Whenever I say I have a general idea of what the next year of my life is going to be like now that I am a father, veteran parents stifle a chuckle and shake their heads from their mountaintop of perspective. But still, I have to lay down expectations for how things are going to go, even if every one of them is not met. I’m going to build perspective on the fly; first-time parents are all rookies, after all. One of my ongoing projects is to record and build on my perspective. My values are going to change from here on out, but I’m interested to see what things were like on an in-the-moment basis. As such, every year I’m going to make a set of assumptions for the coming 12 months, and look back upon the assumptions from the previous year to track these perspectives.
So, here is the inaugural list: 7 parenting assumptions for Year One. We’ll check back next summer to see how I did:
1. I am going to be sleep-deprived zombie
I mean, we can take this for granted, right? Babies sleep a lot. Problem is, it’s only for a couple hours at a time. Luckily, as a full-time dad, I can probably sneak a nap in during the day while Creature is dozing. I don’t know how successful I’ll be at catching a few Z’s during the day, but I’m guessing1 I’ll adapt.
2. We will sleep train our daughter beginning at 6 months, possibly earlier.
The sooner our child can sleep through the night, the happier the entire household will be. I say this at my own peril, specifically because I know there are things you just can’t control. But if I’m willing making bold predictions that will make me look foolish in retrospect, this is a good place to start. Richard Ferber, author of the book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, says all healthy children should be able to sleep through the night at around six months2.
3. I am not going to buy baby food
I just don’t see the point. I like to cook. I am going to be home full time. Stands to reason I will have the time to puree my own sweet potato-and-such-and-such. I try to avoid packaged foods as an adult, why would I foist them on my six-month old? It’s cheaper and healthier to feed them food made in my own kitchen. Sorry, Gerber, I’m opt-ing out.
4. We are going to introduce new flavors at 4 months.
In her marvelous book First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, food writer Bee Wilson talks about the importance of introducing new flavors to your child during a critical period she calls the “flavor window.” From months 4-7, babies are more receptive to experiencing new flavors and tastes than they will ever be again, making this the ideal time to introduce a teaspoon of purees of all sorts of different flavors. Even though all formal feeding advice urges parents to not start solid foods until Month 6, we are going to buck conventional wisdom and blaze our own trail.
5. My marriage will still be a priority
It’s easy for your relationship to get lost in a sea of poop and spit-up, and while Kathleen and I are going to have a major adjustment period, I am committed to maintaining the relationship as a priority3. More than anything else, I believe in my heart that keeping our marriage front and center throughout Creature’s lifetime will benefit the entire family. Aside from keeping a united parenting front and staying consistent with our approach, some day Creature will be on her own and Kathleen and I will be back to just the two of us. It sounds like it’s a long way off, but the foundation for a great marriage 20 years down the line needs to be laid now.
This year Kathleen and I got a season tickets to Broadway in Portland for the upcoming season. Kathleen loves musical theater, and while the 2016-17 season is a mixed bag4, Hamilton is coming the following season, which is the real prize. In the meantime, we get a special date once a month.
6. Things will not be as hard or distressing as we fear
Yes, yes, our lives will never be the same. Noted. But the common narrative among the parents who have access to keyboards is something along the lines of “OMG, this is the most difficult thing in the history of the universe!” I believe most of it is simply exaggeration of circumstances5.
However, there is a cultural bend to this that I think Kathleen and I are not subject to. The modern familial dynamic has shifted. Two working parents puts a very new spin on what it means to have children and a family. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this cultural phenomenon– which is now the norm– was almost unheard of just a generation or two ago.
Thing is, we are opting out of this modern family dynamic. Dad is my full-time job. Kathleen works from home. We can work as a team at home to help each other out while attending to our daughter’s needs. Showers will happen with regularity, errands will be run, and phone calls will be fielded. I don’t think our lives will come to a screeching halt.
7. My daughter will bring me closer to the rest of my family
I have a good relationship with everyone in my family and everyone in Kathleen’s family. I talk with my parents regularly and maintain a good line with both of my siblings. But we all have our own things going on, our own lives to lead, and we’re 1200 miles apart. For the first time in many, many years my family will go from a feature of my life to the front-and-center star of everything. My mother is planning regular monthly visits to Portland, my sister wants to come early and often, and I think having a newborn daughter will give my brother and me something new to relate about6.
My father-in-law and sister-in-law and teeming with excitement over their first granddaughter/niece. And the extended families on both sides are falling all over themselves about Creature. It’s a good feeling, this inclusion and interest in Creature’s life, and I’m hoping the by-product of their involvement in her life is a richer relationship in all of our lives.
Checking Back in 2017
So now we have a record of where my head is at one month before our lives get turned upside down. We’ll see in a year what rings true and what was foolish, and then I’ll make a list of new assumptions for year two.
- Ferber is a bit of a polarizing figure in the parenting world, but I’m convinced that the people criticizing his methods have never actually bothered to read his book. It’s rich, compelling book that goes into great detail about how children learn to sleep, and not once does he use the phrase “Cry-It-Out,” nor does he advocate anything resembling that oft-criticized sleep training method.
- It will be a challenge to keep our heads on straight when we haven’t had a full night’s sleep in four months, but we’re both consciously aware of how this may impact our moods.
- We’re getting Rent, Jersey Boys, An American in Paris, Matilda, Finding Neverland, Beautiful, Cabaret, Mamma Mia, and The Illusionists.
- If having a family were really that horrifying, nobody would ever do it.
- He has three children, his two oldest are girls.