So I have already written several posts in which I have spoken about or alluded to my determination that fatherhood was not going to be an excuse for me to lessen my expectations for what I wanted to achieve with my own life. Whilst I especially wasn’t ready to give up on my goals to push myself further with endurance racing and accept the ‘Dadbod’ I’d been gleefully warned about, this belief also applied to every other aspect of life.
In essence, I really didn’t want to accept any kind of reality that validated the premise that I had to give up something to be a father. Aside from the fact that this felt like a cop-out, I never wanted to my daughter to feel like she was responsible for any of my unfulfilled ambitions.
With the benefit of hindsight, this was hopelessly naïve, if conceived of the best intentions.
I have heard about the “Terrible twos,” but was finding it hard to imagine with my daughter at one point. She was such an affable child that she really only cried if she was hurt, hungry or scared, so the idea of a tantrum seemed strange.
Then they started. My previously resilient little girl could go from happy to wailing at the drop of a hat (sometimes literally). And it didn’t happen when she was two either, but at around 18 months (I know some parents take great pride in their child reaching milestones early, but this was not a cause of celebration in our house). I should add that these events are still pretty rare and for the most part my daughter is a strong and happy child. But we did notice that it suddenly wasn’t taking much to make her cry- or for her to stop and laugh again.
So as joyous as it has been, I have been pretty open with how challenging I found parenting, especially at the start. But I have to admit it has progressively got easier as both my daughter and I have grown a lot in the past year (I think she more than me, but that is probably debatable).
But this actually tricked me into a false assumption, which took a bit of time to get my head around.
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.
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.