If I don’t write about my experiences as a father while my boy is growing up, it’s almost certain that hormones will take over and I’ll forget how I really felt. Here are some of the themes that came up.
Growing into fatherhood
Matrescence is the process of becoming a mother. This school of thought says that once a mother gives birth, she doesn’t instantly become a mother but instead she transitions into motherhood over time. It’s a similar concept to when a boy goes through puberty and transitions into manhood.
The term Patrescence doesn’t exist but from my experience, it should. When your child is born, you inherit all the responsibilities of a father, but you don’t instantly become a father. You transition into fatherhood while as your baby grows.
Diaper changes, bottle feedings, putting your baby to sleep, and overall care are new concepts to you. Things are complicated and overwhelming.
As you transition into fatherhood, those things become easier. You’re growing into the role of a father. You slowly gain confidence. You start to feel like a father.
In the first few months, I’d sometimes ask my wife can you believe that we’re parents and that we have a baby boy? By month 7, I felt like a father.
The transition to fatherhood will probably take years and there’s not a clear finish line. Just when you think you got things handled, your kid goes through another growth spurt and once again, you’re caught off guard.
There’s no comfort zone
Babies go through growth spurts often. After two or three months, they start sleeping for a few hours at a time. It’s a major relief. You’re no longer waking up 5 times each night.
Just as you’re about to thank the universe for this wonderful milestone, a sleep regression happens. You’re back to square one.
You get past that and then teething happens, your baby is in pain, and once again you’re up at night.
Your little one starts to attend daycare and you find some solitude in your work during the day. A week later he’s home because daycare is a germ factory and you’re back to a hectic schedule of taking care of your baby and doing work.
Here’s the secret. There is no comfort zone to settle into.
Be thankful for the quiet moments and moments when everyone is healthy but realize that it can — and likely will — all go to hell tomorrow.
Losing focus and working in shorter intervals
My time intervals for focused work have decreased. I haven’t written much in the last few months because I can’t write in short 20 minute blocks.
The lack of time is especially apparent on the weekends. There’s a cycle of awake windows (being present with family), nap windows, feedings, and taking care of house things.
The motivation gurus say that you must find the time when everyone goes to bed and work on your own side hustles into the night.
I don’t do that.
That advice sounds great on paper but sacrifices health and sanity. The tradeoff is not worth it.
By the time evening arrives and the house is quiet at 7:30 pm, my wife and I have dinner together and then I’m headed for bed. Why head to bed so early? Because there’s no guarantee that a baby will sleep through the night. He might wake up at 7 am or he might wake up at 6 am.
The other reason I don’t work late into the night is because willpower is limited. It’s hard to summon willpower on-demand. You tend to have the most willpower when you wake up in the morning and it gradually gets eaten up during the day. By the time I sit down to write in the evening, I have no creative juices left.
So what’s the solution? You fit personal development priorities into your work schedule by managing work expectations.
Managing work expectations
I work with a few folks that write code well into the night. They are workhorses. Before becoming a father, I was able to write code during evenings.
There’s only so much you can fit in 24 hours. Something needs to bend.
Work is going to bend and here’s why.
Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them—work, family, health, friends, and spirit—and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—family, health, friends, and spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.
— Bryan Dyson, Former CEO of Coca-Cola
The greatest challenge of time management is fitting a growing number of activities into a fixed daily amount of time.
This means that work output will have to decrease. There’s no other way without sacrificing health, family, or your long-term sanity.
It’s a fine balance between doing what is expected of you but also knowing when to turn off your laptop and call it a day. That means enforcing do not disturb hours on your Slack or Microsoft Teams from 5 pm to 8 am and not looking at your emails.
So when can you work on personal priorities? Since you’ll need the willpower to do them, you must fit them in during the work day. That means you block off chunks of time during the day to work on things that personally matter to you. You’ll have to manage work expectations. It’s not what career gurus will tell you but it’s the reality you need to hear.
Introverts will hurt
I like having downtime and oftentimes, I like being alone. Socializing with other humans is important from time to time, but it’s not something that I deliberately seek out.
Say goodbye to most of your downtime once you become a father.
Babies are vulnerable and highly dependent on their parents for care and growth. You have wake windows, playtime, nap time, feedings, and diaper change schedules.
Those are repeated in cycles throughout the day. You must be present.
You have to realize that this is just a stage, and it too shall pass. I know it’s easy to say and hard to do but that’s the way it is.
A supportive partner is critical
I can’t imagine parenting by myself. I know there are folks that have to do it and in my eyes, they are incredibly strong.
Having a supportive partner is crucial to keeping your sanity while parenting.
By sharing responsibilities, my wife and I give each other opportunities to work out, have some quiet time, nap, and prevent becoming overwhelmed. I feel incredibly lucky to go through parenthood with her.
I don’t recommend going into parenthood with a half-assed partner. You’re going to have a bad time.
I cannot imagine doing fatherhood while being financially insecure. The stress would be crushing.
A growing baby brings unpredictable factors. Your kid got sick and needed to go to the emergency room? Even if your insurance covers it, you’ll still have to pay the out-of-pocket maximum before insurance will cover 100% of the costs. That deductible can be several thousands of dollars.
You’ll need to buy necessities you haven’t accounted for. Unexpected expenses just pop up.
I know that parents have raised families in much tougher circumstances and poverty. I do not doubt their resolve. I just wouldn’t recommend it.
Get your financial situation fixed before taking on the challenge of bringing a new life into this world. When you’re in the emergency room, and your kid is fighting for his life, the last thing you want to think about is how you’ll be paying next month’s rent.
Taking the time to look for a daycare where teachers care about babies is worth it. Not all daycares are the same. I’ve had friends who signed up and then had to withdraw their kid from poorly run daycares.
Use NextDoor and Facebook groups to get opinions from real families about the daycares they use.
Go and visit the daycare yourself and get a gut feel for the place. See how friendly the teachers are.
A good daycare will have experienced teachers who will nurture your baby during the day and will help them reach milestones. They’ll transition them from bottles to sippy cups. They’ll help them go from army crawling to full crawling. Your baby will benefit socially from being around other babies.
There is a tradeoff: Be prepared for your baby to come home sick at least once a month. You’ll get sick too. Daycares are germ factories and there’s no way around it.
Still, we find that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
People will try to shame you
I told my Pakistani colleague that my boy goes to daycare while my wife and I work during the weekdays.
He disapproves of using a daycare and hinted that its what crappy parents do. At first, I tried to defend myself but then I quickly realized that this guy was a father from a different era.
After a quick back and forth, I discovered that his wife dropped her career and took on almost all baby duties when they started a family. We have different lives that can’t be compared.
Don’t let shaming get to your head. Most new parents hear some kind of unsolicited advice. Unless it has merit, treat it as a fart in the wind.
After reading all the heavy headlines above, you’re probably thinking — damn, this guy is a killjoy. Fret not – I do have good news.
At this point, I can’t imagine not having my little boy in my life.
When I was having a rough time the first few weeks of being a father, I was told “I promise you, it gets better”. I found this to be true.
When I do spend time with my boy, I feel deep contentment in my heart. Seeing him progress from playing on his back, to crawling, and to almost walking is not only satisfying to him, but it feels like I’m part of his adventure and it’s deeply rewarding for me to see his progress.
It’s like we’re both playing Sonic the Hedgehog. He’s Sonic and I’m his partner, Tails. He’s the main character of the game (his life) but I’m there to help him through the hard parts. When he beats a level (hits a milestone), I feel the joy of getting through it with him.
Fathers also told me that hormones will kick in and you’ll forget the grueling early months but remember the contentment. I find that to be accurate.
Here’s an example of that — It’s the weekend and my wife and I have been with our boy the whole day. By the time 7 pm rolls around, we are putting him to sleep and I look forward to some alone time.
Twenty minutes after he’s asleep, I’m on my phone scrolling through pictures of my boy and showing them to my wife. What the hell is wrong me? Hormones. It happened to me and it’ll happen to you too.
During the first few weeks, I was convinced that I was one and done. By month 5, I wasn’t so convinced of that. By month 7, I felt I wanted to have more kids in my life. Hormones are a hell of a drug.