If you recently had a child, you must absolutely be happy and content. A slight digression is allowed but only just, and only due to the tiredness of sleepless nights that you are expected to have. The happiness of having a newborn ought to make up for everything physical as well as emotional. Such are the social expectations for new parents, which although for the most part true, they can be suffocating.
It was about two weeks after we brought the newborn home from the hospital. He was neither eating nor sleeping, and we were both exhausted and concerned — concerned for the baby, concerned with our exhaustion and exhausted from being concerned all the time. I now flick through our pictures of back then and feel sorry for the relics that we were, but also a bit proud for making it this far.
Friends and family were visiting to see us and the baby, and also to graciously lend a helping hand. Amidst the love and help we received, there was also an underlying sense of behavioral expectations. We were implicitly expected to radiate joy and happiness. The expectations were constantly there, looming in every conversation, most of whom inevitably had to do with the baby. At the time, we did our best to conform even if it entailed some innocent acting to please the crowds.
That night, two weeks into parenthood, when everyone left and the baby finally stopped crying and fell asleep if only for a bit, we sat around the dinner table over pizza — our comfort food of choice — and had an open and frank discussion about our new state of affairs. It was the night we vocalized questions that had long been making the rounds in our heads. Was this a bad idea? Did we misjudge the energy and effort required to take care of a baby? Did we rush into parenthood without properly weighting the pros and cons? Where we ready to part ways with our previous way of life?
I can now give reasoned answers full of honest conviction to all of these questions. It was the best idea that we (OK, my wife) had, which fortunately materialized with little effort and in an optimum time in our lives. Parenthood is a human experience that is emotionally fulfilling to an extend that was unfathomable to me before the birth of my son.
But we couldn’t see that at the time. Back then, we needed to entertain those questions. We needed to release the tension that was building inside of us. And we did. We talked about the baby as if we were still considering whether to have one or not. The (inevitable and rather obvious) affirmation of our choice, was empowering. Realizing that we would do it all over again and acknowledging that what we were going through was absolutely non-exceptional, normal even, was motivational. It was what helped us push through the early days, which have been the most difficult of our lives.
If we didn’t allow ourselves the opportunity to have that honest discussion, I am not sure that things would have turned the way they have. We would possibly be idealizing our previous way of life, being bitter about the turn that our lives took, or being in denial wanting to mimic our previous way of life to its fullest, which is unrealistic. Most worryingly, had we not discussed our concerns, we would keep on pondering about them privately and in silence, feeding them and blowing them out of proportion. And there is nothing worse than the loneliness of two people sharing a life masking their fears in order to avoid the judgement of their other half.
If there’s anything to take from this is firstly to be mindful of what expectations you are instilling upon new parents and to do your best to create a safe space where the couple whose lives came upside down can honestly discuss their feelings, even if you realize full well that it’s tiredness and despair rather than reason speaking, and that things will soon get better for all of them.
This is part of a series of entries titled Fatherhood Diaries where I record thoughts on life as a new dad. Click here for all the Fatherhood Diaries.