12 Things I Learned in 12 Months of Fatherhood
A year ago, I hovered over a hospital bed while my wife pushed a nine-pound monster out of her body. He would soon haunt our nights with wails and moans and leech upon our days.
Today, I sit in my living room watching that same monster – now turned into a cherub of a one-year-old – walk, babble and play with trucks, blocks and noisy toys. No matter how wise a person is before they have kids, a parent is bound to learn a lot in the first year. I certainly did, anyway.
Here are a dozen things I learned in my first 12 months of parenthood.
1. What a Boppy is.
My vocabulary has grown immensely since becoming a dad. Too bad it’s with words like Boppy, Binky, Rock n Play, Doula and Butt Paste. It’s amazing how many contraptions, remedies, and robots parents are told are essential if they plan to raise a child successfully. I can’t help but think of the mothers in Sub-Saharan Africa with only a hip and a nipple compared to the Walmarts of resources available to Western parents. Most devices are truly a blessing while others make some loser money, and it feels like a horrendous injustice. Still, an English-to-Parenthood dictionary would have been a useful tool to come out after the placenta!
2. What a placenta is and why I won’t eat it.
Other than a lasagna layer, I didn’t know what a placenta was until after I saw one. It’s basically the Mother High Cafeteria where unborn babies get nutrients slopped on a five-compartment tray from a greasy old lady. OK, it’s actually pretty incredible. But I would never eat a cafeteria, and I certainly wouldn’t want to eat a two to six-pound organ from a uterus. Apparently, however, parents eat it to guard against postpartum depression, and I’ve done a lot weirder stuff when I’ve been depressed, so no judgment here if you’re currently chowing on a placenta.
3. Babies are people, too.
To be honest, I didn’t much like my son during the first few months. He was little more than an inconvenience. Eventually, I realized he wasn’t always going to be a crying, pooping monster; he was bound to grow up, get wiser, and someday, I’d be the inconvenience to him. Who knew “Cats In The Cradle” was more than just an awful song? Grasping onto this perspective dramatically changed my approach to parenthood and glugged my patience tank to the brim.
4. It does get easier.
When my son turned three months old, it was a major turning point. Then he turned six months, and parenting got easier. At nine months, parenthood felt normalized, and actually, it was pretty fun. Now he’s in his second year and I’ve never loved him more. There have been challenges, of course, but for the most part, everything gets noticeably easier in three-month increments. So, if you’re wide-eyed and awkwardly cradling a fresh specimen of new life, know that it will get easier. Just take it three months at a time.
5. There are good, better and bad baby books.
Just because it’s a baby book doesn’t mean it’s good. Trust me. There are shelves (and shelves) of mediocre books for kids. Just as many are bad. However, there are loads of high-quality books for kids. The storylines, morals, and illustrations are superb. Create an exciting story for your kid, and make reading a thrilling adventure as it is meant to be.
6. A baby doesn’t have to completely change your life, but it will.
My greatest concern with entering into the world of parenthood was losing touch with the outside world like a hermit, troll or worst of all, a Dugger. I anticipated the couple that was once able to stay up late, explore breweries, go out to eat, hang with friends, and travel would be replaced by denim-jumper dweebs with boarded up windows and a strict homeschool schedule.
We decided to be intentional with welcoming our son into our lives instead of stopping our lives for him. Don’t get me wrong, we’d drop everything for him if the situation called for it, but for now, we can get away with taking him out, lugging him along (appropriately), and continue spending time with close friends. Often, there’s little need to sacrifice everything on the altar of a newborn. You’re still you. Show them your world.
Having a baby inevitably changes your life, and the reality is you might not be able to do everything you once did. But it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. The changes that will happen are for the better, and they are totally worth it as you focus on more long lasting and fulfilling priorities.
Everything gets noticeably easier in three-month increments…
7. Trying is more important than failing.
Down the hall from the Mother High Cafeteria must be the library because this kid came out with insane instincts. I remember when he was born, he latched onto my wife with an understanding of how breastfeeding works I still don’t have. As he got older, I became more impressed with his knack for trying new things. No one taught him to roll over, crawl, walk, or pick his nose, but he did. He started trying, and when he fell, he tried again. Watching him develop new abilities taught me that trying is inherent; it is a pivotal part of human nature. And failing is merely a piece of that.
Having learned from my son, I know that as a father I will fail, but the act of getting up and trying again matters much more than any shortcoming. With 24 million children, one out of three are living without a biological father in the home; showing up and trying is half the battle. You will fail, but you will succeed. Do what you were meant to do and simply keep trying.
8. I am helping him write his story.
Long before he could even crawl, he was soaking it all in. He literally is a sponge, and soon enough he’ll be squeezed by the pressures of this world. What I pour into him will come seeping out. It is vital I set a positive example. I am helping him write his story – the story he will have the rest of his life – and I am a main character, but I’m not the hero.
9. The importance of Community.
There were times early on when my son would not stop crying, and I called a friend or family member just to calm down. Having people to call is important, and actually calling them when you need to call is even more important. Perspective, emotional support, and a couple more hands for poopy diapers are precious aids when a new parent needs it most. It really does take a village to raise a kid.
10. Mr. Mums are good dads.
A lot of dads stay at home with their kids while wives bring home the bacon. But it’s not a new-age, hipster, millennial phenomenon. As I have stepped up to the home plate (pun intended), I’ve met many older guys who have done the same when their kids were young. Mr Mums are no anomaly, but we should ditch the term Mr Mum. Dads who stay home and love on their kids 24-7 are just good dads.
11. What a breast pump feels like.
Yep. Feels weird. And I don’t even have man-boobs.
12. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it (not the breast pump).
As my wife grew a human for nine months in her beautiful womb, I grew a comparably sized dough ball of anxiety in my gut. In fact, I had so much anxiety, I actually twitched incessantly. I thought, surely, fatherhood would be the end of me.
It’s not that bad, though. I survived a year, and so can you. If you’re a new dad, soon-to-be dad or someday dad, just take it moment by moment. Whatever hesitations you might have about bearing children, you’ll figure out as parenting instincts click in and lessons are learned. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it. Parenthood is a wonderful thing.
At least, 12 months in.
D. Doug Mains is a writer and dad. He blogs at Daddingdepressed.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. This article has been republished with permission.