Becoming a parent is one of the most life-changing things you can ever experience – and people will tell you exactly that from the moment you first announce that you and your partner are expecting.
Something about welcoming a new life into the world seems to suddenly give other people a licence to comment on every aspect of your existence, and they certainly aren’t shy of red flagging the fact that life is about to irrevocably change.
There might be mutterings about lack of sleep, loss of lazy weekends and even some rumblings about how things may change with your partner. But what no one really talks about is the profound change in your self-identity that welcoming children brings.
Overnight, you go from pretty much being the centre of your own universe to somewhere on the priority list below feeding the dog and loading never ending cycles of washing. That can be tough, however much you’re enjoying being a new father. Here are the key things you may need to expect – and how to set them right.
The Problem: Kiss Goodbye To ‘Me Time’
We all live hectic lives, working hard and going at a million miles an hour. But usually we get a little ‘me time’ at the weekends or in the evenings to rest, decompress and reset our busy minds. With small children, that’s the first thing that goes off the menu. They don’t have an off switch – which means neither can you. Even if you are back at work, looking after children is a full time job. If your partner is at home, you may return to a house with lots of jobs left to be done while she’s desperate for a break. Childcare is full on and intense, after all. So instead of putting your feet up in the evening, you may find that you need to step straight into dad mode to give your partner a break. Finding time for yourselves is extremely tough – and can easily lead to arguments and tension of each feels the other is not ‘doing their share’.
The Antidote: Call In the Troops
If you expect not to get much downtime and go from there, hopefully anything is a bonus. Work with your partner to try and find out how you can both cover each other occasionally- even a couple of hours a week each can make a huge difference to your wellbeing. This is where the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ comes into huge effect. Call in all the favours you can from family and trusted friends- if they can pop round and take baby to the park for an hour it can just give the small amount of time needed to feel human. Most of all, try to remember that this stage is relatively short – eventually they get a bit better at playing independently and there’s more chance to look at the paper occasionally or fit in a run.
The Problem: A Dad Identity Crisis
Becoming a father changes your standing in the eyes of the world – and that can feel a little strange. You suddenly lose your name at all the countless children’s parties and playgroups and list become ‘Jack’s dad’. Your designer stubble becomes less a styling choice and more of lack of time for grooming. Your weekends are more about soft play than watching sports in the pub. It’s enough to make you feel like you need Propecia and good dose of eye cream for those huge bags that have developed overnight.
The Antidote: Finding Your New Groove
Okay, so your personal style might now have to include a few more sticky handprints than you had envisioned, but you can embrace your new role with elan. You can strike a note of new-dad chic in ways you never imagined by baby wearing! At the end of the day, a few more lines and grey hair are really nothing compared to the overwhelming love you’ll feel for this little part of yourself, watching them make their way in the world. And there’s nothing like having to wear a two year old’s Dora The Explorer backpack to make you realise that style is purely a matter of confidence – if you can pull that off, there’s nothing else that can phase you!
The Problem: Perfectionist Tendencies
Self-judgement is a fundamental and insidious trait of any new parent. We are being set the most monumental task, the most important job of our lives – and all without an instruction manual. It’s only natural to feel that the eyes of the world are upon us, and finding us lacking.
The Antidote: Kind Living
Remember to be kind, both to yourself and your partner. There aren’t any right answers – only what works for you both and the little individual you have brought into the world. Let go of any thoughts of Boden catalogue perfection, apple-cheeked angelic toddlers in multi coloured wellies accompanied by a photogenic Labrador. Resist the urge to compare yourself to others effortlessly ‘dadding’ in the smoke-and-mirrors world of social media (you know the sort. Gym session at 6am. Tech start-up meeting at 8am. Climbing the Peak District with baby in a sling at 11am). Have compassion for yourself and understand that, some days, survival mode is as good as it’s going to get. Celebrate the little triumphs in life – the occasional ‘he slept the whole night through!’ glimpse of victory counts for a huge amount. Cut yourself and your little family some slack. Love really is the key ingredient that can get your through more than you know.
Ultimately, life at this point becomes all about getting through the harder days and enjoying the many milestone moments. That priceless first smile, the midnight cuddles, the adorable conversations with little minds curious about the world. These are the truly significant, incredible moment that come with fatherhood and melt away all the petty annoyances. You’ll get your groove back – even if it comes with a side helping of My Little Pony hair clips and baby spit up on your new sweater!