For a half hour, Kalia has been screaming her head off. I tried burping her. No dice. Her diaper was dry as a bone. She already took her bottle and she shows no signs of wanting to kick, listen to a story, or snuggle. I have picked week one, day three as the perfect day to be hit with a full-blown cold, so my patience has become “what patience?” quite quickly. I love this empurpled screaming being more than anything in the world and I have hit my breaking point. What have I got myself into?
If you are at all like me, being a first-time at-home parent has altered everything you knew in life. Having recently finished grad school, I hadn’t been pulling in an income, so my wife and I agreed that I would stay at home to raise our baby when she went back to work after her four month maternity leave session. Boy, did those four months blow away quickly!
While my journey as an at-home father has been short thus far, my learning curve has progressed at warp speed, for warp speed is what the brain enjoys when it comes to survival. As a writer building a wellness counseling practice, my mind chatters about to-do lists and busts wide open with ideas. And each time I sit to jot something down or follow through on a task, Kalia’s radar signals that Daddy is needed immediately. Whenever her alarm sounded, I would grow frustrated.
Living in frustration proved unsustainable quite quickly, since I began to resent this position I chose and started clawing at the idea that Friday couldn’t come quickly enough. Simultaneously, I considered how lucky I am to be able to spend these formative hours and days with my infant daughter, ensuring that she is surrounded by one of those who love her most. That love carried me toward quick changes that made for a peaceful day four and beyond.
Here are four tips for maintaining mindfulness (and sanity) while beginning the at-home parenting journey:
1. Be in the moment: During the first couple days, I played with Kalia while the mind chatter kept nagging at me to check an email, look for work opportunities, or (let’s be honest) read about sports. I was anywhere but with my daughter in those moments of play. Play is one of the most important learning tools we have. If I allow myself to be distracted, what will she learn from me? I chose to be present when I am actively with her and put aside the to-do list during those times.
2. This too shall pass: Do you remember the first few days post-birth in detail? Me neither. Selective amnesia is quite important. Any fit of crying can feel like an eternity. In the story above, Kalia’s crying actually lasted a full hour before calm restored. When you’re home alone and the day grows long, each minute of crying seems to multiply. The crying always stops eventually, though, and I make certain to remind myself of that. This is not permanent.
3. Know your lifelines: Have someone on hand, preferably folks who have walked the walk, whom you can call when the going gets tough. My parents talked me off the ledge during this early episode and helped me devise ways to calm my child down. Kalia started kicking peacefully while lying on the bed and slowly drifted toward slumber. After a calm discussion with my parents, we both lay down, sleeping for more than an hour before Mommy got home.
4. Create your own schedule: Baby advice is not one size fits all. Different suggestions match different parents and babies, and I don’t believe in fighting to slot my child into a situation or routine that is not serving her. Some babies require a rigid schedule, while others go with the flow. Listening to my inner voice and following Kalia’s cues have helped me in one short week to carve out our own unique time together.
Raising our own children has become a luxury in our society and I choose to consider it one. No one else in my life smiles just because she sees herself in a mirror, nor is anyone so amused by silly voices, a finger, or a jingling owl. By compartmentalizing some of my extracurricular ambitions, I am able to enjoy the luxury of spending time with my daughter. There will always be challenges. With a focused frame of mind, each challenge can be met with patience and joy.
One bonus tip: When my wife arrives from work, she’s excited to get her baby bonding time. I have used those early moments, which are often spent nursing and napping, to go outside and take a rejuvenating walk. Upon return, we settle in for an evening together with another day of discovery to come.