Declan was born almost 2 months ago, and I thought it would be a good idea to sit down and write about my experience so far.
- How the experience has compared to my expectations prior to his birth
- How my life has changed; my values, the way I work, & my daily activities
- Being honest with myself, how I feel about the changes, my overall experience so far
Expectations Vs. Reality
Prior to Declan’s birth, I sat down and wrote about how I was feeling. I wrote out what I thought was going to happen, how my life would change, what that would look like for my day to day life, and how that would affect my business and my personal activities
Overall, I came to the conclusion that my free time and my ability to focus my day-to-day life on myself and my business would be greatly reduced, but that I was excited for the opportunity that would be replacing it; to deepen my relationship with my wife and begin a new one with my son.
I accounted for less free time and less sleep. I knew this would open a new dimension of my relationship with my wife. And I was excited to develop a relationship with my son; an opportunity for emotional connection, nurturing, and a teaching exchange. I also believed that his birth would help provide clarity to my priorities, to help me reduce the fluff in my life and really focus on the things that were important to me.
What I did not account for was how unstructured that reduced free time would be.
I didn’t account for how I would personally be affected by the change in my relationship with my wife, as our focus shifted from each other to Declan. I also didn’t realize how frustrating a baby could make me feel, that while I usually was able to listen to him cry and attempt to empathize with him, I would also get frustrated to the point that I would have to put him down and walk away for a few minutes.
I also underestimated my productivity. I thought that having a son would give me the motivation I needed to stay on task and get done what needed to get done; that it like flicking on a light switch from somewhat focused to laser-focused. That was not true. A huge part of that was the lack of sleep. When your brain doesn’t work, it’s hard to get things done. I also planned on taking 6 weeks off for paternity leave, which means I wouldn’t be focusing on work much anyways. (Why own a business if you can’t take time off for important life events?) I also started delegating more tasks to the Man Flow Yoga team, so I could focus more on only those things I could personally [or wanted] to do. But even so, when I did find myself with free time I would often sink back into my usual habit of flip-flopping between work and personal activities.
The shadow of an assumption that I could work Declan into my existing schedule – for some activities – was, for the most part, completely incorrect.
While he does join me for my dog walks without much disruption, there are very few activities that allow me to focus on my to-do list while bringing him along for the ride. The best ways of keeping him occupied in these situations is either (1) wearing him in the baby bjorn, or (2) bringing him out on the patio and blasting the fans, where the combination of Texas summer and multiple fans on blast usually cause him to fall asleep in mere minutes.
But then you feel guilty if you’re not focused on him. Here is this brand new human being, who needs nurturing and love, and I’m ignoring him so that I can eat my breakfast and get a bit more sleep. How selfish of me! Eventually these biological urgencies win out and getting him to fall asleep and take a nap is a relief, but you still feel bad pawning him off for your own needs. (Dads – I now understand why fitness might not seem like a priority to you anymore.)
But am I really being a bad dad?
One perspective is to point out the fact that he really can’t force me to do anything; that even though his screaming and crying is unpleasant to listen to, he doesn’t have the ability to grab me and force me to pay attention to him. It’s ultimately my decision whether or not to respond to him when his squawks and dinosaur noises progress to insistent crying, and that by making the decision to stop what I’m doing and to go to him I am deciding that he is the priority.
There’s also the reality of meeting our own needs in the moment.
The need to eat food. To sleep. To wash our hands after changing his diaper. To take a shower every now and then.
And beyond that, the more secondary needs that reflect non-survival priorities, like working, responding to emails, workouts, and home improvement projects.
(Fun fact: As I type this, Declan is screaming on my lap. Though he’s been fed, offered a nap, and held in every position we can think of to make him more comfortable (or alleviate his potential constipation), his crying persists. Hopefully that combination of Texas heat and fans that I mentioned before will help him relax… 10 minutes later, I’m able to set him down.)
The most noticeable change in day to day life is definitely the lengthy mornings. What used to be an enjoyable experience that prepared me for my day at work is now an unpredictable combination of balancing my to-do lists with a baby who may or may not want to comply with his nutrition and sleep needs. Even on a good morning, feeding, changing, and calming Declan back to sleep takes 60-90 minutes. On a bad morning, it can be as late as 1:00 PM by the time things have settled down, breakfast has been eaten, and I’m sitting down to get started with work. My prime time for work has shifted from 10-3 to the hours of 12 or 1 – 3 or 4. And during that time spent working there is always the chance of interruption.
One thing that I’ve managed to be relatively consistent with is my exercise.
The first part of this has to do with the workout-friendly environment that I’ve created for myself, as well as the obvious understanding between my wife and I that exercise is an essential part of my livelihood and wellbeing. I have multiple areas of my home set up for exercise, including all of the equipment I need to do my workouts. (Note: This isn’t a crazy amount of equipment, either.) The second part is my dependence on exercise. I get so much out of regular exercise for my physical, mental, and emotional well-being, and the noticeable lack of these benefits usually prompts me to never miss more than a day of exercise. My overall mood, my sleep, and my ability to have patience at home are all dependent on whether or not I devote a small chunk of my time to immersing myself in exercise. And it’s not just about going through the motions – the real benefits of exercise for me occur when I’m pushing myself in some way to grow stronger; to go beyond a point that’s comfortable, addressing a noticeable weakness, or exploring an unfamiliar aspect of movement.
To sum up my exercise consistency – it has remained consistent because I have (1) created an environment conducive to regular exercise, and (2) I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t go without the immediately noticeable rewards that accompany it. (Hint: You’ll get there, too, when you’re consistent for long enough.)
I also did not anticipate how much my relationship with my wife would change – not just in how we interact with one another, but in how I view her.
It has been a joy to see Marisa caring for Declan, a nurturing side of her that I knew was there, but had not seen a great deal of. Kids have always loved her, and seeing her loving our own child warms my heart in many ways. But the other aspect of that is jealousy that much of the attention that was mine is now being directed toward him. I”m not saying this because the jealousy is justified; I’m just saying unapologetically that the attention that was once mine is no longer just for me, and that it is an adjustment getting used to it.
She’s capable of watching Declan with a patience I don’t think I could ever have. And she shows it a CONSTANT daily and nightly basis. (If I had to rate Declan on the “fussy” baby scale, I’d give him an 8 out of 10. He’s not the worst, but he’d still be voted to the 2nd team.) Though I spend a few hours watching Declan every day, I’m not with him the way that she is. His crying doesn’t affect my hormones like it does hers. I’m not the one waking up to feed him multiple times per night. (Try waking up at 3 AM and then staying awake for 45 minutes. It’s miserable.) Humanity as we know it would likely be significantly different [or, as a neighbor said, completely extinct] if it were up to men to watch over the babies. (I’m only partly joking.)
Now realizing how much of a toll new motherhood takes on the mother, it was naive to believe that my increased responsibility would only extend to my role as a father. Both Declan and baby mama need increased support. And in addition to creating an additional and unexpected allocation of my time, it has changed my wife and I’s relationship.
It hasn’t changed how we act together. The easiest way to explain it is that she now has another role to fill, and that it now overshadows her other roles to which I was more accustomed.
She isn’t just my wife anymore. She’s my son’s mother. There is a man in her life other than me (although a very small man) that rivals in his importance to her. It adds a new dimension to her identity; one which comes with a new set of opportunities for connection and growth, but a new dimension that must make room for itself amongst the existing ones – the best friend, the lover, the team member, and the professional.
The most jarring part of this new role was in how abruptly the change occurred. This new dimension of character did not make a slow, gradual entrance. It came in immediately, shoved everybody else out of the way, and said “I AM MOM!! EVERYBODY ELSE, MAKE WAY!” It has, quite literally, made me look at her in a whole new way. As with all new things, this requires adjustment, though in the long term I’m sure will lead to an even greater connection and more rewarding relationship.
The frustration… it never ends.
Parents get frustrated for the same reason. We’re doing our best to help. We’re making the decision to be there and try to comfort the baby, but the cries continue. We don’t know what we’re doing wrong, we’re not sure how to help, and that hurts us. So, we get upset at the baby: Why aren’t you doing what we want you to do so you can be happy?
His cries become a symbol of our own feelings of inadequacy and insecurities as parents. The challenge of that is shifting from our default of taking it personally, to instead trying to emphasize with him: What do you need, little baby? What are you trying to say? How would you like me to hold you? Are you hungry, tired, or both? Are you confused? I’m here for you, and I want to help, even if that means you’re going to keep crying.
But making it through that struggle is probably why we care so much for our children. The greater the struggle, the greater the reward. It’s all part of the process. It just kind of sucks being where we are right now – and that’s okay, too.
What did I do during paternity leave? What’s my plan for returning to work?
I had planned on being away from work on paternity leave for a full month. When Declan was born a few weeks early, I decided to keep the same return date, thereby extending my paternity leave to about 7 weeks. I made sure to film all of the workouts I needed to film and delegate all of the tasks that needed to be delegated before I stepped away. On the day of the pregnancy induction, I put up auto-responders on all of my work-related email accounts, and moved into my new temporary full-time job taking care of baby and mom. I still planned to be working on Man Flow Yoga for a couple of hours per day, and that would prove to be accurate – save for a day or two here or there where I had something additional that needed to be done, and only I could do it.
During paternity leave, my main job was to help assist Marisa in watching Declan, whether that meant bottle-feeding him (when he would actually take the bottle), soothing him to sleep, taking the “late night” shift while he was still learning that night was for sleeping, or doing tasks around the house like cooking, cleaning, and laundry. But there was only so much to do, and the time usually allocated for Man Flow Yoga quickly shifted to home improvement, probably due to being constantly at home and repeatedly seeing what needed to be fixed.
A few things I ended up doing: reorganizing the kitchen and laundry room, finishing the nursery and front entryway, and finally getting everything in place to convert my home office into a home office / gym. (It also included setting up the patio, doing a ton of gardening/landscaping work, finally getting the photos and frames on the wall hung at the right level, cleaning out the refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and all closets, just to name some of the other tasks.) This home improvement snowballed into a task that rivaled a full-time job, but I eventually made it through most of the things on my to-do list, and began to shift my focus back to work.
This past week was supposed to be my first week back at Man Flow Yoga.
I think I spent a total of 4 hours at the office, and if I was lucky, a total of 4 hours per day on task. Fortunately for our customers, my absence hasn’t been missed. We made sure to film plenty of workouts and tutorials in advance, to make sure we didn’t miss out on promise to deliver one new high-quality workout per week. We also have a great team in place that has taken on the majority of my responsibilities (the ones that can be done by people other than myself, at least), and 99% of the training resources I’ve created for Man Flow Yoga are already comprehensively organized to the point that you can get to work on a program or a series of workouts without my direct assistance.
(This stems from my distastes of (1) not being able to reuse something and (2) repeating myself – but – has the overall benefit of providing an awesome, high-quality training resource and community to our customers along with the additional built-in guidance to help answer the majority of their questions and concerns.)
Not working might be easy for some people – but I do enjoy work. Before Declan, it was my other, other baby. (I can’t forget Flowtron and Kaya, the puppies.) Growing Man Flow Yoga from a social media page to the community, mission, and the brand that it is today makes me reluctant to not be working on it. And that meant taking a step back and only working on it for a few hours per day isn’t as enjoyable as you might think – especially considering that it’s easy to see the results of the work on my business, but seeing progress in your newborn is much less noticeable.
Raising a newborn is frustrating. The crying and screaming. The feeds that end in vomit. The 60-minute soothing sessions that end in a 15 minute nap (or even worse, when they don’t sleep at all). Not knowing “which” cry he’s currently exhibiting. Getting peed and / or pooped on. It’s a truly thankless job with seemingly no end in sight.
So many of the responses to my baby posts say something along the lines of “I wish I could go back to those days”, but at this point I’m convinced that these people are about as believable as the moms who claim to enjoy being pregnant. Do you really want to go back to sleepless nights and a constantly screaming baby? Cmon now.
Yes, we were fortunate enough to become pregnant and have a healthy baby. We’re grateful for that. And we’ve had some great, special moments with Declan – watching him smile at us for the first time, him being happy long enough to take photos, and dressing him up in cute outfits. But in the first two months, those rewarding moments of parenthood are far outnumbered by the frustrating ones.
Frustration is a secondary emotion, and in these cases it usually stems from a feeling of helplessness, that you don’t know what your child wants in that situation, or you don’t have the power to get your baby to do what you want him to do.
So if I had to sum up the experience so far, I’d have to say it’s mostly frustrating, but with special moments of joy that make it more worth it. It’s a major life change that has completely changed the way I go about my daily life, changed my relationship with the important person in my life, and has made me reevaluate my priorities, my daily activities, and my work habits.
I’m writing this down as a way of explaining my experience – not to give (or solicit) advice, nor to seek approval.
Hint: Don’t give unsolicited advice in general, ESPECIALLY to new parents; and ESPECIALLY about whether or not to have your child circumcised – do you honestly believe my son’s genitals are your business?
Sharing your own experiences, on the other hand, is something that is enjoyable, and I encourage you to share similar experiences with me. 🙂 My general understanding is that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and things might start to get better around 3 months, but I’m definitely not counting on the frustration to end there.
Thanks for reading this!
I’ll be honest and say that writing this is something that I would do regardless of whether or not I published it on the blog, but nonetheless, I hope that it provides some value for you.