Working in the office today I received a message that my eldest child (well, more young adult) had been taken poorly. She’s fine thankfully, but the incident made me rethink the content for my office blog today as it brought back a conversation a few weeks ago.
My friend and his partner have their first baby due this summer. Being a dad of four myself, he thought it wise to ask me what to expect.
I was unable to tell him…
Simply because, in order to ensure the human race doesn’t die off, I think evolution has built in a ‘wipe clear’ function in the memories of new parents that triggers 12 months after the child’s birth.
Today though, I had a flashback to the start of parenthood:
The main thing I felt was terrified.
The first night after Emily came home, I couldn’t handle the whole going to sleep whilst she slept in her crib beside the bed. As soon as she made any kind of noise at all, I would wake up with a start.
I would get up and make sure she was still breathing; it took me months before I stopped worrying every moment.
The relationship dynamic with my wife changed.
We were no longer just partners; we were now mummy and daddy; blimey, that meant responsibility outside of the workplace!?
During the first five years of our relationship, we were basically best mates that spent quality time together after work and at the weekend; these times were precious and now we had changed the whole dynamics.
When Emily arrived, we suddenly became co-workers; we became care provider number one and care provider number two. Conversations in our precious spare time suddenly became about tasks, what needed to de done, what hadn’t been done etc. This was hard work.
The simple task of the grabbing the car keys and shooting out of the front door to do something suddenly became a full on military exercise; planned and prepared for in infinite detail. The only difference was these exercises were daily and didn’t involve ‘travelling light’; we could not figure out why one small addition mean’t the car was suddenly filled with ‘survival provisions’.
The easiest way to fall in love with your job again is to have a baby.
For most of my working life, I’ve been lucky to have a job I love. However, never have I enjoyed any job more than the one I had the morning after my return from my first paternity leave.
That may sound bad. To be clear, I wouldn’t change a thing… Clearly, I had three more children and I increasingly found myself leaving work early to get home and be with the family.
BUT when you first get to finally leave the house and go be an adult again, it’s great. When you have a newborn and you are at home, caring for that newborn is all you can think about and all you can do. Your house smells different, it smells of baby; you are inundated with visitors telling you that they remember how exhausting the experience of becoming a parent is (but not hesitating to invade your day and be waited on with tea and biscuits). For me, for several visitor filled weekends after my daughter was born, Monday morning suddenly became the new Friday night. I remember thinking: TGIM.
I suddenly found a new and boundless respect for stay at home parents; reality struck that parenting really was a job… and a very difficult one at that. Ironically, I became a stay at home dad for a while and I am sure it is the hardest I have ever worked.
I now have the Michael Macintyre sketch “people without kids don’t know…” in my head; it is so true to life it is unreal.
Babies are boring for dads.
Babies are boring in a strange kind of way; they do not do anything but eat, sleep, cry and make smells… Oh, sorry, and totally destroy any kind of routine you’ve had for a very long time.
We felt like we had no idea what we were doing.
We had a million questions for the poor health visitor every time Sylvia visited; to make matters worse, we were businesspeople by nature and we worked to agendas and to do lists. We therefore found ourselves preparing lists of questions for the poor woman to arrive to:
Are dummies safe for night sleep? When is it safe to take her to a public place where there might be… germs? How long between feedings? Min and max, please. What are the signs we she might be unwell? How often should we bathe her? Thoughts on sleep training? The frowned on taboo of powdered milk (now, that was a fun one!)? Is a fiery red bottom a problem? What is the point of winding? It wakes her up after night feeds and we just have to settle her all over again. Is it ever safe to not wind?
Looking back now, I was nothing less than… a nightmare.
It gets easier when they learn to smile.
For the first six weeks of my daughter’s life we felt at our most clueless, we doing everything we thought we should for her and getting zero feedback; this wasn’t normal, in every other job we’d done there was feedback… Why was parenting so different?
Then, one day, it happened…. She hit us with a smile. Finally, we knew we were doing something right and it all became worthwhile!
Above all, I became empathetic.
Having my own child, I was suddenly aware that everyone in the world was once a little baby just like mine; helpless and joyful.
Also, every time I read a bad piece of news about something happening to a child somewhere in the world, it hit me harder than ever before. I would think: what if that were my child?