One of the things that happens when your wife is pregnant is that people give you advice, whether you want it or not. Parents of one kid, parents of lots of kids or parents of zero kids, pretty much everyone has something for you. This sounds overwhelming, and it is at times, but I actually appreciated it. Not all of the advice, of course, but a lot of it. Which is why, because one of RedMonk’s own is expecting, I feel obligated to share a few lessons learned about parenting in spite of the fact that I’ve been doing this job for less than two years.
I have nothing close to wisdom to offer, but I promise two things:
- I will not say “your life is over” or “see you in twenty years,” because I found that flavor of “advice” spectacularly unhelpful.
- This will be a lot longer than it needs to be.
With that said, here are ten things I’ve figured out about having a kid.
- The Good News/Bad News About Sleep Deprivation
After my daughter was born, one of my friends whose wife was expecting asked what the fatigue is really like. I told him that there was good news and bad news about that. I asked him whether he remembered what it was like to get up at three something to catch a flight out at five in the morning – that disorientating and debilitating fatigue that makes you feel hollowed out. He said that he did. The bad news, I told him, was that it’s essentially like that all day every day for the first few months. He took a moment, then asked about the good news. The good news, I said, is that after a day or two, that will seem totally normal. You’ll only dimly recall a time in which you slept like a normal person. The human body is an amazingly adaptable thing, and while sleep deprivation is not its favorite condition, it will do what it must.
Even better, a few months after the baby sleeps through the night, you won’t even remember how awful that initial sleep deprivation was. Until the baby has a sleep regression, that is, but best not to worry about that now. In fact, forget I mentioned that.
Trust the People in Your Life To Cut You Some Slack
One of Kate’s childhood friends Lucy is a nurse at the hospital my daughter was born at. So she was in to see us the day after the delivery. At this point we were all sleeping at the hospital, which is another way of saying that none of us were actually sleeping. While I enjoy Lucy’s company, then, when she showed up, I guessed that my presence was less essential than baby or mother, and so after saying a weary “Hi Lucy!,” I curled up and slept in a chair for the duration of her visit. Under other circumstances, this is massively rude. But this time I believed that Lucy, both a nurse and a mother herself, would understand our situation. She did, and couldn’t have been sweeter about it later.
This understanding is important, because the baby will have very unpredictable impacts on your life. I, for example, was raised to believe that early was on time and on time was late. I’ve had to (temporarily) lower my standards, however, because post-kid we are basically always late. We apologize, of course, and try not to be, but trust our friends and family to understand.
Routine is Everything
One of the pieces of advice I didn’t receive but wish I had was around routine. Specifically, that routine is the most important single tool in managing your life post-kid. Everything you can reduce down to a simple, repeatable set of steps should be. When my daughter was a newborn, for example, I had what I called “evening chores.” This meant bringing in firewood, tending our fire, doing the dishes, cleaning bottles and prepping the next set of bottles. Bottle cleaning and prep, in fact, was its own set of subroutines. I washed the pieces in groups because it was faster, and laid them out to dry in exactly the pattern that you would assemble them in.
The routines evolve, of course. These days it’s about making sure that while my daughter is running around playing in the early evening, I’m getting her covers pulled down, her stuffed animals in the places she expects them, her PJs laid out on the changing table and her blankee laid out on the chair we rock in before bedtime.
Basically, the more you can operate on autopilot the better, particularly when you’re likely to be down a cylinder or three mentally.
You Will Fight
From a family member who shall go unnamed came the warning that, due to sleep deprivation, even the closest of couples will argue. The story he told me was of a fight that began because his wife asked him if he “wanted” to get up and check on the baby at 2:30 in the morning.
Turns out the answer to whether someone “wants” to do that is a very emphatic no.
Even in a best case scenario, where you have help from family or otherwise, and you’re managing to sleep for reasonable stretches of time, tensions will run higher. The good news is that because most of the fights are over stupid shit, they’ll blow over quickly and the baby has the power to make all of that go away quickly. But in general, always do your best to be empathetic and give the benefit of the doubt. Even if you don’t “want” to get up at 2:30 in the morning.
Baby Germs Are No Joke
Generally speaking, I’ve been pretty lucky with my health. It’s pretty rare that I get the flu, stomach bugs or anything worse than a minor cold. Or more accurately it was rare, until my daughter started at daycare and our house became a Hot Zone.
In the short span since my daughter arrived I feel pretty confident in saying that I’ve been sick more than I was in my entire life up to that point. I spent Christmas Day vomiting up anything that wasn’t Gatorade. I had a miserable fever and my sinuses were a brick for two weeks in February. I even had to cancel a client video call two months back because I got pink eye. However good you think your immune system is, it’s no match for daycare. Trust me. If you’re the kind of person who never uses their sick time, you’re going to get a lot better at it.
Get Out of the House
One of the things that several different friends with kids recommended we do – and they had always done themselves – is to take the baby out early. The sooner they can acclimate to different types of environments, with people and sounds and weather, the better.
Our daughter has been going to a friendly local restaurant since she was a month old, and while she’s too high energy at the moment to sit still for an entire meal, she at least has been introduced to the concept and has some idea of how to conduct herself in a public setting. The sooner you start this the better, in fact, because when they’re really little they’ll just sleep through dinner if you time it right. Once they’re older, they’ll want you to walk them up and down stairs a hundred times.
It’s Fucking Terrifying
There’s no way around this: having a kid is legitimately, and regularly, terrifying. As Tim Bray said in a post he pointed me to the day my daughter was born, “I’m sure every parent has stroked a sleeping baby’s face, or tickled its finger, just to make sure it’s breathing.” This is true, and literally every parent ever has done this.
But it’s not just the breathing. The first time they run a fever is scary. Same with a bad cough. The first time they vomit up a full feed on you. The first time they tip over and smack their face on their little red Radio Flyer wagon. All scary.
But the thing to remember, and that your doctors and nurses will remind you of if they’re good (and ours is excellent), is that kids are generally pretty resilient little creatures. Experience also makes things easier; the first time your kid can’t keep any food down, for example, it’s paralyzing. Once you learn how to handle it with Pedialyte, the BRAT diet and popsicles, things aren’t good, exactly, but they’re more manageable.
You Can Do It
One of the things that I think most prospective parents struggle with on some level is the question of whether or not they’re up for it. The short answer is: it’ll be fine. All of the things you don’t know how you’ll manage – from something as basic as changing a diaper to the ultimate responsibility for a tiny human – you’ll manage. A week after having a kid you’ll doing things you had no idea you could do, which is great, but more importantly you’ll take these new abilities for granted. You’ll wonder why you ever wondered whether you could do them, in fact. So when you ask yourself “can I do this?” the answer is yes.
It Gets Better
One of the most accurate pieces of advice I was given was simple: “it gets better.” Having a baby is an incredible, indescribable experience. But as my Mom told me when she came down to the hospital to meet her grandaughter for the first time, what you’re working towards when they’re a newborn is the first real, purposeful smile. I didn’t really understand this, because babies have a tendency to rocket through a wide variety of facial expressions with zero connection to any actual internal emotional state. When I got my first actual smile, though, I remember thinking, “Damn, Mom was right.” Babies are great. Babies that can smile at you are even better.
Now imagine what it’s like the first time the previously helpless little baby can give you a high five. Take a few wobbly steps. Learn the sign language for shark. Say “I love Red Sox.” Give you a tiny cheer from the back seat after a Pearl Jam song.
The point is that while babies are great, they get even better. So when you’ve slept for ten hours in two days and you’re rocking the baby wondering if it will ever go back to sleep, know that it will. And that it gets better.
The Days Are Long, The Years Are Short
The most counter-intuitive observation I heard after my daughter’s birth, and I can’t for the life of me remember who it was who relayed it to me (see #1), was that the days are long but the years are short. Kids are fun and amazing and rewarding, but the days can be very long indeed. From an early start in the morning to bedtime if you’re lucky, and much later if you’re not, kids are basically operating at full speed. They have no throttle like adults; there’s no notion of energy conservation, no concept of pacing oneself. Everything is all out, all the time. Which means that sometimes it takes everything you have just to get through a day. And the next day. And the one after that.
Then one day you look around, and – impossibly – a year’s gone, and all you can think is, “how did that happen so fast?”
The answer, of course, is kids.
- Do whatever it takes to find yourself a good pediatrician: they’ll make your kid feel better, and you as well.
- The Moro Reflex is the best reflex. Enjoy it while it lasts.