Parenthood is the most unique experience that 90% of all humans will share with one another at some point in their lives.
90%! How strange that something so common often feels so exclusive. Like we’re the first one to go through it. Like we’re on this island all alone. Sure, we might reach out. Ask for tips. Read books. Endure unwanted advice. But at the end of the day, we all think this parenting experience is ours and ours only.
I think this is because–though humans have been rearing and raising younger humans for thousands and thousands of years–not one of them has parented this exact child of mine before. This one “beautiful and unique snowflake”. This is my kid.
So on that level, it’s hard to totally fault us for thinking our own kids are one-of-a-kind. But on the other hand, it’s also hard to completely relate with other parents. There are common feelings, behaviors, patterns, and rants, of course. But just underneath it, there’s an always pervasive “Yeah, but…my kid is different” feeling bouncing around.
I suppose it’s this ignorance that keeps us pushing through. This ignorance that we’re somehow forging new territory. Because I think without it, parenthood would be a tremendously defeating venture. I’ve already talked about how much it affects your mid-section. If you thought the “Freshmen 15” was bad, wait until you try on the “New Dad 30”.
Parenthood is literally a punch to your gut.
Parenting should provide the best workout that ever could be possible. At least, it feels like it should. It’s incredibly taxing physically. You’re out of breath often. There is near constant motion and very little time for rest. Lugging around a baby carrier for nearly a year per kid is a cross-fitter’s dream scenario, no? How is that not the recipe for being in the best shape of your life?
If you want to make a case for life being unfair, there it is. I’m the most tired, overworked, and physically spent that I’ve ever been in my life. And I also happen to be in the worst shape of my life. Something just isn’t adding up here. In fact, the things that you require most to be a happy and effective parent–sleep, exercise, and healthy food–are often the complete opposite of what you wind up getting.
Parenting is the hardest endeavor I’ve undertaken in my short 36 years of life. And maybe will be the hardest I’ll ever undertake.
“So why do it, then?”, a completely sane and self-respecting person might ask.
Well geez, I don’t think anyone would, if it also wasn’t singlehandedly the most rewarding endeavor a human could possibly dream up.
The best way to prepare for parenthood is to get comfortable and then immediately get up— David DeWeil (@daviddeweil) April 2, 2018
A ‘Lil Squirt & A Smiley Guy
I think I could easily say that I don’t like this stage of parenthood, but that I love my kids. You might think that’s an oxymoronic statement. But it really isn’t:
Parenting is hard work. My kids are fun.
My daughter is boundless energy personified. She’s a live-wire. This has it’s challenges when we need her to sit still for dinner, or lay down for a nap, or not jump on her brother. But she keeps our family life fresh and exciting. Currently, she’s an extrovert and neither my wife nor I can figure out where (or who) she gets it from.
Before we had kids, my wife saw pictures of her towheaded, buck-toothed husband and claimed that we were destined for at least one “Dennis The Menace” child. Well, she got her Dennis in our daughter.
Audrey has this unshakable inner core that is such pure, guileless naiveté. As her dad, I just want to do everything I can to protect that. To encourage her curiosity and exploration of the world. And to realize that the biggest enemy of that innocence and vitality on most days, is my own selfishness.
My son is pure joy. His default facial position is a smile. And they’re the kind of smiles that every muscle in his face participates in. There’s no way it’s not infectious. Who taught him how to smile like that?
He also has this intensity and intention with whatever he is currently doing. I hope he takes it with him through the rest of his life. It will take him far in this world. Bennett is still young, but there are glimpses of this cheerful and effervescent personality starting to poke through. He’s been such a blessing to us and a delightful surprise.
Your second child is this kind of complete new mystery. What would he even be like? We spent 3-1/2 years with only Audrey, how would we have more love for a whole other child? We spent all those years learning her personality and falling in love with who she is. How would we be able to do that equally with a brand new personality?
And then you meet him.
And you see your children interact and love each other and your heart just floods with all these emotions. It’s then you realize the reserves of your love as a parent are essentially boundless. And it’s also about now when you realize that a vasectomy is a very real necessity.
Again, I can’t sugarcoat how tough parenthood is. I can’t imagine having even one more kid than the two we have right now. But thinking about having three children does give me profound new respect for my own parents and how they raised my two sisters and I. In general, having kids of my own has given me a better sense of reverence for my parents and the decisions they made in parenting me. I have a better understanding of the weight they felt because I now feel a similar weight.
There’s an inherent déjà vu in parenting your kids. You often find yourself repeating the same phrases your parents did. Logic that seemed flawed to you throughout your entire childhood now starts to click. “Because I said so!” no longer seems unfair, but instead, a sensible shortcut that really just saves everyone involved a lot of time and exposition.
I have a theory that all the best loves in life have one thing in common: you can’t explain them.
I can’t tell you why I get excited thinking about going home to see my kids the last hour of my work day. The smell of their hair, the squishiness of their cheeks, the unmistakeability of their laughs. There’s enough of me inside them to feel familiar but enough of their own person in there to keep me pushing further.
My kids are my favorite thing in life.
Slow It Down A Measure
They grow too fast. I know it’s cliché, but you never think about just how short the time is with your young children until you’re living through it yourself. It’s essentially mere months. Within a college semester your baby is already smiling & laughing; at half a year they’re mobile in some capacity and within just a year, they’re walking and talking. A year!
I think we see pictures of ourselves as babies and think that these early stages of life must last forever. We think this period of life raising kids is so long because it felt so long to us growing up.
But hear me out, my friends: this is the fastest I’ve ever felt my life flying by and no matter what I try to do to hack my time, I can’t slow it down. So all that talk earlier about cherishing life right now, about slowing it down, I have to confess:
It doesn’t work.
At least not when it comes to my kids. They are growing faster than my synapses can process. And it breaks my heart.
My children are still so young, but there are moments when the light hits them a certain way as they’re sleeping, or the shadows stretch across their faces while they’re playing and somehow my brain projects them to be a year or two older than they are. And I can’t help it, the future comes flooding in as a flurry of instances flash by me all at once. Like I accidentally sat on the remote and jammed the fast-forward button.
And I can’t take it, it overwhelms me. I know these times are fleeting. And I’m absolutely helpless to stop them. I can shout, I can grit my teeth, I can hold on to them so, so tightly. But nothing I do will bring back today.
My little girl and baby boy are never going to be as little as they were today.
My God. Time is a devil.
And it just keeps clicking along.
Faster, and faster, and faster…
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
- “On Children” by Kahlil Gibran
Next week, I’ll take a deeper dive into this strange stage of life called “parenthood”, and more specifically “young fatherhood” and a strange melancholy that I have noticed starting to sink in right around this stage.
But first! A few practical tips on parenting that my wife and I have picked up over the past five years or so:
- Take breaks from your kids. I know this is a redundant point from the marriage section, but that’s only because it’s so important. Self-care is a very real need when you have kids. Time by yourself or with only your spouse is so vital for your happiness and as tolerance for the insanity that raising young humans can bring. If you want to have happy and healthy kids, you need to first be happy and healthy yourself.
- Don’t pass up snuggle moments. It’s easy to get drained at the end of the day and want to just get the kids to bed. But hear me out: your kids won’t be this small forever. Don’t quickly shrug off a “Daddy, hold you!” or “Could you snuggle with me tonight?” moment. It won’t be long and your kid won’t want much of anything to do with you. Treasure these times.
- Let your kids into your world. When I was young, I remember trying my darndest to wake up earlier than normal just to have a slight chance of seeing my dad before he left for work. I remember working so hard to get myself up and ready for the day even though most days he would already be gone. Now as a dad, I’m more cognizant of those moments, when I can tell my daughter is trying to crack into my world. When she takes note of my morning routine and questions me if it differs from my normal. When she asks me how my day went when I get home from work. It’s subtle, but it can mean the world to your kid.
- Err on the soft side. Kids need structure and they need discipline. And for God’s sake, give them some boundaries. But if at all possible, err on the gracious side with them. Sometimes just that little bit of patience during a fit or meltdown proves to be the key in a big teaching moment. Sometimes my own selfishness in wanting the fussing to just be over is the biggest impediment to my children’s growth. Or sometimes they just need a nap.
- Give yourself grace. The transition from young couple to young parents is severe. It often feels like two steps forward and then three steps back. It’s easy to lose yourself in the shuffle. So cutting yourself and your partner some slack is crucial. Effective parenting is all about adapting to your kid’s routine. And then learning how to adjust to a completely new routine in another few weeks. There will be plenty of mistakes and frustrations. Plenty of down nights and plenty of up nights. Plenty of ebbs and plenty of flows. It takes some time, but eventually you’ll pick up the rhythm and learn to dance.
Miss a previous post?
- Intro: The Middle Chapters
- Part 1: A Grown-Up Body…
- Part 2: Middling Age
- Part 3: A Grown-Up Soul…
- Part 4: Life In The Future
A Mixtape Guide To Growing Up: