In hindsight, my decision to have children was about as informed as is the decision of a typical eight year old child to get a puppy. An eight year old thinks that having a puppy is a great idea because the puppy will provide companionship and a close bond. The eight year old hears that they will be responsible for the animal, but doesn’t have the adequate conceptual framework to comprehend the actual significance and meaning of this responsibility. I was much like that eight year old when I first started seriously entertaining the idea of having children. I had heard that raising a child was challenging for a multitude of reasons, but I lacked the insight to understand the implications of my decision.
The “Little” Difficulties of Parenthood
There have been many hurdles to overcome while on this trek called parenthood. To be honest, many of them revolve around the very basic idea of taking care of yourself. Having kids was, to say the least, a lifestyle change and I don’t think I fully comprehended what this entailed. Sleep, for example, is something that I had been told take at every available opportunity, but it is very hard to put myself to bed when I feel that I haven’t had adequate time to myself during the day to appreciate just being myself. As a result, I typically stay up much later than I should trying to give myself a little “me” time during my day.
Prior to having children, I had also been warned that having children might jeopardize friendships. Yet another case of hearing the words of warning, but not fully understanding their context. I think there are at least a couple main reasons that having kids can make you drift away from people that were good friends. Once you have children, you will have some pretty intense limits placed on the time you have available to partake in your pre-child lifestyle and this is likely to dig into the time that you have available for friends. Another strain on friendships is the inevitable change of your priorities. As a father, I still have all of my old interests, but since I am one of the major care takers for our children it stands to reason that the details of my children’s lives will be one of my primary interests, and I think this can be alienating to friends that don’t have children.
The frustrations that children present are another thing that I had been warned about, but that warning just didn’t quite sink in. I have worked a fair bit with slightly older kids and find them relatively reasonable. Infants and toddlers, however, I hadn’t had a lot of experience with and have since learned that they are almost entirely unreasonable. Don’t get me wrong, they are cute, beautiful and charming, but they are also incredibly unreasonable. It is both hilarious and exasperating to watch a toddler walk around and interact with their environment. They will generally make a move for anything that you don’t want them to touch; move random objects from one place to another without any obvious reason; repeat themselves ad nauseam; appear to make concerted efforts to obstruct any reasonable course of action; find that thing that is most likely to stain your carpet and hold it so that if it were to fall, it would only barely miss the table (which could easily be cleaned), and then with infuriating grace they will drop it on your carpet, thereby destroying any remaining hope you had of retrieving your damage deposit.
Although I had been warned about the aforementioned “little” difficulties, I still found that I wasn’t fully prepared to deal with them. Parenting has a momentum to it though, and I found that I certainly became prepared to deal with the little challenges very quickly. Having had the warnings was useful, because even though I didn’t have a deep understanding of exactly how these challenges would look when I was in the situation, at least I had a frame of reference. This made the act of becoming a father much less of a culture shock than it otherwise may have been.
My Unexpected Challenge
I have this underlying belief that fathers of multiples (twins, triplets, etc.) are much more engaged in the raising of their children than fathers of singletons. I know that I had every intention of being a very involved father prior to finding out that we were having twins. Once our twins came along though, there was really absolutely no choice for me to do anything other than be a very engaged father, and because of the higher work load, I suspect that I took on more than I would have if we had one child at a time. As a result of me being so involved with my kids, Jenn and I both felt like every parenting decision that either of us made became quite the negotiation, and this is what I hadn’t heard anyone mention in the lead up to having kids.
To be clear, I think it likely that the parents of any child are often involved in negotiating how to do certain things, however I also think that the amount of negotiating increases with the level of involvement of the parents. It seems like a fairly natural association, because the more both parents are around and the more involved they are, the more both parents have at stake. Although the negotiations were a natural consequence of a high level of involvement from both of us, at times it was also quite difficult and both Jenn and I found it quite frustrating at times.
When deciding how to proceed with different issues, there were obviously times when Jenn and I didn’t agree on the best course of action. Generally we’d both give the other a chance to try their method, and ultimately this was a great learning tool for both of us. Trying an approach that individually we might not have tried started yielding some good results for both of us. It was a great learning tool and we have both had times when we benefited from trying something that is outside of our usual bag of tricks.
Although it is sometimes exhausting and frustrating, negotiating with your spouse on how to deal with parenting issues it’s certainly worth it. It implies that your child(ren) have two parents who are involved enough to care about how things are done and it has helped me to remember that there are usually multiple ways to achieve your goal. Moreover, there has been a benefit to my communication skills and with luck our kids will benefit from growing up in a house with parents that communicate fairly well.