by Robert Maxwell
On August 13, 2017, my wife, Edyta, and I became parents. We were blessed with a little girl we called Lily, weighing in at 7 pounds, 6 ounces. After a bit of a rough start at the hospital, We came home and began our new life as a family of 3. In the months that followed, we learned a few things about parenthood. Do I know much about child-rearing? Not by a long shot. Lily’s only 7 months old now, so my knowledge and experience are highly limited. I’m just a young first time father who wants to get some things off his chest. Before I get into the nitty gritty, let me make something clear. I have no regrets about becoming a parent. Zero. Lily is the light of our lives, and I wouldn’t trade her for anything. However, I don’t mind admitting that parenthood is really hard. Really. Hard. Since the moment I first held Lily, I began to wonder why no one had sat me down and explained what it’s really like to have a child. To be fair, my parents and some older, experienced friends did tell me a few things, most often in a joking, singsong tone of voice. “Everything’s about to change”, they’d say, or “get ready for some sleepless nights!” Looking back, these tongue-in-cheek remarks were massively inadequate in preparing me for what lay ahead. I don’t say this to point fingers or lay blame. Those who shared these tidbits with Edyta and I certainly meant well, and preparing us for parenthood wasn’t their responsibility. It was ours. Looking back, I wish I’d spent a little more time grilling my parents and others with child-rearing experience on what it’s actually like. Granted, the vast majority of my parenthood experience still lies ahead, but much of the knowledge I’ve gained so far has been through high-speed collisions with reality, rather than firm wisdom given ahead of time. Would such wisdom have made things any easier? Not in a physical sense. The sleep deprivation, stress, mess and worry would all have been just as strenuous. Mentally, however, I would’ve been better prepared, and this would have helped. Before I get into the list of things I wish I’d known before Lily arrived, I’ll warn you that this article will likely seem negative. Maybe it already does. I don’t mean it to. My goal is to provide a reality check for those considering parenthood. I won’t spend much time dwelling on the joyful parts of child-rearing, because no one needs a warning about those. Not all aspects of parenthood are joyful, though. Not even close. Here are 5 things I wish someone had told me about having a child.
THE PERSON YOU ARE NOW WILL DIE
If you’re considering parenthood, be aware that it’s impossible to have a child and remain the same person you are now. No good parent has ever achieved this. The only way you can fully preserve your current self is by abandoning your child. If you plan to stick around after the birth, say goodbye to who you are now. Every ounce of selfishness will be gradually beaten out of you with the force of a sledgehammer. Enjoy weekends out alone or with your partner? That’s over. Expect more than 1 or 2 hours of unbroken silence at home? Better change those expectations. Need a full night’s sleep to function optimally at work? Forget it. As soon as your child is born, the version of you that needs all these things dies. If you try to keep them alive, you’ll quickly become angry and depressed. Better to let that old self die with dignity, and accept the tsunami of change rushing towards you. Fighting it won’t work.
YOUR NEEDS NO LONGER MATTER
When it comes to caring for a baby, your feelings are 100 percent insignificant. From the moment of birth onward, you’ll be periodically exhausted, frustrated, desperate, hysterical, depressed, angry, numb, and sometimes all of the above. It doesn’t matter. Your feelings no longer justify you taking steps to change your situation, as they did before you had a child. The best thing you can do is try to block out such emotions and forge ahead. Your baby is here by your choice, not theirs, and when you made that choice, you were also choosing to flush your own significance down the toilet. As the owner of a baby, you now exist primarily to meet their needs. If you’re one of those young people with a deep need to find themselves or discover personal fulfillment, better not have a child until you can see your way clear of throwing all these notions out the window. Otherwise they’ll be thrown out the window for you before you’re ready.
BABIES CRY... A LOT
Most people who have yet to become parents probably think they already know this seemingly obvious fact. They don’t. Before becoming a parent, I found the sound of squalling infants only mildly annoying. Aside from the occasional unfortunate plane ride, I never had to hear it for very long. That changed profoundly when I had a child of my own. Everyone knows babies cry, but I never guessed how much crying would ripple through my eardrums before our daughter was born. As babies go, Lily isn’t particularly fussy, but there have still been times I’ve felt my sanity was in danger. It’s not just the loud, grating sound of the crying, or even the unrelentingly long time it can last. The toughest part of hearing your baby cry hour after hour is knowing it’s your baby. Your child is in discomfort, you’ve tried everything you know, scoured the internet, and the crying is still happening. You’re helpless.
YOU’LL WORRY MORE THAN EVER BEFORE
In my pre-parenthood arrogance before and during Edyta’s pregnancy, I imagined myself above all the worry and stress new parents appeared to carry. I figured I’d remain cool, calm, and collected no matter what the situation after the baby arrived. I couldn’t understand why so many new parents seemed to carry such heavy burdens of worry. Then Lily was born. I never understood my incredible capacity for worry until I held my own child. I’ve always had a tendency to get overly stressed, and parenthood brought me to new heights of concern. Every aspect of life, time, and space suddenly becomes a potential danger when you look at your tiny, innocent child. It’s completely involuntary. In general, new mothers seem to labour under this fact even more than new fathers. Although that’s been true of our family, I’ve certainly done my fair share of worrying, too. I’m also all too aware of the fact that after only 7 months of parenthood, I’ve barely scratched the surface of potential worry. As my dad helpfully pointed out recently, “Just wait, Robert, until you really have something to worry about!”
YOU’LL BE PUSHED WAY BEYOND YOUR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL LIMITS
My experience of parenthood so far could be defined as the repeated shattering of my comfort zone with great happiness mixed in. Mentally, I wasn’t ready to deal with the hope/grief cycle of trying to put a fussy baby to sleep. Physically I wasn’t ready to go without a full night’s rest for the better part of a year. My pre-parenthood limitations were very unexpanded. I now understand that this repeated stretching of character is part of the beauty of parenthood. Having a child stretches you so far that you end up becoming someone entirely different. Stronger. More selfless. When a baby enters a loving family, three new people emerge, not just one. It’s a beautiful result, but the process is far from easy. It’s a wild, unrelenting ride punctuated with screams, poop, puke, tears, exhaustion, and joy.
If I could go back in time to before Lily was conceived, I would have a serious sit down talk with my slightly younger self. “You know nothing”, I’d say. “You’re not ready.” Then I’d explain what I know now, and tell myself to go ahead. Have that baby. You’ll never regret it. You’re going to face things that will push you to the breaking point over and over again. Don’t give up. I hate clichés, especially when they’re about love and relationships, but I can’t think of a better way to finish this article than to say when you look into your child’s eyes and see them smile, it’s all worth it. In the same way that a caterpillar has to cease existing before it can transform into something better, your self-focussed, child-free self must die to make way for a better you. A you who puts someone else first. A tiny, cute, extremely loud someone.