I’m not sure if I really knew what to expect before becoming a parent. I’m the youngest sibling, and didn’t have much experience with kids otherwise (I babysat once or twice).
I mostly become a parent because Amanda and I mostly felt good about it, and were given the impression from church that it’s one of the most important aspects of life (one President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Harold Lee, said “The most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own homes”).
First off, the experience of realizing you’re a parent for the first time, that a new person has been created who’s half you and half your spouse is inexplicable. When you see your child for the first time, it’s impossible to adequately express the love you feel for this little person. You feel like it’s the first time anyone has ever been born: the miracle of life is glimpsed. Before that, when you just hear about it second hand, you don’t get it. It sounds like they’re trying to sell you something, or at most sonar hung that’s only a bit better than eating a bacon donut for the first time. Sorry, you don’t get it. Well, at least I didn’t.
But when you’re not in awe at creating life, yes there are jobs to do and sacrifices to make.
These are the challenges I’ve dealt with, so far. I’m sure for others some of these things are non-issues. So this is just from my experience.
Clearly, the first group of sacrifices starts before all birth, at pregnancy.
As the guy, not such a big deal for me. Obviously more of an issue for my wife: months of nausea, moving around like she had two jugs of milk strapped into her tummy, and not being able to eat sushi (not a big deal, unless it’s the exact thing she’s craving and can’t get out of her mind, which happened). It’s basically months of her life that are kinda a write off.
But the good news is after 9 months it’s over. But the bad news is it’s time to come out. Somehow.
Hollywood kinda caught a glimpse of the drama with giving birth: the uncertainty of whether they’ll be born on the highway at 100km/h, the yelling (both in pain and because the guy smells), and the anxiety over whether everyone will make it.
What they miss, it seems to me, is how long it’s drawn out. There is usually half a day of “pre-Labour” where the woman is rocking-back-and-forth in pain, then like six hours of actual Labour. So I don’t blame Hollywood for not portraying this aspect- they can hardly fit a day, or sometimes more, of Labour, into a 90 minute movie.
So chances are the child will be born at night. Ours were born at 4am and 6am (if I recall correctly through that blur.) So you don’t sleep a ton that night.
And the next night isn’t all that much better. First off, there’s this new tiny life that seems amazingly fragile and pathetic, and you’re a blundering simpleton pretending to be a parent. It’s hard to sleep soundly with all this on your mind.
What’s more, babies need to nurse: during the day as well as night. But basically mothers can’t nurse properly for about three days until “their milk comes in,” so babies are trying to nurse like crazy but getting nothing. So they’re up half of the night, and so are you.
For us, it didn’t get too much better over the next few months: we’d usually sleep 9pm-11pm, 12am-3am, 4am-7am. Technically we’d get 8 hours, but with tons of interruptions. And what was funny was: if the baby didn’t wake up at, say, 11pm as she normally did, we’d still wake up: both out of habit, and out of worry that “is she still alive? Did she suffocate herself?” etc. And that was basically how it went for about 6 months. (After that, when they got moved into their own bed, they’d tended to mostly sleep through the night; ie, sleep from about 11pm to 8am).
I feel once I became a parent, my free time was only a fraction what it was before. Instead of being able to “do my thing” from after dinner around 6pm until 11pm, it basically transformed into about an hour. Goodbye evenings of calmly reading a book.
It’s not like I’m constantly running around, nowadays it’s that I’m either playing with the toddler, changing or bathing or feeding the baby, or generally being half-child-minding and half-able-to-do-something else (like typing in this blog one-handed).
Leaving home is trickier than before. First off, both of our children have been terrific car-yellers from the day they’re born until about a year-and-a-half (like screaming at the top of their lungs, trying their hardest to convince us that they’re going to die if they sit here another instant, and making us want to run over whatever is in our way in order to get out sooner). Next, in order to try to avoid this, we need to time out outings to correspond with baby nap-times (so once she’s yelled for a minute, she falls asleep). We’ve gotten quite a bit better with this for Celeste, but there is a gotcha: we can’t stop anywhere (even traffic lights are iffy) otherwise she wakes up, and the yelling fest starts again. That also means being jerks and not giving anybody rides.
And then if Amanda or I wants to get out to do something on our own (like hometeaching, Jazzercise, etc), it means the other needs to mind both of the girls solo, which can be tricky (especially when Celeste just wants to nurse in complete silence the whole time, and Danielle wants to play, and neither one gets exactly what they want). So at least for me, being a member of a basket-weaving class isn’t just boring, it’s also a bit painful knowing that I might be stressing out Amanda and the kids.
And then there’s getting out for long trips, like vacations. Going backpacking across Europe isn’t quite as easy (sleeping in an airport is adventuresome without kids, negligent with them). And it’s really unnecessary to go camping in order to consider yourself “roughing it”: we’ve watwn with our bare hands at restaurants (Amanda, at the Zanzibar) because it’s just not possible to use cutlery when you have to feed yourself and the baby banshee (and the only way to stop her cries is to stick food into her). And rides at an amusement park, which you had waited for decades to ride, are again basically of limits because kids sure can’t go in them.
Yes it’s possible to get out, it just requires a lot more planning and sacrifice from somebody else in order to make it happen. (No we haven’t tried babysitting yet, especially when picking up the baby sitter and dropping them off would eat up about an hour and a half, etc. Luckily for us Grandmas are often helpful.)
I work from home, which is really nice because I get to be around the kids so much and rarely miss an development milestones (eg when they first stand, or say a word, etc), but it can also make it difficult to get work done when they’re around. There’s nothing they would both like more than to type on my laptop, adding random bugs into the computer programming code I work on.
Thankfully Amanda arranges to keep them happily amused, and out of my hair, for most of the day: with Strong Start (basically free preschool for children of any age, where parents attend also), gymnastics class, tumblebumz (indoor pay-for-use playground in Langford), and taking them out to see grandparents.
Before becoming a parent I’m not sure if I was very aware of the benefits to be honest. It was mostly something to do because it felt right. But here’s some of the ways I think it’s been good for me in my life.
As I see my children grow (learn to use a spoon, walk and talk, etc) I’ve realized although I don’t remember when I learned all those skills, I also went through very similar experiences in order to become who I am today. I of course don’t remember a lot from when I was 1, but I do remember a lot from when Danielle was 1. Of course her life as a one year old is quite different from mine, I think, but it’s closer than my life as a 30 year old.
- How long have I held a spoon the same way? Probably since I was 1. And I’m betting I learnt it like Danielle and Celeste have.
We don’t remember very much from our first 4 years of so. And I never knew firsthand very well what my parents sacrificed in raising me. But I now know that although I don’t remember those years very much, they were pretty full of sacrifice (and the year or so before I was born too)
- I go on a run every weekday because it’s the only way I can get my girls to each have a nap.
- I brush my teeth every morning because it’s part of my 3 year old’s routine.
- I even ate some macaroni loaf yesterday because I’m always telling Danielle “you need to try the food before you know you don’t like it”, and seeing I had never tried it… I was caught in my own trap.
- I see the gap between the ideals I want my children to adopt and what I actually practice. I say things are “stupid”, I pick at scabs, and sometimes use a whiny voice; despite those are all things I tell Danielle to not do (and extra ironically I have my whiny-est voice when I’m telling her to not be whiny)
- I get up before 8 every day. Of course I sleep as long as I can, or as long as they let me. So I feel better than the college kids who sleep in until 11:30am on saturdays; but of course we all know I’d sleep in just as long if I could.
- I really only have time for the important things. Playing video games or other time wasters simply can’t be done when they’re awake and the hours between their bedtime and mine are too precious (although I have played a bit with my brothers about once a week recently. That’s an exception)
- Choose words more carefully. I avoid saying “dumb”, “stupid” and “hate”. Even Robert Munsch books get sensored by us! And I honestly do think most thoughts that contain those words don’t inspire me or make me happy; and when I do feel like that, needing to find alternative words to describe my emotions helps me to analyze them and understand them and resolve them.
Of course with kids, it’s harder to get out as much. You can’t go back-packing through the Amazon basin with kids. Or at least I would find it difficult. We haven’t even gone camping (sleeping with a baby afoot is hard enough to begin with). BUT, the children take such joy in “simple” day-to-day things because, to them, they’re new and exciting. And I vicariously feel that joy, it’s contagious.
For example, my 12-month old Celeste just learned that if she holds onto my hands and hangs, I will spin her. And the sensation of being spun for the first time thrills . Or when the kids pronounce the sound “d” for the first time. When Danielle was just over one she managed to make that sound, and so it was heard for weeks straight. I might have done likewise if I learned to wiggle my ears or learn to communicate with people whose language I’m just learning.
My 3 year old Danielle recently brought her show-and-tell bag to preschool (or as she often calls it, her Chantal bag) with s very special green thing: her favorite stuffed animal “Puffy” the puffer fish. She was so excited to share this most prized item with the other children. She knew they would all love it as much as her- in fact, I don’t think it occurred to her that it’s possible they wouldn’t.
Anyways, my need to seek thrills is pretty well gone because I see the way my children are thrilled.
I can’t conclude anything, they’re only 3 and 1. But they’re a joy to have and I’m happy we have them. Raising children is also a challenge on a similar scale to earning a bachelor’s degree. Wonderful, fulfilling and esycatjinsl yes, but a major life challenge thatladts for years. And that’s just so far, I have at least 17 more years of having them in the house! I’ll give you another update sometime along the road.