They say kids change you. And, they aren't lying. If you like chaos, unpredictability, and emotional instability, kids are the thing for you!
But usually, on the internet of things, there is this qualifier on how it is the greatest thing you'll do in your life, or how blessed you are despite it all, or that they wouldn't change anything for the world. Classic internet triumph stories get me every time. And in reality, I love being a Dad. I love watching this little creatures grow and blossom into wonderful people that you've help shape - they're part you, but they're also themselves and that is a pretty cool thing. But, if I'm being fully honest, I struggled becoming and being a Dad. From my first, which presented many first time issues, to my third which exposed every flaw I had about parenting, I struggled differently with each child. And, I still struggle. I suspect this is normal (oh Lord I hope it is) but you don't see a lot on the subject so here I am, exposing my inner brain for the benefit of Mr. Kite (it's on trampolines).
As an expectant Dad, I found myself mentally steeled to be patient AF with this little ball of tears, poop, and love. Damnit, I was going to be a great Dad. I poured all my attention into him and got attention back, sometimes. Lets face it, newborns aren't very good at conversations and they find men relatively useless for the first few months of life when they discover that you don't produce breastmilk. And really, if you're not putting out white gold, what are you contributing to society anyway?
That was a blow. I felt useless and not needed which is hard in my " I constantly need affirmation" type of life. It was the beginning of the struggle. It all comes down to expectations. I expected to be this A-Plus Dad with kids who used the same slang as me, had a razor sharp wit, and generally avoided societal faux pas all while shaping a bright future but honing their minds and bodies as if preparing for some unseen battle of abilities in the future. And what I got was rejection. At least, In my eyes. I felt I wasn't good enough to help the baby. I couldn't fix the baby's problems and, as a male and a fixer, this posed a significant threat to my core values as a Dad. What if I wasn't going to be a good dad?!
Let's couple this with (and remember, I need affirmation) a wife who just had a surgery, is dependent, and all her available attention and energy is going towards herself and the new addition to our family.
I felt truly isolated, alone, and useless. And this was just kid #1. I had a hard time- spent a lot of time escaping in less positive means and I poured myself into work. And, reflexively, I made myself unavailable to both my wife and kid. In a roundabout way, because I lost my attention, I withdrew mine and in that way, it wasn't MY FAULT or MY ISSUE, it was most definitely their fault and I was a victim. The brain is funny, isn't it?
I eventually did seek help. But, more with my wife's encouragement. I don't know I would have reached out by myself. I struggle with self reflection and realization and I had already convinced myself it wasn't my fault that I felt this way but rather the outside world who drove me down. The man was keeping me down and I was just surviving. The help worked. I got my head straightened out, put some priorities in place and some self checks. But, two kids later, the problems don't change, they just get amplified by lack of time and lack of patience. I was a stoic rock for my first child and a volcano for my third at times. It is always a work in progress.
But, having kids doesn't just change you emotionally, no it has larger implications of which I've found 3 main areas it messes with you: Emotionally, Socially, and Physically.
1. Emotionally: We covered this some, but going for 100% of your wife's attention to 50% (or less) for the first kid, divided by 3 for me, You're going to feel alone. abandoned. Add onto the fact that the little tater tot really isn't going to be your best friend until at least 6 months you've got a rocky road ahead. I didn't plan for this. I saw all the commercials and assumed that co-parenting would be this blissful game of tag team snuggling. Wrong. It's incredibly one sided and I wasn't prepared for the sacrifice of my needs that was necessary - sure I felt I would have to give up on some things, but reality is, I had no idea what was about to hit me. Then they get older. And they talk. And they love on you unconditionally and just because. They fill the void your wife can't because of pre-existing conditions. And it's all good for a while....
Then, they learn "NO". And everything is all F'ed again for a while. Apparently these kids aren't little behaving robots, their behavior comes from trial and error and learning from the consequences of said actions and my reactions as a parent. Really?! They say Discovery Learning Has the highest retention rate (and I will never forget this) but the slowest acquisition rate (it did take me forever) but part of me wished there was a magic pill for this.
And then they get bigger and one day they stop screaming all the time and find interests of their own. Some they will share with you while others you're too cumbersome to belong to. And thus begins the phase out before they go off to school -another emotional ride in to itself. And here I sit - some of you may already know what teenage years holds and more; I'm not there yet. But I hope that when it gets here, I've got more figured out than I currently do.
Socially: You will lose touch with people after kids. Let's face it, the ones who don't have kids yet don't love taming their activities down to be around those folks with kids. Their weekend activities start when ours ends. At first, there is a slow down on the invites with plenty of opt-out chances "but really don't feel like you have to..." . Then, the invites stop all together. You start seeing your old crew out on the town without you and you had no head's up. Another blow emotionally, this one took a while to swallow. I was infinitely discouraged that I was no longer involved. I was relinquished to staying at home with the kids rather than go live a Saturday night up. This will change, but initially it really brought me down and made me feel more lonely (remember, home is already a lonely place). Now I'm such a homebody and unprepared both in dress and attitude that an invite out if more of a burden than a joy. Ugh, who dares invite me out at 5:30 on a Saturday for a family BBQ? The NERVE! Kids are both a blessing and a curse in this situation - and you will learn to manage social functions with a baby or 3 but there is a steep learning curve and a high price for admission -> and turning down invites will become more regular. As will not feeling bad or guilty or envious of it. My party is at home now. And it leaves me with no hangover (well an emotional maybe).
Let's face it - new kid, new routine, new feelings, loss of connection to wife and friends, and a new lifestyle.... you stand the risk of gaining weight. I sure did. Initially pre first baby I was really skinny and blamed it on the need to "fill in". But all that was bullshit. It was excuses to eat whatever the hell I wanted to. By the time kid 3 was born I was bloated and disgusting. Guys, kids food is not low calorie or on that special diet of yours. But, it is highly accessible, DELICIOUS, and comes in bulk. So, the caveman in me stocked myself up for the coming eternal winter and I gained some padding. Ok, more than some. While my wife could attribute a few extra pounds to baby weight, she shed a lot of those when the baby was born. I, unfortunately could not do that without surgical help. It's a slow progression and hard to see when you're contentedly mowing through the mac and cheese kids didn't eat on their plate (waste not want not!) but at some point I saw a picture of me and said- f*@k, this is how I look?
It takes a while to come off too. Time is a precious commodity and carving out that time to work on yourself, while important, is hard to fit in on the schedule but equally as hard to justify taking time away from your family and makes you feel guilty. So you don't go. And eat more. And get fat. sure did. And while not at my peak weight gain I still have a lot of work to do. Thankfully, the kids are more into my foods now so meals are easier and I have kids now that can entertain themselves to free up some personal time for me without the guilt. And, as a side benefit, I don't care to have a six pack anymore. While it would be cool, I'd probably give my kids a concussion or tailbone fracture if that part of my body was rock hard because they are so used to it being their own personal trampoline. And mentally, I'm not in the dating pool anymore. My focus is not attracting a mate, it's keeping one with a good balance and staying healthy so I can be a provider. Yeah, I still want to blow my wife away with my svelte figure but I don't have to have veins showing on my abs to make that happen (they don't call me swivel hips for nothing).
Have I learned some things, absolutely. Am I still learning? 100%. But am I in a better place in regards to expectations - for sure. With a family and kids, life isn't ever predictable. But I was so not prepared for how unpredictable I would feel with it all. If there is any advice I would pass along to new parents or dads it would be to mentally prepare yourself for loss. You have gained so much with a baby but you lose so much too (for better an worse). It wasn't the presence of a new baby that threw me so much for a loop as the loss of the support structure I built up. I hadn't built me up for me, I built me up for others and once those others were temporarily displaced I was lost. So, find yourself, find what drives you and focus on you, and prepare for loss. That's it, that's all folks.