When you and your partner find out you're having a baby, it goes without saying that it's an emotional moment. Within seconds of confirming that the + on the pregnancy test is a fully intact +, a narrative fills your brain. She has beautiful brown eyes, unwieldy curly hair like her father, and she grows up to develop a quirky passion for collecting rare sports memorabilia. No matter who we are, when we find ourselves in that position (when our life changes forever), the story begins to write itself before it even happens. Frankly, because we can't wait to see what the future holds once this new indispensable, impossibly adorable creature enters our daily lives. But as the excitement of the news fades, another narrative start to form. And it starts with your most intimate networks, and quickly expands to include nosy coworkers, hairstylists, and cashiers.
"Get all the sleep you can now, man!"
"Make sure you start saving for college YESTERDAY."
"We're never going to see you again, are we?"
"Your sex life has reached its untimely end."
They are almost always coated with a facetious layer. But like most dark subjects, although we may laugh about them, the reality is far from funny.
Before I had children of my own, a close relative of mine was about to board a plane for the first time since having one of his own. He was uncharacteristically nervous, kept checking the time, picking at his fingernails, etc. When I asked why the sudden nerves (he had flown many times before without issue), he said, ominously, "I no longer have the right to die." Meaning, as I understood it, that before parenthood, he didn't worry about his own safety. Now he was someone's father. And suddenly air travel brought with it an entirely new risk. He realized in that moment (as did I), that having a child on this earth comes with its own unique set of challenges and fears that they don't tell you about in high school health class.
In 2009, my life was forever changed when my first child, Antonio, entered the scene. More than six years (and two more kids later), I can more than relate to the stresses of the father picking at his fingernails at an airport terminal. There are a number of other ways in which parenthood pushes you to dark places, and typically they aren't brought up at your baby shower.
In my experience, here are the most significant ways in which becoming a parent can drastically affect you both physically and emotionally.
- Social isolation is a very real thing
In general, watching your children grow up certainly takes precedence over throwing back beers with the guys. But too many of us are drifting farther and farther away from close friends because we're too consumed with our busy lives to notice it's even happening. It's a two-way street, of course, as your friends have to also make an effort to stay connected. But if you find yourself looking at your contacts list and thinking, "I haven't spoken to Chris in about a year, and he's supposed to be my close friend," then it's time to reevaluate your commitment to your relationships. If they were critically important before you had kids, they are critically important now.
- Career development is exponentially more important (and harder)
I remember before I had children, I felt like I had buckets of time to navigate my career and take the necessary steps to advance it. I even considered up and quitting a former job without getting a new one first. However, eight years later and I'm suddenly responsible for three children on an insurance plan, and I no longer have the financial luxury of taking a pay cut to transition to a new industry. However, the plus side of this is that having children depend on you for money gives you added incentive to be successful in the workplace. Having small children waking you up five times a night, leaving you listless and frustrated in the morning doesn't make your job any easier, though.
- Having an infant is a terrible diet plan
A few months ago, I went to the doctor for what felt like bronchitis. As usual, they weighed me before they did anything else. I heard the nurse mutter a number and my eyebrow rose. I asked her to confirm it, and she did. I'd gained 10 pounds since February, which just so happened to be the month my daughter was born. You'd think I was the one who had to lose baby weight! But as I looked back on my activity over that time span, I'd exercised only once, naturally wasn't sleeping a consistent number of hours, and had been eating an unhealthy amount of sugary snacks to combat the exhaustion. Not exactly healthy behavior.
- You become a stricter, un-fun version of yourself
Don't get me wrong; I have plenty of fun with my kids. In fact, they often make me feel like I'm a kid again myself. But there come times in the lives of every parent when the hammer must drop. It's part of our job to set boundaries for our children. But there have been plenty of instances where I stifled laughter when my son said something immature, yet funny, or I prevented him from eating cookies before dinner. I don't like being the cop that raids my kids' party and tells everyone they have to go home. But, as we all know, it's part of the gig.
- Your relationship takes a back seat
I'm often asked what the most difficult part of parenting is. My answer is always the same. Staying connected with your spouse. I'm sure someplace, somewhere, someone has it all figured out. But the fact of the matter is that the relationship you have with your partner won't, and can't, be exactly the same as it was before you were parents. Time together one-on-one becomes scarce, the focus that was once on the two of you is now almost exclusively on the new member of the family. And that puts a strain on a relationship. To many, that strain results in the ultimate consequence--divorce. I've seen it many times, and is almost always the result of a couple forgetting that, the reason there is a third person in the house, is because of the connection between the first two who lived there. Thinking big picture, when you're in your 60s and beyond, you want to ensure that the connection is still there, once the kids have left the house and it's only the two of you again. Oh, and have sex. If the Duggars can find time to "fit it in," so can you.
I feel the need to clarify at this point that I'm not complaining. Every single one of us knew what we were signing up for when we left the hospital, nervously carrying that car seat like we were transporting a house of cards. But what I do hope comes of this is that this piece of writing opens your eyes to two things:
1. You aren't the only parent going through this
2. It doesn't have to be this way
I mean, sure, there are certain undeniable pieces of this that you can't get around- losing sleep will affect you physically, you won't have as much time to be social as you'd like. However, I think it's important for our own sake (and for the sake of our family) if we analyze our emotional and physical state from time and time, and make necessary steps to correct it.
Has it been six months since you had a girl's night? Get it on everyone's calendar today. Are you and your spouse losing your connection? Get that date night on the calendar even sooner. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with taking some time off from your personal daily grind to go to the spa, get a massage, rediscovering your love of piano-playing, etc. In my view, a parent who's happy with themselves both physically and emotionally is a much more effective parent overall.
Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow American readers!