Let’s be honest: we talk about the joys and challenges of motherhood a lot. But the other side of the ‘hood (parenthood, that is) deserves some time in the spotlight, too. After all, dads aren’t just “babysitters” or “parental assistants” – they profoundly influence our children’s lives.
I recently surprised my husband with an impromptu date because I realized we hadn’t checked in on each other in a while. We’re in the thick of toddler season, and as most veteran parents know, this is a particularly challenging time for husband-and-wife heart-to-hearts.
I got to ask some questions about his experiences as a father, and it has honestly helped me understand him more. Here are a few snippets from our conversation, which I’m sharing with his permission!
I lost so much sleep. I was warned beforehand, but I still wasn’t prepared for the level of exhaustion I would experience in caring for a newborn. I saw your struggles with breastfeeding, but that season was rough for me too! I’ve had high sleep needs ever since I can remember, plus I’ve never been a morning person, so I’m still struggling with the fact that 5am is a normal waking time for us now! It’s true, “tired” and “parent tired” are completely different experiences. We both learned how to get by on very little sleep.
Chaotic! I get woken up by a toddler who’s frustrated that I don’t share his passion for waking up at 5am. It doesn’t help that he tries to physically pull me out of bed. Haha! Throughout the day, I try to multi-task, especially when it’s my turn to spend time with our kid. Clients can call me anytime during the day, so it can get tricky when I get calls while on toddler duty. It’s a lot of noise and stimulation until bedtime, which is an experience in itself. But it doesn’t end after the toddler goes to sleep – after we have dinner, I have to buckle down and work. As much as I want to keep my evenings free, it’s the only time of day when it’s quiet and I can work uninterrupted. But you know what I always say – it may be messy (in terms of interruptions and the literal kalat), but it’s a beautiful mess.
I actually DON’T think. I try to shut off my brain during those moments because I just really need the mental break. But when I do let my brain process, I just run through the things I have to do for work. Sometimes it gets more serious – I think about how I’m going to provide for my family and make sure that everyone is doing okay. I also dream about the time my son becomes a bit more independent and I get more time to myself and to date you. And other times, it’s self-directed questions like “When are you going to start exercising?” or “When will I get to read that book I’ve been meaning to open for a while now?!”
I know you tell me how mentally overstimulated you are all of the time, but I have my own mental load to bear, too. While you’re constantly taking care of the day-to-day – which I really appreciate – I’m constantly wondering and worrying about how well I’m providing for you guys. I ask myself: am I able to secure a good future for my family? This was even more pronounced during the pandemic when work slowed down and both our incomes took a hit. At that point, I was really stressed about where we would get the money, especially since you were about to give birth then. Worrying about the future really eats me up sometimes. I also always ask myself if I’m being present enough at home during my moments with you guys, if I’m leading the family well, and if I’m making enough time for our marriage.
I’m just grateful that I get to be present. In a way, the pandemic reminded me that being a freelance professional benefited my son. I get to see him grow up every day, I’ve witnessed all his milestones – I didn’t miss anything. I’m happy that our kid will remember that I was there.
Time management. Because our son literally grew up with both of us around, he wants us at home all the time. There are times when leaving for a meeting or even for me time is extra-difficult because I miss him when I go. And now that he can express sadness, I experience dad guilt – yes, that’s a thing, too. I have to keep reminding myself that time apart is a necessary part of parenting because I need to provide for my family and also take care of myself.
Honestly? I think we’re in survival mode. We’re struggling to make time together and talk about us – not about our son, our work, or our finances. Fighting for our marriage is a daily reality. We really have to put in the work and make the effort to be present for each other. While I understand that so many things demand our time, we have to remember that part of great parenting is cultivating our marriage. We’re our child’s first model of a relationship, so he’ll remember how we treated each other in these early years of parenting.
As my wife, I’d love for you to go on more dates with me! We don’t have to do anything fancy. We can even stay at home and order takeout, like we usually do! I just want us to be able to check in with each other regularly. Ask me how I am, even if I find it hard to answer sometimes. And encourage me in my goal-setting for myself and our family. There’s nothing like you voicing your confidence in me to get me motivated!
As a co-parent, help me protect my “me time” and keep it sacred. Even the short breaks I get during our daily routine are helpful. It’s the only time I get to unwind and clear my head. It also makes me a better husband and dad.
I know it’s hard – because I struggle with this a lot – but try not to overthink it. You can take all the classes and talk to all the dads you know, but you will never be 100% ready for fatherhood, and that’s okay. It’s okay to make mistakes, to not know it all, or to not have it all together. What matters is that you’re present for your family. As your kids grow older, they’ll eventually spend less time with you – so don’t miss out on these moments and make all those core memories with them.
And there you have it! Fathers have their own parenting journeys, and they also deserve to be seen and heard. If there’s one key takeaway for me, it’s that there shouldn’t be any competition when it comes to the parenting load. Moms and dads have unique roles they play in raising kids, so it shouldn’t be about which parent has it harder. Instead, we need to honor our co-parent’s contributions, acknowledge their struggles without judgment or comparison, and collaborate with them so that we’re able to pour into our kids’ lives and have opportunities to fill our own cups as well.
I hope you learned something from this conversation, just as I have. Now, it’s your turn. Have you checked in with your co-parent lately?