If I’m honest, I did wonder if I’d hate becoming a dad.
The loss of freedom. The responsibility. The sleep deprivation. How was I going to cope, let alone enjoy my life?
I decided to make a plan. And, for once, it didn’t involve a spreadsheet or compound interest.
Having a baby is undoubtedly a life-changing experience, but on the basis that everything I knew was going to change, I reasoned that I might as well make a few changes of my own.
From the philosophical to the inane, here are some of the ways that I adapted to help me survive becoming a dad…
7 Ways to Survive Becoming a Dad
1. Expect the Worst
Throughout my life, I have been told how tortuous the next stage of my development is going to be. Growing up in England, I think that is pretty normal.
The earliest example I can think of is the fabled BCG vaccination. A few months beforehand, stories starting circulating about a terrible 2-phase injection that would pierce and sting and burn like nothing you could possibly imagine. I didn’t believe that even the most sadistic of healthcare professionals would seriously consider giving you a jab and then delivering a follow-up the very next week, so I decided to ask my mum. She showed me her scar and warned me that I might get one too.
I think that a similar experience has happened every couple of years ever since. Bleep tests, starting high school, sitting exams, facing the notorious Nottinghamshire U15 opening bowler, passing a driving test that featured Worcester’s legendary Sixways roundabout (clue’s in the name), getting married, starting a training contract… at every juncture I’ve been told in no uncertain terms how hard or unpleasant my life is about to get.
And there is, of course, a measure of truth in these things. Sometimes life is really hard and you have to endure experiences that, frankly, you’d rather sit out. But my experience has tended to be that things aren’t as bad as I had expected. There’s something delightfully English about expecting the worst but secretly (always secretly) finding things rather more manageable than you had expected.
My approach to parenthood has been to expect the worst, and for me this has been a key part of surviving becoming a dad. If you expect a difficult pregnancy and a brutal labour and a sleepless, joyless existence then you won’t be surprised when you get it. Wonderfully, though, most of us find that things aren’t quite as wretched as we had supposed, and there’s something rather satisfying about that.
2. Hit the Gym at Lunchtimes
Over the last few years I’ve realised that there’s quite a neat correlation between my going to the gym and my mood. By which I mean that I’m a grumpy sod when I don’t go enough.
For a few weeks during pregnancy I started to worry about this, because I didn’t see how I’d be able to get to the gym in the evenings with a newborn baby. I was concerned that life was going to become more stressful and that I would be less well equipped to deal with it. I decided to cancel my gym membership and join the gym opposite my office.
I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before – or quite what I used to get upto during my lunchtimes. This has been a subtle adjustment but it’s meant that I’m able to exercise very regularly whilst managing to head straight home in the evenings. I’ve also found that I’m much more productive in the afternoons, and the baffled looks on my colleagues’ faces as I knock back protein shakes are priceless.
3. Sleep When the Baby Sleeps
My wife and I are different in many ways. One distinction is our energy levels. This is nicely demonstrated by what happens when we go cycling together.
When we are approaching a hill, she will accelerate furiously beforehand to try and build up as much momentum as possible. As she starts to decelerate, she will furiously mash her way through the gears – 2, 3, 4 at a time – until finding the safe haven of the granny ring and crawling to the summit.
I like to do things rather differently, conserving energy in the buildup to a climb and trying to sustain a consistent speed throughout the ascent. I might accelerate up the last part of the climb once I can see that I’m almost there.
This distinction works itself out in various ways. Firstly, it’s very funny to ride in front of my wife as we approach a hill so that she can’t do her building-up-momentum trick. Secondly, most of our friends assume (wrongly, I might add) that she has a lot more energy than me. Did nobody read the hare and the tortoise? Thirdly, it means that she is much better at napping than me.
I hate napping. I subscribe to the radical notion that daytime is for doing things, not being asleep. I can probably drift off if I’m lying in the sun for long enough, but given that I live in England that doesn’t happen very often.
However, one really good bit of parenting advice we were given is to sleep when the baby sleeps. Unsurprisingly, babies (especially newborns) sleep at really odd times. A great strategy for surviving becoming a parent is to make sure that you catch up on sleep when they do. I found that by sleeping in the first part of the night I wasn’t so bothered when my daughter was awake during the small hours. The fact that our early father-daughter bonding consisted of binge watching Narcos together didn’t hurt either.
4. Wheel Out the Grandparents
Okay, so they’re nowhere near wheels yet, but grandparents are a key part of any successful new parent survival strategy. Yes, there are those weird moments when you find yourself disagreeing with how they do things – only to remember that they’ve done this before – but the experience, calm and love that they bring is just what tired parents need in the early months of a baby’s life.
We have been very grateful for the many ways in which our daughter’s grandparents have helped us through the first few months of her life.
5. Develop Tunnel Vision
In my teens I competed at a reasonably high level in cross country running. I quickly learnt that skinny boys with high pain thresholds could win at sport, which seemed like a jolly good idea. I raced against some seriously skinny boys with alarmingly high pain thresholds.
During training and races, there would regularly be a part of the run which you simply had to endure. By developing tunnel vision and learning to cope with the pain (whilst sustaining your pace) you would quickly get through that difficult time and become reenergised. If you allowed yourself to think too far ahead, you would slow down, stop, and potentially even drop out altogether.
There are some similarities with parenting. There are occasional moments which are very, very difficult. For most of us they seem to be in the middle of the night at the point when we are most exhausted. However, by taking things an hour at a time, and trying to be disciplined about not worrying, I tended to find that those difficult phases came to pass soon enough.
6. Treat Parenthood Like a Challenge
There’s something really fun about doing hard things. People run marathons and become doctors and renovate houses because they’re hard. We know that difficult experiences are good for us, and we look forward to how good it will feel to have survived the challenge and come out the other side.
I’ve tried to take this approach to becoming a dad. Sometimes my life has felt a bit like a series of mini scientific experiments. How well can I function at work today after the night I’ve just had? Is it possible to run around like such a lunatic that I wear out the child more than she wears us out? Can I dress my daughter in an outfit that won’t be changed by my wife within 15 minutes?
It’s also important to try and retain some perspective. It’s a bit like the ending to the Shawshank Redemption. I might be crawling through faeces today, but tomorrow I will be on a beach.
7. Try and Retain a Sense of Humour
When your child vomits over you for the third time in 90 minutes or manages to poo up to her shoulder blades or you spill an entire bottle of expressed breast milk on the floor, sometimes you just have to laugh.
Besides, there are lots of entertaining moments when you become a parent.
We’ve been looking for a suitable word for breaking wind and haven’t been particularly enamoured by the options. I was brought up never to speak of such things, but after my wife reeled off the multitude of candidates from her childhood – fart, parp, blow off, guff and (the worst offender) ‘botty burp’ – it became apparent that we desperately needed to find some common ground.
After much consideration, and for obvious reasons, we have our winner.