As a new member to the parenthood club over the past year it’s safe to say I’ve had a fair few new discoveries.
First and foremost, no matter what you are told, you’ll never be fully prepared for the number of feelings you’ll experience. The only equivalent I’ve been able to use with my friends who haven’t had kids is trying out one of these three explanations out:
It’s like bodysurfing and being on top of a wave, right before it launches you out in front of it. It can seem like you are in control and know what you need to do, the thing is, one slight thing can change your whole experience. It can be the greatest wave, full of laughter, high fives and the biggest smiles you’ve seen, or it can be you rolling around having no idea what you’re doing, scrambling to know where you’re going.
You know a mirror maze? If you’re not laughing and enjoying yourself, you’re slightly panicked and second guessing yourself, or literally and metaphorically high-fiving yourself for navigating something incredibly amazing, terrifying and fun.
Remember that moment when you got your report card from school and you’re parents were just slipping the envelope open? That mixed sense of pride, joy, uncertainty, trepidation and excitement that seemed to roll around in you?
That’s what the first year can be like.
It’s single handedly the hardest, most exhausting and fundamentally amazing thing I have ever experienced. However, instead of writing a piece that talks about how great and difficult parenting can be, I thought it would be interesting to share some of the slightly different discoveries I’ve made during the first year of dadhood:
5 discoveries from my first year of dadhood
1. I felt like I didn’t contribute enough
There came this point when AmazingWife was about 3 months pregnant that I got figuratively slapped in the face with a real concern and pressure to do more. I didn’t exactly know what “more” I had to do, so I just assumed more of everything. More time at work to get more experience, more jobs on the side to get more money to get more sense of security to get more ahead of … something.
Not feeling that teaching full-time would provide enough for us I began to casually work at a university with upcoming teachers, started an education blog, took on casual consultancy work with a maths company, applied for positions I wasn’t ready for to get the increased pay cheque (which led to job interview on Day Three with a newborn … which I have no memory of) and generally did what I could to not sleep.
But what I discovered what that none of that other stuff matters. I was already providing enough of the material things, what they really need is the stuff no one can actually see. The stuff that actually matters: fun, silliness, love, care and compassion.
2. Baby toys are evil
No one seems to speak about this, but I’m fairly certain I know where most horror and thriller movie directors get their inspiration for suspense and torture from. Even though no one is anywhere near them, when you least expect it, kids’ toys can still suddenly start singing, smiling and moving in some creepy way; generally causing every horror movie to come to life in your head.
Be warned, this only seems to occur at night … when it’s a thunderstorm.
3. I don’t know what I actually want
When I first became a dad I sought to put my career into overdrive to not only provide more money for my family, but also continue to work towards my hopes and dreams I had before kids.
Since our first year with Little Steele has passed, I’ve found myself constantly feeling like I am balancing old and new hopes and dreams.
I love walking into classrooms, getting to know every student in my class and supporting students and other teachers to unleash their talents … but I also want to be there as much as I can with my daughter and wife.
There’s been so many interesting discussions with AmazingWife about her perspectives and feelings on this too and, I swear, while I thought I was empathetic to what women go through with pausing their careers, I really had no idea just how much I would grapple with both of these
I’m still not sure what the answer is yet. The best advice I can give right now is to keep talking and thinking about what it is you actually need or want. Otherwise no one (including yourself) can help you work to achieve what is best for your family.
4. Meetings at work are often ridiculously inefficient
Once we had our daughter, I suddenly become insanely efficient when I had time off. If I wasn’t sneaking in a nap straight away, I was getting a ridiculous number of things done in an hour.
The problem with realising how laissez-faire and relaxed I had previously been when kid-free meant I was now expecting everyone else to be working in this way … which led to me constantly becoming frustrated with people not being as productive as I wanted in our meetings.
I know it seems like a great idea to sit around and just chat, but I’d rather work together to get done what we’d hoped to so I can head home to play with my kid and wife for the hour before she goes to bed. The time I have at home is precious.
The great news about this meant I suddenly improved my ability to ask questions and keep meetings on track. When in doubt, I like to pull out “Ha, that’s interesting. Now, [look at clock] I’m really mindful of your time, so let’s really focus for the next [whatever time remaining is] so we can have this wrapped up and head off”.
The key I’ve found is this always needs to be delivered respectfully … just because I have the intention to get stuff done within the hour to get home to wrestle and act like a fool with my daughter, doesn’t mean everyone else is feeling that way too. Sometimes people just aren’t in the headspace or present at the meeting. It’s important to keep redirecting them in ways that keep them on track, but won’t put them offside.
(I’m always looking to build this repertoire of redirecting statements, so feel free to share some!)
5. Some friends without kids just won’t get it
Don’t get me wrong, my friends are still amazing and supportive … but some of them just don’t get it.
It’s not their fault. When we haven’t experienced something it is nearly impossible to understand it. They sort of understand what is happening and the HUGE shift that has occurred in life’s priorities, but every now and then I’m reminded that for some of them this change is something that is really hard for them to understand.
I’d love to, but I can’t go to the pub on Friday night with half an hour’s notice.
Unfortunately I can’t just push back when we are going to catch up for a coffee, shoot hoops or go for a hike by two hours. The background coordination and balancing for free time is a carefully constructed thing of beauty!
It’s really hard, but I can’t always make dinners, parties, get togethers or social things. While I do want to see you, I’m going to say no to things more than I did before kids. Plus during that first 12 months if you’re not wrecked or exhausted you’re just plain tired.
It’s safe to say it’s been an interesting time, one that I’m loving more and more. Surely it gets easier, right? Like, the Terrible Twos are nothing? And teenage years? Yep, I think it’s all smooth sailing from here.