New parents often race towards the end of pregnancy with an unnatural optimism for a future of rainbows and sunshine that awaits them, only to come to the realisation that taking care of a baby can be anything but simple. Even parents who are entering their second or third round of baby-building can forget just how hard it can be, having shunted some of the more exhausting memories to the recesses of their mind.
I write this three weeks since the arrival of Baby #2, and am finding all those memories bubbling back up to the surface. Old emotions and frustrations have been refreshed anew and every day is an endeavour to find the positives amongst the wealth of stress and demands that the early days of parenthood can bring.
- The baby blues and postnatal depression in dads
- The rewards of fatherhood
- My invisible friend Pickabob
To help in my journey of optimistic pursuit, I’ve compiled a list of challenges every parent of a newborn faces (although I have no doubt that not everyone views these things as negatively I as do) and coupled them with a silver lining – a ray of hope to which you can attach yourself as the hurdles arise.
1. There is no burp button
So your baby managed to burp after only 30 seconds of back rubbing? Congratulations! Now you can do exactly the same process to ensure 30-second burps every time.
Oh, wait. That’s not a thing.
Babies don’t follow process. They’re the worst kind of employee, only adhering to the ideal rules of play when it suits them. What works one time will never, ever work again. There are no guarantees with burping a baby apart from there being absolutely no consistency or pattern to what works.
Silver lining – Windy smiles are still smiles
When bubs has some gas to expel, they’ll sometimes let you know with a big grin (also true of some adults). People will say it’s just a ‘windy smile’ and that they’re far too young to be actually smiling. You tell those people to get out of your house while you revel in the glimmer of happiness from your child that makes everything worthwhile.
2. Hours upon hours of rocking your baby to sleep
Similar to burping, there’s no guarantee that the patterns you follow in getting your baby to sleep will ever consistently work. Expect to spend countless hours of pacing around a room with babe in arms, wondering at what point vigorous rocking reclassifies to ‘shaking’ and then getting paranoid that you’ve crossed that threshold before stopping rocking altogether to make sure the baby is still breathing and in doing so, bringing them right back to fully awake status and having to start all over again.
And if you think you’ll get away with listening to a podcast while you do all this, forget it. Babies have superhuman hearing and will spring alert to the slightest crackle of audio entertainment.
Silver lining – You can skip the gym
Unless you’re one of those super fitness types, you probably weren’t planning to give exercise a second thought for a few months. The good news is, your day-to-day routine now involves carrying around 10+ pounds of extra weight that’s passively strengthening your upper body in a way that an expensive personal trainer never could.
3. Social commitments become significantly harder to fulfill
Has a new movie come out? Is there a dinner party Facebook invite that needs an RSVP? Has a friend just been elected President of the World and needs you to attend an exclusive event that includes free chocolate mousse? Good luck getting to any of it.
While it’s not impossible to enjoy a healthy social life with a newborn, it’s much, much harder than when you were flying solo. Preparation for leaving the house now includes packing the baby bags as well as doing the car trip pre-feed and nappy check – and that’s not to mention the typical need to shower, clothe, and beautify yourself, which can already take forever on a good day.
Silver lining – Social commitments become significantly harder to fulfill
Babies are a magical excuse that allows parents to get out of anything. If you feel a twinge of guilt whenever you need to turn an invite down, you can now blame it on the baby. (Even if the event is directly related to said baby)! Try it. You’ll be amazed what you can get away with.
4. Laundry volume reaches all new heights
I hope you enjoy the incessant whirr of your washing machine because it’s about to seep into your psyche like urine into a bed sheet. And, if your washing machine kinda sucks, you’ll also be regularly soaking milk- and poop-stained baby clothes in the laundry sink whilst trying to check the tags on absolutely everything to see if you can put them in the dryer or not. If you’re an ‘all clothes need to be folded’ sort of person, get ready for that to completely overtake your life.
Silver lining – When they’re older you can delegate the job to them as payback
Not gonna lie, this one was hard to find a silver lining for.
Babies poop a significant amount. Constantly. So much poop. Or at least it feels like a lot because you have to be actively involved every time there’s a defecation situation. It will get on your hands, on your carpet, in your hair and, at least on one occasion for me, in your mouth. You have, quite literally, years of poop ahead of you.
Silver lining – Say goodbye to squeamishness
If you used to be unsettled by a bit of gunk under your nails, you’re going to start caring a whole lot less. You’ll be hardened against everything gross and disgusting the world can throw at you and your nose’s tolerance for unpleasant smells will be indefinitely strengthened.
6. You’ll discover just how dark you can get
On a serious note, postnatal depression is a very real thing. While a lot is said for how it impacts mums in particular, from first-hand experience, it can hit fathers just as hard. The unimaginable lifestyle restrictions, the weight of newfound responsibility, the long, sleepless nights over which you have little-to-no control – they can all build upon each other to drive even the most cheerful personalities to despair.
It’s a incredibly hard job made harder when you see other parents apparently sailing through it with ease. The guilt at not absolutely loving the journey eats away at your confidence. You’ll be told that being a parent is a magical experience and may even receive scorn or scrutiny for suggesting otherwise. You’ll look at your child, who you’re determined to love, and be reminded of how much easier life was before they arrived.
Silver lining – You’re not alone
Help is there, you just need to look for it. Admitting your struggles to the people around you and pursuing support can be a hurdle to overcome but once you start to talk to others that have gone through a similar experience, you can start to build your own solutions and methods for managing things.
The key is to talk about it – with the right people. Try starting with a good friend, a family member or a counsellor. And check out these resources too –
- Lifeline Aotearoa – 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
- Depression helpline – 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
- Our parenting services directory – dads
- Our parenting services directory – counselling and relationship services
Book a session with a Family Coach
Sometimes family life is way more challenging than we had ever imagined. We would like it to be a lot more enjoyable, if only we knew how. Family coaching is designed to meet you where you are at, whatever stage you are at on your parenting and relationship journey. We want to be on the journey with you. To find out more and to book a session, click here.