My kids are 12 and 15, so I’ve been out of the parenting business for about seven years.
Really, if they have learned it by five, what chance do you have?
Ha! Just some bad parenting humor there. I know a parent’s job is never done. I’m 43, and pretty much every time I visit with my parents, I lean on them for some sage words of advice, often which is, “Payback’s tough, huh?”
Again, I kid. When you start as a parent, it’s a full time job until the end of time. Sure, as they get older you have to give them some leeway. And the fact that my wife and I have six parents to bounce parenting advice off of is a treasure we don’t take lightly. They will always have been down that path before us.
But the point of this column is not for parents of teens and tweens and whatever it is you call that particularly bizarre age from 8-10. Rather, it’s for the brand new parents as well as the soon to be parents, but in particular the dads. I felt particularly inclined to share these words of advice with you after seeing a brand new set of parents recently, as they both argued over who should change a small baby’s diaper. Both agreed it was gross. And stinky. And the other person’s turn. But mom was clearly worn out and wanted just five minutes of a break from the routine. So I offer these sage words of advice, and I especially hope new and soon-to-be dads will listen:
- Diapers are nasty. They are designed to catch human waste. Dads, change the diaper. This isn’t 1956. And I feel plenty confident that mom has changed her fair share. Change the diaper. It’s gross. But somebody’s gotta do it, and she’s probably done it way more than you already. Man up.
- Feed your child. I don’t just mean make sure your child has sustenance. I mean sit down and feed your child. (Dads, I’m still talking to you.) What seems like a trying 30 minutes trying to get a one-year-old eat a single spoonful of peas is actually some quality bonding time. Embrace it. That’s your job now. Not Xbox.
- Listen when mom says no. Fathers and mothers have a very different definition of danger. What may seem like a harmless fun to you – say, the game Ride the Shoulders and Touch the Fan Game – terrifies moms. Concede to mom. And only play that game when she is shopping.
- Mom is probably more tired than you. Got a three-month old? Worked a long day at the office? Just a hunch mom had a longer day than you. Do what I did — ask for the Reset Rule. I asked my wife to give me time to get in the door, change clothes, and brace myself for the rest of the day which is, you know, parenting.
- You may not like your kid sometimes. This is the harshest and toughest thing for parents – in particular brand new parents – to deal with. Years ago, a neighbor and friend of mine was expecting a child. I told him this. He was kinda mortified that I would say such a thing. I explained to him that at some point, he may very well experience a time days, weeks, months into his child’s life – that child that became the focal point of his world, the sole being of his existence – where he said to himself, “I don’t like you. At all.” He would never do that, he said. I told him that sleep deprivation and an entirely new world order is not kind. And it’s OK to have that emotion. The key is how you react. You know you love that child. So it’s time to pass him back to mom or leave him crying in the crib and walk away. And yes, feel awful for having that feeling. But I had to tell him he would not be alone. When his son was a month old, he texted me and asked me to meet him out front. He told me he was glad I had said that to him a while back, as he was experiencing emotions he didn’t understand. His kids are much older now, and he’s one of the finest fathers I know. It’s an awful feeling, but my hunch is most every parent has felt it and the ensuing regret over having what is actually a pretty natural reaction to the stress of being a new parent.
Parenting is hard work. It has been since the dawn of time, and until Apple develops the iParent, it will continue to be. But if you just try and weather the storm of being a new parent, it will all be OK. And you’re done in five short years.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Charleston. You can e-mail him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.