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How Your Life Changes With Parenthood
The Moment of Change
No matter how much you prepare for the transition into parenthood it all goes out the window once you hear that first cry and hold your newborn in your arms for the first time. Everything else becomes forgotten and you become hyper-focused on that tiny, innocent life that's staring back with eyes full of fear and wonder. Your heart melts, your knees weaken, and suddenly your whole world has changed within a moment and will never be the same for the rest of your life. It's a beautiful and scary process.
Don't worry though, because it gets better! Then worse. Then better! Then worse. You get the point!
Importance of Family
One of the great things about parenthood is the near inescapable reunion of everyone in your immediate (and not-so-immediate) family. Starting with the big news and culminating with the baby showers and the big day you'll find that your parents, siblings, cousins, and friends are suddenly very interested in your life and your well-being. It can get a little crazy with in-laws and people you haven't spoken to in years, but in my case it was a strange transformation from a solitary existence to one embracing family and its importance in everyday life.
In my personal situation I had been away at college and even out of the country for a year shortly before my girls were born. My relationships with family were always strong, but honestly they hadn't been all that relevant to my daily life. Beginning with the first positive sign of pregnancy, however, I found myself feeling lost and separated from home and family and felt compelled to call and talk to everyone about it. My mother, for instance, was a nurse in the newborn wing of a hospital so I was constantly asking her for advice and information. I asked my sisters, both mothers, what their experiences were like and how it affected them. I even talked with my grandmother once for a long time about how children were raised during her youth to try and get a different perspective. With all of this talking and information sharing I was not just keeping in touch with my family, I was rebuilding lost bonds and building new ones!
Something was different about these bonds though. I was now part of a club. I had become a parent. Once you are part of this club you reach the next level within your own family tree, literally and figuratively. You now have a generation below you and suddenly you are not a child in the family, but a parent of children.
Suddenly all of those things your parents said that annoyed you are now coming out of your mouth to your own children. Suddenly you are forced to think about someone other than yourself as the most important person in the world. Suddenly I became a father and my family tree was much more relevant. It's very easy to feel isolated and helpless as a parent, especially in the beginning, and drawing on the support that your family can provide is crucial.
Relationships covers areas such as your significant other, friends, and even meeting new people. As a parent the center of your world moves from yourself to your children and this can disrupt a lot of things in the process.
Changing from a couple to a family can be stressful on a relationship. Suddenly there are diapers to change, bottles to prepare, extra clothes to wash, bags to pack, and feedings to coordinate. In the beginning there are many feedings during the night and only teamwork, dedication, and understanding will get you through those sleepless nights without fighting and yelling. When you are sleep deprived it's very easy to say something you would otherwise regret or resent the other person for some imagined error. Worse still, is if mommy is the only one doing most of the work. Parenting is a group effort and everyone must be doing all that they can in order to care for their child. It's important during this time to communicate openly about what is going on day to day as well as set aside personal time when possible for both parents so that everyone can get a break.
Friends can change in lots of different ways. Maybe you have friends that already have kids and you'll find this as an opportunity to get closer to them to learn from their experiences and arrange get togethers. Maybe all of your friends are young, trendy, and are more interested in partying than changing diapers. The point is that while true friends never really go away, the amount of time you spend with them or that they are willing to spend with you might change dramatically. Once everyone starts getting a little older and having children though, it's funny to see how everyone reacts differently to parenthood. You'll find yourselves re-bonding over similar experiences and able to pick the friendship up anew!
Meeting new people is a little strange as a parent. Suddenly there is a baby in the picture in nearly every social situation so the conversation inevitably revolves around the little ones. Meeting other people with children is now a perk and forming friendships with other couples allows you to arrange play dates, swap activity ideas, and more. We noticed this effect full force when we moved to a new town when the girls were two: everyone we met and connected with were parents themselves!
No matter which relationships you are talking about, just remember that time is now one of your most precious commodities and the amount that you share with others is more dear. It can be a struggle to find time to keep in touch with all of your old friends and even family sometimes. It's worth putting in the effort to keep these connections alive in order to bolster your support system and stay sane at the same time!
Finances and the Long Term
Here I'll talk about my personal situation and the great changes parenthood brought to my finances. First of all the moment my girls were born it was no longer about "my" finances, but "my family's" finances. In the beginning there was turmoil in the house as we struggled to keep us both working with only one car and no babysitters. At one point we were both working basically full time at different times of day so we didn't see each other at all and the girls never had us together. At some point we decided that mom shouldn't work and that I could manage the bills on my own. We had several ups and downs, at one point I was working three jobs, and I was miserable from the effort and lack of consistent results. When it became obvious that the current lineup wasn't cutting it I had to make a choice for my family's sake and take a job that took me 180 degrees from my educational background. I became a manager at one of the restaurants that I was working at the time.
The choice to jump into a career to support my family and ensure that we could have a stable income was actually easy, but the act itself marked the my transition from "young parent getting by" to family man. I set up retirement accounts, added life insurance, and began establishing goals for my family for the short and long term. Gone were the days of eating out when I wanted, going where I wanted, and just getting by. Now I was responsible for paying bills, putting food on the table, and protecting my children's future by investing in them now with short term sacrifices.
It's easy to act careless when the only person that you can hurt is yourself, but you'll find it much harder to be reckless when your children's well-being is on the line.
Day-to-day and Personal Time
As stated earlier, time is a precious commodity for a parent. Sometimes the only moment's rest available is after the kids are asleep and the house is clean for a couple of hours before bed. Sometimes you never get a moment!
Personal time is extremely important for parents, but it's necessary to keep perspective in this. Everyone needs a break sometimes. Everyone needs to vent. Something to keep in mind is that you should not try to use this excuse as an escape from your children or family. Family time is the most important thing in life and avoiding that responsibility will only lead to regret in the end. With that being said, you've got to be able to let lose on occasion!
My advice is to think of your time as exclusive to whoever or whatever you are doing. If you are with your family then put the phone down and get your head out of the clouds. By the same token if you are having some time for yourself then don't be afraid to enjoy it and relax! Schedule a trip to the park with daddy or a trip to the store with mommy to let the other have a break during the week. Try to get a babysitter at least once every couple of weeks to go out without the parental guard up! However you do it, just make sure you are getting some time in to keep your sanity!
What Was Your Hardest Change When Becoming a Parent?
Try to think of parenting as the next stage of life's journey and accept the inevitability of it all. The sooner that you realize there's someone more important than you on this world the sooner you'll begin to appreciate your role and enjoy life as a parent!