I wish I had known just how amazing the childcare industry was before my daughter was born.
Like most families we spoke with, my wife and I agonised a lot over decisions around childcare. While I don’t think we were particularly over-protective, the idea of leaving our little girl with strangers (or anyone) other than us before she was six months old was pretty frightening.
Even knowing that my wife had to return to work, there was still much handwringing wondering about how our daughter would cope.
But it had to happen, so the best we could do was try to put those fears aside for the moment- as there was plenty more to stress about and other questions to answer first. How many days of childcare would we start with? Which centre did we like the best and would anywhere even have room?
I rarely object when others tell my daughter how cute or pretty or beautiful she is; but I try to resist the urge to do the same. Don’t get me wrong. I suspect she will always be perfect to me and just looking at her makes me happy, but I have learnt to control my instinctive reaction to speak fondly about her appearance.
I've written earlier that one of the things that makes parenting so hard is the myriad of seemingly little decisions that feel like they can have big consequences. With this in mind, its important to emphasise the need to respect individual parents' decisions about what is best for their children- unless it is blatantly harmful (hello anti-vaccers and Pete Evans). This post is in no way a criticism of those who don't share my view and continue this very common practice. Maybe no one has raised the possible consequences with them or maybe you have considered possible implications and didn't find them compelling. But they seemed compelling to me.
I’m not the first to make this observation, but I think it is important so I’ll repeat it. Telling young kids they are pretty or handsome has implications we don’t think of. Because soon, when they are only a little older, people naturally start to tell them they are pretty less often, until it almost stops altogether. Adults just don’t react the same way to older children. We know there are a range of reasons for this, but do the children at the time? “Why don’t people think I’m pretty anymore?” they could be excused for thinking. It may only be a small voice in their head saying this, but in an era where childhood eating disorders are a real risk, do we want to give it any voice at all?
It’s hard not to be a proud parent. Children have that effect on us.
I think it is important to make the point that I don’t think being a parent in itself is something I should be proud of. Whilst I would shy away from judging others’ parenting I don’t hold that all parents are ‘good parents’ and above reproach. I think it is more accurate to break down the role of parenting and assume that we do some things we might be proud of and others we wish we had done differently.
But few parents I know actually feel much pride in their own parenting. It is our children themselves that make us proud. It is not dissimilar to how I feel proud of my friends and family when they achieve things, even when I have not really contributed to them. Just heaps more intense.
Who knew staying fit would be so difficult as a dad? Apparently everyone, based on the predictions many people made about my dad-bod.
As I wrote earlier, I was determined to prove them wrong and to never use my daughter as an excuse for not achieving anything.
It was hard work, but I managed to squeeze time to train into most days. Many times I didn’t ant to do it and no doubt it added to my overall sense of fatigue, but I knew it wouldn’t be forever. As my little girl became a less-little girl, she would sleep more and presumably so would I.
A big shout-out to all the single parents out there. It must be a very challenging experience. As much as I am loving being a parent and certainly wouldn’t change it, it is definitely harder than I expected it to be and certainly harder than anyone told me it would be.
And that is with the good fortune to be married to my amazing wife whose love and energy for her daughter seem literally limitless and who seems to intuitively know what to do in any new situation.
So when she had to Canberra for a three-day work trip, I was a little nervous, but also interested to see what the experience of solo parenting would be like. With our little girl less than six months old I knew it would be my wife that would be suffering the most through this period so I tried to approach the challenge as positively as I could.
So before parenthood I didn’t think I took myself too seriously. I was always happy to share a laugh, even when it was at my own expense and never thought I spent too much time worrying about what others thought about me.
But while I’m usually very comfortable in my own skin, Fatherhood taught me that I was more self-conscious than I had thought and that I needed to lighten up further.
Without ever having interrogated the underlying reasons, I had assumed I wouldn’t use a lot of baby talk or silly voices when talking to my daughter. In fact, the thought of the activity made me a little uncomfortable. Why
So I mentioned before that the early weeks of parenthood were an emotional rollercoaster (if the cliché fits…) and I thought we were just coming to terms with the situation.
The emotional extremes began to flatten out a little and I felt relatively calm, even when my daughter became unsettled or distressed, and was usually able to problem solve a way through challenges as they came up, without losing my composure.
And then she got sick for the first time.
Wow. What an awful experience.
And she didn’t like it much either.
So it is no secret that I am pretty enthusiastic about sport and fitness (hence the entire section of my website related to it) so I wasn’t surprised at the number of people who found the idea of me getting a ‘dad bod’ humorous or ironic when they found out I was expecting a daughter.
For those like me who miss half of the pop culture references that seem to flood the internet from people who have trouble using full sentences, a dad bod refers to the common change in shape that men get when they have a child. We’re meant to get a gut.
My first reaction was to stubbornly insist I could maintain the same level of fitness and that my dad bod would be just the same as my physique pre-parenthood (I can imagine lots of parents reading this and chuckling to themselves).
Not that I really expected it to be easy, and no one ever said it was, but I still wasn’t really prepared for it.
At some level I was kind of terrified at this great unknown adventure that was about to begin. And academically, I understood I was going to be a lot busier and would suddenly have a lot more things to worry about.
And whilst I had received no shortage of warnings about the joys of sleepless nights, I remained kind of optimistic. This optimism was probably born of being an older first-time dad and having seen many of my friends have kids before me. Almost every new parent that I had asked about it had given a slightly wan smile and admitted that it was a bit tiring, but great.
Most of them lied a little.
It’s been less than a month since I first held my daughter in my arms as a tiny ball of life and potential. Even in such a little time the changes in her have been hard to believe. Every now and then I find myself imagining the person she may grow up to be sharing my love of the Tasmanian wilderness and some of my other passions with her.
I haven’t had much chance to write much over the last couple of weeks. This has largely been to do with the birth of my daughter, which has had a profound impact on my life. As a corollary of this, a fair amount of my thoughts and observations may shift to the new topic of parenthood. I’m not planning on stealing from Sonia Kruger’s playbook and use the phrase, “as a parent,’ to make claims with no factual basis, but parenthood is a complex and fascinating area so I will be making a few comments about my experience of it.