Reflections on My First Year of Fatherhood
Thirty-one million five hundred and thirty six thousand seconds. As of April 7th, 2015 at 2:16am, that is the exact amount of time my daughter Evelyn has been alive on planet earth. Of course most people would use different units of measure (31,536,000 seconds = 365 days = 1 year), but I chose seconds to emphasize just how massive that amount of time should feel. And yet the time has figuratively flown by so quickly that I sit here in shock that her first birthday party has come and gone. My pining (whining?) about time slipping away may sound cliche because it is, and yet anyone else that is a new parent can probably attest that this time warp is a very real thing.
While it's impossible to pause the steady march of time, the next best thing is to take a moment and reflect. This is my attempt at trying to condense a year's worth of memories, highlights, and advice. My hope is that if I had read this a year ago, I could have made more of those seconds count. And at the very least, I hope you can share a smile or perhaps a tear along the way.
In no particular order...
The Right Partner
I deeply respect all the single parents out there. It's been said that being a parent is a full time job and that is an understatement. Yes some people win the lottery and have a kid that sleeps through the night almost right out of the gates. You can also get the other extreme where you have a high needs baby that can't or won't sleep more than 4 hours a day up until they are ~ 6 months old. It's in these fatiguing situations that teamwork is critical.
I was fortunate in that my wife and I were on the same page from the beginning. We were also blessed that we were in a financial situation where she could stay at home and take care of Evelyn full time.
My wife has been an absolute champ from day one. Not only did we have a smooth natural birth (thanks hypno-birthing!) but she has gone above and beyond to ensure Evelyn's well being. It hasn't been without it's share of challenges, but Emily overcame them all. She's an amazing wife, mother, and partner. I respect the hell out of her.
My wife and I took a hypnobirthing class, which was probably the single best investment we made during the pregnancy. I won't sugar coat it, we were both terrified of what awaited us. Emily wasn't sure she could do it without an epidural. I wasn't sure I could be an effective partner.
The class completely changed around our mindset and we went into it with a sense of excitement. Not only did we have a natural birth, but we were completely in the zone the entire time. Your mileage may vary, but we know that this had such a positive impact in our last trimester all the way through the birth that we cannot recommend this enough.
Preparation is Key
Dude You're Going to Be a Dad was an eye opening book. Not only did it answer a lot of questions I had, but it also surfaced a lot of things I didn't know to ask. There are some that will tell you not to sweat it and that you'll learn it along the way, but I know that I was much more effective as a dad when I was able to ask the right questions and not feel helpless.
The only caveat is to not overdue it. You can read 20 books and ask 20 people and you're going to get a tremendous amount of information, most of which will conflict in various ways. The key for me was to simply get exposure to a lot of suggestions and ideas and see what resonated with me.
Preparation is Not Enough
No amount of reading will prepare you for all the twists and turns that you'll face, so don't stress about it. Instead be ready and willing to go with the flow. You will ultimately learn what works best for your kid. Go with that instead of what expert X, Y, or Z has to say about it.
Postpartum Depression is a Real Thing
Having a baby results in a significant change in roles. One goes from being a person and a partner to a parent, person, and partner. There is a change in how the roles rank (parent comes first and partner comes second, subordinating the needs and desires of the individual). There is a change in how much time is allocated to each role. If one doesn't mentally and emotionally prepare for that reality, the transition can be difficult.
Beyond that, there can be external stresses (e.g. work, family) and internal stresses (e.g. hormones, lack of sleep).
While having a child is absolutely amazing and I don't regret it for a second, the reality is there can be dark times as a result of everything stated above. The key for my me and my wife was to talk about it instead of try to pretend like it wasn't there. And there is absolutely no shame in asking for help. After all, the goal is for all members of the family to be happy and healthy, and that cannot happen if issues are not being addressed.
You May Be an Outlier
Your kid may not be an average height, weight, sleeper, eater, talker, walker, etc... and that's ok. Averages are just that and there will be certain aspects of your child that are truly unique to them. There will be times when that is amazing (e.g. they sleep through the night at 2 months!). There will be times when it will be challenging (e.g. they only sleep 4 hours a day). The best approach is to be flexible with whatever is thrown your way.
The Amazing Moments
One of the absolute best feelings in the entire world is when I walk into Evelyn's room to get her up in the morning and she's smiling, laughing, and clapping. Hold onto those memories with everything you got. They are the most precious gifts.
Sickness Can be Scary
With something as fragile as a baby, every sickness can be terrifying and leave you with a sense of helplessness. It's made worse by things like SIDS, where your baby could die at any moment for no reason. Then there are all the god-awful stories on the news or other anecdotal tales told by others. All of this can cause you to overthink every sniffle, every cough.
The good news is that, for the most part, you're probably overthinking it. It's not that you shouldn't be diligent and proactive. However,
The Little Things
It's easy to get lost in the tedium of the everyday: the diaper changes, the constant cleanups, etc. It's important to realize that those moments can be the most precious if you show up to them correctly.
It Gets Awesome
The first three months can feel slow. After that things ramp up. First sounds, first laughs, rolling over, sitting up, clapping, crawling, standing, and walking. Every week brings with it new firsts and they are all awesome.
It's Probably Not What You Expect (And That's a Good Thing)
I started fatherhood with a tremendous amount of expectations. That was unfortunate because it prevented me allowing the experience to unfold as it was meant to. Of course, even if you told me this beforehand, I don't think this could have been avoided. We all have some sense of what fatherhood could be. It's only in the experiencing that we learn what it truly is.
I could go on and on, but then I'd just be a rambling parent trying to interject too much advice and spoil all the surprises. So I'll end with a personal note.
Evelyn, being your father has been an honor and a privilege. I constantly worry about whether I will measure up and be the best dad I can be. My happiest memories are when I go to get you out of bed in the morning and you start clapping while giving me your biggest smile. Or when I get home from a long day and you scream "Da Da Da!" Or when I used to rock you to sleep and you would snuggle in real close. All of those memories I'll cherish forever.
Enjoy the journey... always.
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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.