The highs and lows of becoming a parent have changed me for the better. I have refined the skill of patience and become a great deal more empathetic – the impossible a year ago! Many people are concerned about the difficulties of becoming a parent; truth be told, it’s the hardest thing I’ve done to date. However, in becoming a parent, I have gained or enhanced more qualities in a year than would have seemed possible. Many of these qualities are directly linked to parenting, but others have had to be developed in my professional life to make room for my little one.
Previously we wrote about ‘how being a dad will change your life’, ‘The first year of being a mummy’ as well as ‘The honest truth: expectations vs reality of giving birth’. This post looks at how being a parent improves your life and forces you to adapt… the alternative? Be eaten up, spat out and run rings around in the game of parenthood. On a serious note, the experience so far has been amazing for the both of us and neither would’ve changed one of the many sleepless nights, the tantrums, the mounds of dirty laundry or trips to A&E. It really is worth it!
Consistency and Routine
Before having a child, the daily routine was in place – gym, work, home, more work, chill. There’d be occasions where I’d deviate from this, but it wouldn’t greatly impact my life (obviously work was non-negotiable). Once you become a parent though, consistency and routine are crucial! If you deviate from the norm, the child may struggle to adapt. We had to make sure our little one had her first nap at 9:30, lunch at 11:30, followed by another nap at 12:30, dinner at 5:30 and bed by 6:30. If any of these naps were delayed by more than 30 minutes, she’d become over tired and the rest of the day would be ruined. If she didn’t nap, she wouldn’t sleep properly for the rest of the day and perhaps not sleep at night! Routine became a way of life and pretty much everything revolved around this.
Nothing worked better for Athena than consistency! When she knows what to expect, she’s much more compliant and happy within herself. Simple things like warning her that a nappy change is imminent, singing the nappy changing song, reading the same books at bedtime, the same white noise machine etc can make a world of difference to both your little one and you.
Building consistency and routine in to our lives has meant happier, more organised and time efficient parents, with a little one who is settled – most of the time!
Before having a baby, I was pretty patient. As a teacher my patience is tested often and I have quite a high tolerance before the patience runs out. Having a baby however has pushed this to a whole new level! Sometimes Athena just flat out refuses to co-operate. How do I say this in a loving way? ‘She can be a little monster!’ The cutest little monster in the world of course! But a little one having a tantrum will test anyone’s patience – especially an exhausted, sleep deprived dad.
At the peak of a tantrum, she has on occasion shouted, smacked, cried and bitten amongst other things. The most recent behaviour is rolling during a nappy change… I’m talking poo everywhere! All over her back, legs, hair, face, my clothes, my hair, my face! At this point, it would be easy to lose your temper!
I could yell at her, but what would that solve? Does she really understand the consequences of her actions? Not a chance. If she did, she wouldn’t try to dive headfirst off the bed or nose first in to her poop! She just doesn’t understand yet, so yelling at her will cause unnecessary upset.
Becoming a parent means having an abundance of patience! You can explain to her when she is older why rolling during a nappy change isn’t ideal or throwing food on the floor is wasteful. For now, we just continue to explain what is to come and give her time to comply, she usually chills out after a while (unless she is overtired).
Don’t sweat the small stuff!
This follows on nicely from patience. Your child will throw food on the floor. They will not follow your instructions. If something is more interesting than what you are saying, they will ignore you! Don’t sweat it! Every time I see Athena doing something she isn’t meant to, I see a little bit of her mischievous side coming through (her daddy). Sometimes I catch her looking at me when she does something I’ve told her not to, she wants to see how I’ll react. Don’t sweat it. Becoming a parent requires you to look past this small stuff and enjoy your baby.
Fact – your child will pick favourites throughout their childhood. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for my turn… Filipa has been Athena’s go-to since birth. An endorphin filled combination of breast feeding and 9 months in the womb and you’ve got an inseparable pair! Can you really feel bad when the child wants their mummy? It may hurt your fragile feelings and sensitive ego at first, but don’t worry, if you’re a present and caring parent, your child will seek your comfort soon enough. For now, just be content that your baby is safe and happy in the arms of someone who loves them!
Your child will choose you in other ways. Your fragile ego will get a boost when your child selects you for specific tasks over your partner. At the moment, Athena needs her daddy when falling asleep. Small victories make it all worth it! I’m on cloud 9… and exhausted!
I’m usually about as empathetic as a lion over its prey. Working in a girl’s school has prompted the following questions when I see an emotional child – ‘why is it crying?’ ‘Man this is awkward, I want her to go away…’, ‘Why are they talking to me about this?’ Not anymore – at least not for Athena. In the beginning, there was frustration. A great deal of frustration! I was definitely filled with the ‘why is it crying?’ ‘If you’re tired, just go to sleep!’
I don’t really like parenting books, as a result I’ve only read 2. ‘Hypnobirthing’ (to be supportive) and ‘The book you wish your parents had read’ (interested/a gift). The latter opened my eyes in regard to how Athena might be feeling, as well as why I as a parent would be responding to her in the manner I was. The result of things that happened to me in my childhood were being passed to my baby girl, this book made me aware of it. One of the key takeaways was – at this point of your child’s life, they’re a little ball of feelings, with very few ways to communicate what’s wrong. They don’t understand what these feelings mean, all they know is they don’t like them.
To help with this, we’ve been teaching Athena ‘Baby Sign’. She can tell us when she is hungry, tired or wants milk. Although, when she’s frustrated or upset, she forgets her signs. Try hard to empathise, she doesn’t want to cry or lose her temper, she’s not learned how to deal with these feelings yet. Do your best to comfort and calm your baby down.
I’ve always been efficient, but Athena has forced me to 10X this! There is no other way in our life to get things done without being ultra-efficient. When you are working fulltime, exercising 3-5 days a week, learning new skills, writing weekly blog posts and raising a young child; your time really needs to be used wisely.
To maximise the time I get with Athena, I make sure my day is fully planned out. To get everything done to a good standard, razor focus is needed. I know at what parts of the day I’m most productive at different tasks. The day starts with a 6am gym session where I listen to a non-fiction audio book while I work out. If I am busy with work, I start working from 5am (before Athena is due to wake up). I sacrifice break times, lunch times and any free periods to get all my work done! Blog posts and learning is reserved for evenings and weekends. Then I get around 30 minutes of reading done before bed or maybe watch a little tv. One of the biggest keys to efficiency is not procrastinating!
“Procrastination is the thief of time, collar him.”
― Charles Dickens, David Copperfield
‘Being efficient will only get you so far.’
Some days there’s a spanner in the works, and by spanner, I mean Athena… Even though I may wake up at 5am to work or get ready for the gym, Athena may wake up to greet me. Without my fantastic partner/teammate none of this would be possible! I tip my hat to all you single parents that make it work; you are superheroes! To allow me to get on, Filipa will step up and take Athena and vice versa. When we need time to crack on with our other tasks, we give each other 2 hours a day for work, the other will look after the little one and then we’ll swap! It is important that things are reciprocal, so when your teammate needs your help, make sure you extend your hand.
Disclaimer! No one is perfect. Although this works a lot of the time, we’ve been extremely consistent with our routine. A lot of the time Athena has a dreadful night sleep (she hates sleep!), this has a knock-on effect for the rest of the day. Two broken exhausted parents and a grumpy baby. To crack on takes a great deal of will power and desire, so don’t beat yourself up if some days don’t go to plan. Also, remember to always ask for help! Teamwork can go beyond your nuclear family – Athena has the best grandparents in the world. If we need a break, or need some time to get on / or simply have a rest after a sleepless night, we know they’ll be there to lend a helping hand or two!
‘Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up’
– Alfred Pennyworth