Year One of Fatherhood

Year One of Fatherhood

What I Wished I Would Have Known

Here I sit, melted ice cream cake becoming a tableau of sugary finger paint on the kitchen table, realizing that my now blissfully sleeping son, Oliver, has finished celebrating his first birthday. Beyond sleeping, I try to process his birthday from his perspective and I imagine him reveling that his cake and ice cream melded into one delicious dessert while gathered family inanely (and tone deafly) made fire and gleefully sang an odd song to him, such a bizarre collection of traditions when analyzed. Meanwhile, his mother and I debrief about being overjoyed that we managed to keep an infant alive (and actually quite happy!) for a whole year.

The first year is a bit of an odd paradox. My wife and I constantly revel that we don’t feel it is possible for Oliver to be a year old. However, at the same time, it seems like eons ago that she was pregnant. I’ve developed a theory as to why this is the case. It is because each day of particularly early parenthood is an odd combination of exuberance, exhaustion and most of the emotions in between, that there is such a clear and dividing line between your life pre- and post- parenthood that anything before your kids were born seems so long ago.

Another reason I think that it is the case is because parenthood is such a unique journey. It really is unlike any other experience I’ve had in life. That’s because, it is a journey that parents undertake with lots of road maps, many claiming to have the best route but, in reality, none of these road maps will be exactly the right one for your child and your family.

I know this firsthand because I experienced it. Rewind a little over a year ago.

I had almost no baby experience; I never babysat, my younger brother was only 4 years younger than me so I never had much of a hand in caretaking during his earlier years. It was only a few months before becoming a father that I had even held my first baby and that was an ambush. My wife and I visited a friend with a baby and before I knew it (and distinctly against my then policy of holding and potentially damaging other people’s babies), I had a baby in arm. I began sweating so profusely that I dripped on the baby and had to wipe him off.

So I decided, in compensation for my lack of baby experience, that I would read as much as I could about being a father, trying in vain to figure out what I was doing. Imagine my consternation and shock to discover that there wasn’t one set way to be a parent (and even greater shock when the so-called “experts” each had a conflicting opinion). I was stuck trying to figure out my way and figure out what I wanted because I desperately wanted to be the by-the-book ideal parent, a sheer figment of my imagination.

It was only after Oliver was born that I came to realize the futility of trying to be ideal. I had done my best to wade the waters of expert wisdom to make tough decisions between things like “crying it out” or total attachment parenting or putting my kid to sleep without inevitably scarring him for life. What finally dawned on me is that you can’t arbitrarily try to fit your life and that of your child into a pigeonhole. There is no such thing as the ideal parent.

You compromise for what works for both you, your family and your child. As an example, my wife and I had a stance set on self-soothing. That went out the window when it didn’t go well. So, instead, we trusted our instincts and struck a balance (we personally couldn’t bear listening to him scream (my wife more so than me), but we refused to swoop in without him making a valid attempt… and wouldn’t you know, we didn’t ruin him and we didn’t divorce- he was even putting himself to sleep by 6 months old using “the Sleep Lady Shuffle”. It’s not for everyone, but it was for us).

As another example, one of things the “ideal parent” would never do is put a baby to bed with a bottle. However, this became one of the most effective ways to help Oliver fall asleep. We felt guilty for a while, but soon realized that you have to work with your child and find the balance that works, even if Internet keyboard warriors tell you otherwise.

In the end, what I’ve realized is this: there is nothing that can prepare you and tell you what to do as a parent- no book, no in-law, no grandparent even. Even if you don’t have any parenting experience, if you are attentive, your instincts will kick in. You may not be the “ideal parent” by the book but you can always be the ideal parent for your child.

 

Photo: Flickr/Aleks Clark

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