The moment of birth arrives, and then suddenly a year passes and your life is unrecognisable from before. So what did I learn in my first year of parenting?
Just over a year ago, I was at the non-business end of what can only be described as the most incredible experience of my life (second to the Springboks winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup).
Nothing could possibly have prepared us for the final few moments before our daughter, Evie Makayla, emerged into this crazy world; it was stressful, exciting, gory, beautiful, relieving, and every emotion in between. It is still so vivid.
In the moments before death, it is often mentioned that we see our lives flash before our eyes; well, in the moments before birth, the adrenaline pumped as thoughts surfaced of the 9-month quasi-relationship we’d developed with the faceless, living being that had nested inside my wife’s tum. In the next moment, her face emerges, arms and legs flailing everywhere in a shivering heap. Such a precious, precious moment.
But now a full year has passed and our lives are practically unrecognisable from the carefree, backpacking, event-chasing, restaurant-seeking couple we are. And we couldn’t be happier. But that doesn’t mean the 12-month test has been easy or without a few bumpy lessons along the way. Here’s a one-a-month list of what I’ve learnt from my first year of parenting.
1. Priorities and time management
You’ve got a task list the length of the Rockie Mountains, spread across home, work, family, favours, social, your pet, your sports team and getting the car serviced. Suddenly, your work colleague’s assertion that a snarly Facebook comment from a now former friend is ‘life-or-death’ just pales into insignificance along with the fact that your country has had thirteen PMs in the last week. Likewise, getting up at 3am to watch some Test cricket or Wimbledon is about as sensible an idea as jogging home after a round of colonic irrigation.
My workflow in all spheres has improved to the point that I now focus on WIN (What’s Important Now) more than any other time in my career. I don’t sweat the small stuff and I can’t do it all. But I can do the important stuff first and everything and everyone else simply has to wait. I’ve found in 95% of cases, people are OK with that, on the proviso that you communicate that clearly. The 5% need colonic irrigation.
You also find that sometimes things like missives and nasty comments from coworkers or friends will just bounce off you as you can’t stop because if you do, balls get dropped and your child and/or partner suffers.
2. You’ll push your comfort zones
This one is for the guys, especially, as 105% of us would never have changed a dirty nappy before our own child’s. That first change, all you’re hoping for is number ones, but invariably, the mum has given you a special present. Denial is not good; you can smell the gift. Just man up, brace yourself, hold your breath, and remember, the more you do it, the technique will get better and more efficient. It never gets enjoyable, so accept that this too shall pass.
Likewise, other yucky stuff that my inner germophobe would have flapped about before children will not even have you batting an eyelid. Food on the floor for a minute? Sure, germs are good for immunity. Getting peed on for Father’s Day? Yes, I have first-hand experience of this.
3. You learn to keep calm in stressful situations
The first 3 weeks of parenthood was a real test and I recall one night failing badly. It was such a jolt to our lifestyle to be fully responsible for a helpless little human; but it definitely improved and helped us build our resilience. There is no time to muck about and dwell on disappointments because the next challenge is imminent. Now is not the time to panic.
Recently, I’d walked into the office following 4 hours of interrupted sleep (which was not the norm, mind you, as we have a sleeper for a kid). I was surviving on fumes, and my decision-making was questionable. Then the website and emails went down. But, given trench warfare I’d been through when we had a colicky baby, I (think I) was cool as a cucumber and managed to unbreak the internet.
4. You discover service leadership
Many of the great leaders of our time have led their people by putting themselves last. They inspire through a vision, they set the boundaries of culture, and they step out of their own way to allow people to flourish and take ownership. They service the people underneath them instead of the other way around and do whatever they can to ensure that person is looked after, trusted and simultaneously challenged.
That is parenting in a nutshell.
There is a great joy watching someone else succeed or learn new skills under your guidance, and when it’s your own flesh and blood, it gives your life new meaning.
5. The rate of change is rapid
Trust me on this one. Things will change just when you think they’re settled. You can enforce a routine on a child, and for the most part, it works. But then, just as your little bubba sleeps her first night through at 8 weeks, and then does it 4 nights in a row, you think, “This is gold! How easy is this?” And then a week later, you’re up and down overnight like a carpenter’s measuring tape and the next day is hell on earth.
Our worst case study of this was to do with the bottle. Evie took to it like a barnacle on a boat on day 3 and that lasted almost 4 months. It gave her mum a much-needed break and reduced the reliance on her. It also meant I could step up and be a more active parent. Then, in December, a week before we were due to go to a wedding, she batted the bottle away as if it smelt like rotten salmon. As a result, we left the wedding early. The very next day, she took the bottle again.
6. Parenting comes with its own jargon
You will be exposed to a new lexicon of terminology, such as: milk moustache, colostrum, bassinet, swaddle, mastitis (hopefully not), milksplosion, poohcano, active parenting (not babysitting).
7. It’s OK to ask for help
Young Evie Makayla was the result of Dr Freeze aka IVF. In hindsight, we had a fairly innocuous journey towards parenthood, compared to some friends and acquaintances. After nearly 2 years of trying and a miscarriage, we decided to submit to the Science gods. And from there, plain sailing.
Sure, it was an expensive shortcut, but faced with immense uncertainty, frustration, and a lack of energy to continue rearranging calendars, rushing home from work trips, cancelling holidays, and all that comes with the practicalities of conception, we felt it was our best – and only – option. And given that we got the result, it simply revealed that it’s incredibly logical to seek assistance from people who are smarter than you. And besides, as former Aussie netballer Liz Ellis puts it, “My husband got to have a state-sanctioned wank”.
8. You will make sacrifices
I left the office party early the other week to play tag with my wife as she had to head off to work. We left a wedding early. We’ve missed work, training sessions, sports matches, live sport, birthdays, holidays, catch-ups with friends, you name it.
Borrowing a term from elite long-distance swimmer, Tammy van Wisse, this is our “new normal”. And I couldn’t be happier with sacrificing these now seemingly insignificant events. Evie is our world.
9. Clarity, Routines, Recovery
No, this isn’t some mumbo-jumbo I picked up from an Insta influencer’s plagiarised picture; these are high-quality leadership weapons I have assumed into my life since opening myself up to both career and personal progression. And I’m learning from the best. Here’s how they work in tandem:
Clarity – grocery shopping, budgeting, weekly plan, task and priority management, focus goals etc. This includes remembering to write down nappies on the grocery list when supply is short.
Routines – the kid needs a bath every now and then, so make sure you do it before they get put to bed at a nominated time every night. Bath, bottle, bed. A bit like checking emails only at specific times, and doing certain other tasks in nominated blocks of time.
Recovery – wine with dinner, bed by 10pm and hope to buggery the child sleeps through. Because even if you’re not the one getting up to them, you sure as hell hear the baby monitor. If you’re a wreck the next morning, you had better find some techniques to be productive at work!
10. Milestones and events = task achievement
You know how you seem to get a shit tonne of work done the week before heading off on holiday? Either you don’t want that dreaded call or email requesting something while on holiday, or you know you will come back to a mountain after your 2 weeks sipping pina coladas in Fiji and reality will strike you down hard. It’s a productivity tactic straight out of Eat That Frog!
Well, an event such as a 1st birthday party can do wonders for getting stuff done. Landscaping the front of our house was such an example. Ditto cleaning out the garage, mowing the lawn and moving a massive pile of dirt out of the way for car parking purposes.
11. Sick days will be maximised
I’ve been fairly blessed with health the last 3 or so years since starting to look after myself; I’ve maybe taken one sick day a year. But that hasn’t shielded me from the dreaded daycare lurgy that struck us all down as a family a few months ago. Out of my 10 days’ sick leave this year, I have taken 3: one for me, one to look after a sick child, and one to look after the child as the wife was sick. I see no sign of this trend abating; I almost feel bad calling it a ‘sick’ day!
12. It’s an adventure
And finally, the most left-field advice I was given ahead of Evie’s birth was that “it’s simply an incredible adventure”. Nothing has resonated as strongly as this statement.
We also just make it fun, which means it rarely feels like a chore. I think sometimes that we enjoy the toys and games more than Evie does!
It has also been fascinating to watch her develop thoughts, dexterity, motor skills, reactions, words, idiosyncrasies, pulling faces, dance moves, communication methods, and everything in between.
Well, there are the lessons from my first year of parenting. I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years and beyond hold.