A large part of you wants to spend every waking minute with your family. Actually doing that is a terrible idea.
Bedtime at my house is comically stretched out.
Bottles need to be prepared, the baby fed, changed, and put to sleep, and the dog let outside to wee. I take my asthma meds, brush my teeth, and help my partner into bed (a two-man task due to her pregnancy inflicted pelvis pain), before coaxing the dog back inside, checking all the doors are locked, and turning out the lights.
I then use my last morsel of energy to crawl into bed, comforted in the knowledge that I’m so incredibly wiped I’ll be asleep in minutes. I close my eyes, and like clockwork the baby begins to groan. It’s quiet enough I could ignore it, but I know she won’t settle.
So I sigh, pull back the covers, and peel myself out of bed to investigate.
I like to think of the energy that powers me to do this as coming from a back-up generator: The Emergency Dad Energy Reserves (or EDER). If the power has been cut from the main supply, the EDER kicks in to get the job done.
This EDER is what enables me to zombie shuffle over to the bassinet, put the dummy back in her mouth, pull the sheet down so it doesn’t cover part of her chin anymore, and stumble back to bed.
It’s not an infinite spring
Initially I thought fatherhood was a self-sustaining energy loop. Spending time with my daughter gave me joy, joy gave me energy, and energy meant I could be a better husband and a dad.
But as those first few months passed, I discovered ‘being a dad’ wasn’t enough. The EDER needed to be constantly replenished, and it needed to draw on power sources outside my family.
I began viewing personal recreational activities like power ups in a video game:
Go for a 10 minute run – 20 points.
Play guitar for half an hour – 50 points!
Round of golf with the boys – 5000 points!!!
Part of being a dad is making time for not being a dad
Going to the gym, playing footy, bowling, whatever you do outside of mama and bubba that defines you, you need to keep doing that. Not all the time, (and probably not at all in the first few weeks).
Let’s face it, ‘me time’ shrinks dramatically when you become a dad, but if you let it disappear completely it’s a recipe for resentment and bitterness.
You start feeling like your family is sucking the life out of you, holding you back from all the things you used to love – even little things like working out, catching up with mates, or watching that episode of Game of Thrones before the spoilers flood your Facebook feed.
Once this happens, your EDER becomes tainted. Suddenly, instead of sighing when you have to get up late at night, you’re swearing and wondering whether having children was such a good idea.
If you’re not careful, everything becomes ‘for the baby’
And that sucks.
It’s easy to fall into this trap when you’ve got a wholly dependent creature that will cry and scream bloody murder if you don’t anticipate its every need…
You go shopping to get clothes for the baby. You wake up so you can get milk for the baby. You go to work to earn money to buy things for the baby. You maintain a loving, nurturing relationship with your partner for the baby. You maintain your sanity for the baby. You inhale oxygen because if you didn’t you wouldn’t be able to get that fresh nappy for the baby.
Being a father will become a large part of your identity, but don’t let it be 100%.
So, time to book that boys’ week in Vegas?
Well no… this is not an invitation to abandon your duties as a dad and go binge drinking with your buddies all the time.
There is a difference between agreeing with your partner about time you’ll both spend away from baby, and calling her at 10 pm from your local to say you stopped in for one after work and now you’re too pissed to drive.
It’s important to realise that your partner needs a break too, from baby and from you. Yep. That’s right. Even though she loves you both very, very much, sometimes you piss her right off.
So, instead of saying “I need to go the pub this weekend because I love our family” – which, before the comments section goes wild, is not what I am saying – sit down with your partner and work out how you can both make room for more ‘me time’ in your lives.
Offer to take care of baby while she catches up with friends or gets her hair done or surfs or sleeps or does whatever the hell she wants. It may seem a bit daunting if you haven’t had much experience taking care of your baby by yourself just yet. But the more you do it, the more natural it will become.
If she warms to the idea, ask if she could do the same for you.
And don’t forget about spending ‘alone time’ together. Drop the baby off for a sleepover at the grandparents every once in a while and have a break, just the two of you. If you don’t put in the effort now, you could wake up one day to find your relationship is just ‘for the baby’ too.
How will I know if it’s working?
The Emergency Dad Energy Reserves will kick in when you need them, without you moaning or questioning your life choices.
You will find even more joy with baby and mumma. You will have more patience. You will look forward to spending time with your family, rather than dreading it.
So find that little bit of time away from your family, so that the time you spend together is every bit as awesome as it should be.