A friend once described her mantra for parenting to me and I thought it concise and excellent. She said that parents had two main roles:
Keep them alive
Keep them from turning into an asshole
She’s right and it turns out that “Keeping them alive” isn’t all that complicated. Maintain a continuous guard of all orifices and remove offending objects if required, then ensure fed at regular intervals and attempt to explain why plug sockets are always installed at toddler height yet are the worst thing a toddler can play with!
Keeping them from turning into an asshole seems to be more of an longitudinal endeavour and when I’ve mastered that one I’ll let you know.
Here I sit, one month into MANternity with a fairly established routine, the baby is asleep, laundry is going round, I have time for coffee and blogging.
So whats the reason that I am finding this time fairly pleasant but the common perception of a new mum is a stressed, confused, barely conscious whirlwind?
Its because MANternity and MAternity are not the same thing. Something that I think it is important for us men to acknowledge.
The journey to MANternity started with me selecting a date when I would no longer come into work. This date did not change and I was in no danger of being surprised by MANternity suddenly beginning two weeks early. In fact I could have cancelled this leave at any point. The day before MANternity I was in the gym doing a weights session and the body I had then is fairly similar to the body I have now. (I say FAIRLY similar because I’ve found NO time for physical training so far and raised estrogen levels are not known to contribute to a tight six-pack) Even my mental state, while requiring adjustment, at least began the transition from a fairly level and predictable place.
The journey to MAternity for a woman is preceeded by 9 months of alternating between sickness and physical immobility. Those 9 months tick down to a date when a baby is arriving, whether you are ready for it or not. “Baby arriving” is about the politest way I can put the severe trauma that is a woman in childbirth. And then, after days of exhaustion and the epic final battle of delivery, THEN the sleepless nights begin. On top of this she is semi-aware that her brain is doing loop-da-loops and creating all kinds of thoughts and moods that she doesn’t want to experience but is powerless to combat. ON TOP OF THIS everytime she looks in the mirror she sees a body different to the one she remembers and the thought of the training and nutrition required to return to her original self is enough to bring a Crossfit Champion to their knees.
So to the men who told me to “report back how easy it actually is” I say “You have no idea!”
To go through the above and manage to do anything other than sleep face down on the living room floor at every opportunity is a miracle. To wrestle an infant into some sort of routine, only to fill those spaces with exciting things like cleaning or laundry, is immensely admirable. To do all this and still smile and seem vaguely interested when their husband offloads about how rubbish work is or how he feels like the newborn is impacting his “me” time? Saints, I tell you, Saints, every last one of them!
Truth be told I didn’t fully appreciate this until now. I was gone a lot during this period with my son. I heard what my wife said about times when she was tired or when it was tough to get everything done. But they were abstract complaints in the same way I struggle to clear my inbox at work or don’t feel like getting up on a Monday. Now I feel I have a modicum of insight and a massive amount of respect.
Don’t get me wrong, we fathers have our own challenges, and I shall continue to whine publicly about those. But for those of us lucky enough to take Shared Parental Leave, it is a blessing to be able to spend that time with the kids while while not completely fragged and only mildly fatigued. My new parenting mantra, as of now, is: MAKE THE MOST OF IT.