The celebration of a baby’s first birthday is almost more about mom and dad than it is about the actual baby.
You’ve survived an entire year as parents and lived to tell the tale. High fives all around.
It’s funny how first time parents anticipate and get excited over the completion of those opening 365 days of child-raising. That’s like 13,651 diapers or something, right? That alone should be worth some kind of reward.
The hard reality is that behind door number two is really just the rest of our lives as parents. Sure, you proved to yourselves that you can actually do this without breaking a baby for an entire year – an accomplishment in and of itself, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg called parenthood.
But there’s something about getting through an official year and hitting that milestone that forces us into a bit of introspection and reflection. It feels like this awesome achievement you’ve just unlocked on the Playstation.
For that first time parent, this is the perfect time to step back and reflect and pat yourself on the back that you helped raise a little person into a one year old. It allows for the opportunity to look within to see how you’ve changed as a person while managing to raise an actual little person.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way through this opening leg of the journey: The good, the bad and the poopy edition.
1. Trial and error (...and error and error)
One of the very first rude awakenings as a parent is when they pack you up and send you home from the hospital after just two to three days with this newborn baby that is 100 percent dependent on you. And they arm Mommy and Daddy with… nothing. Until we figure out how to write the perfect instruction manual for how to raise the perfect child, first-time parents are left with the game of “let’s try this to see if it works.” Of course this only works for a little while, until the baby gets wise enough to realize that she is the one that’s actually in charge and will flip the script on you to ensure that you are always one step behind in the parental game of life. If at first you don’t succeed …
2. It can be scary, lonely world
Sometimes in the first few weeks of parenthood, when we are left to our random thoughts in the middle of another late-night feeding for our newborn, it gets lonely. It gets scary. We think that we are literally the only human being alive at 3:30 in the morning that is spending time trying to console this fussy little baby. Even though you’ve expanded the family, the loneliness of parenting can actually creep up on you as the weight of being responsible for this little offspring sets in and the totality of your role as parent takes its toll. It’s okay to be scared. If we aren’t terrified about some of the things we need to do as we learn how to be a parent, we aren’t parenting well enough.
3. Don’t listen to Google
According to the world wide web of information and parental milestones, by the first year of birth, my daughter should be speaking three or four languages fluently, she should be making her voice heard in the international philanthropic community and she should be physically gifted enough to compete in American Ninja Warrior. Despite what my latest Google search revealed, my kid will develop exactly how she’s supposed to develop: On her own. Regardless of the latest Facebook post of my cousin’s nephew’s sister’s best friend’s 3-month old son who juggled three Olympic torches while reciting the Mandarin alphabet, there is no need to get all hot and bothered over the fact that my daughter can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound.
4. Establish a support system
Family. Friends. The next door neighbor. There’s a reason why they say it takes a village. Find some people to lean on from time to time when the going gets a little tougher than expected. Parenting is not easy. Doing it for the first time with no precedence for how this truly works is challenging. Don’t run to Google all of the time for the ideas on how to raise the kids. Instead, have a support system in place that will allow for guidance and support. Even Frodo needed Gandalf. Don’t try to do this all on your own without any help whatsoever.
5. Sometimes, being a dad sucks
Most of the time in the opening few days of fatherhood, it kinda sucks more than it’s awesome. It makes sense. You’ve got this brand new person that is monopolizing your entire being and this brand new member of the family doesn’t contribute much in terms of personality. On top of that, you’ve never done this before so you’re in your own head about whether what you’re doing is the right thing, or if burping her upside down will break the baby. Hint: it won’t break the baby, per se, but let’s just say you shouldn’t be holding the baby upside down, dude. It’s a getting-to-know-you phase of life that we all go through in the first few days of parenting and sometimes it sucks. It’s okay to say that is sucks.
But, that’s okay. Because it gets better.
After a few weeks, the routine kicks in. The instincts develop. The team work with mommy strengthens and you get a handle on the usual ins and outs of caring for a human being. The obstacles will throw you for a loop. The mini traps that babies set for us will mess our worlds up.
The trials and errors and eventual screw ups on our part may set us back a little bit, but we learn and we adapt and we all grow. Together. Diarrhea and projectile vomit are not fun. It’s not cute to get poop on your person. It’s not adorbs to spend any amount of time cleaning your clothes from the ejected liquid of your baby’s stomach. It’s never a great time to deal with a feverous infant and have just about zero solutions for how to fix it.
Suddenly in there somewhere, this miniature version of you grows on you. Perhaps you got struck with the love at first sight thing at the hospital as soon as the baby was born. Maybe it was more of a longer-term, arranged marriage sort of thing.
Either way, as the first year comes to a close, it’s fun to look back and reflect over just how much that appreciation for this little person grew into the unconditional love that it is today.
The parenting game never ends, at least not until we decide to make our grand exit from the stage of life. But, I get it. There is certainly a feeling of completion after that first year. There’s something about making it through all four seasons.
There’s a feeling of accomplishment knowing that you were there to watch your alien-looking being with the puffed out face that came home with you from the hospital turn into an actual little human being.
She went from being totally dependent on you to being … well, still totally dependent on you. But, at least now she’s really cool and playful and has a fun personality that gives you and mommy something to keep yourself entertained during what used to be an actual social life.
Maybe, just maybe, this kid has proven to be just cool enough to keep around for another 365 days. Or more.
Pete Cataldo is co-Mastermind of the fatherhood-focused men’s lifestyle blog DaddyMindTricks.com, where he shares his take on the zany trials of being a first-time dad committed to cultivating a world of more devoted and involved fathers. A former TV Sports Anchor, Pete now spends his time writing, blogging, podcasting and lending his voice to commercials as a professional voice over actor. An accomplished journalist and writer, Pete’s work has been featured in EarlytoRise.com, the GoodMenProject.com, CityDadsGroup.com and RomanFitnessSystems.com.