4 has in store. And to those newly minted parents out there, I hope you found something in this article to be helpful or insightful.
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About Rick Manelius
Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.