N – Names. As I’ve mentioned, we decided (though I can’t remember when or if I was even part of that decision) to name our kids starting with A. Patterns are OK. What’s not OK is saddling your kid with a name that you think is cool, but will forever embarrass your child and be a burden on him or her. If you’re thinking of calling your kid “Duramax” which someone did in Alberta last year, give your head a shake and start using birth-control. Every kind you can get your hands on. Your kid will hate you and his name.
O – Optimism. You will need to hang onto this one. Optimism is hopefulness and confidence in the future and a successful outcome. There will be days where you question your child’s sanity, integrity, intelligence, abilities and frankly, you’ll be questioning all those things about yourself just as often. Keep the spirit of optimism about you, and about your household. Know that, almost without exception, someone else has walked several miles in your shoes already and they have survived and lived to tell the tale. You’ll be alright.
P – Patience. Oh. My. Goodness. Do you ever need patience as a parent. It applies to every age I’ve parented – getting up several times a night, having a child bat the bottle out of their mouth 20 times in one feeding, teaching a little person over and over that the toilet isn’t a bad place to be, the endless questions once they’re talking. All these require a measure of patience that you never knew you had.
Q – Questions. Yes, they come in many forms. There’s you, stumbling to get your crying baby at 2:00 AM, asking yourself “Why did we do this?!”. There’s your child’s first questions: “Glab vin golo dur umph toon?”. At which time you quizzically exchange glances with your co-parent and finally just nod and smile at your child, saying “Yes, honey, that sounds great!” – not knowing that you just agreed to turn the entire upstairs into a bubble bath. And finally, when they can speak – the endless stream of questions…. “What am I?” ”You’re a girl.” ”Am I your son?” ”No, you’re my daughter.” ”Why did you call me daughter – I thought my name is Abigail?” ”Yes, your name is Abigail – a daughter is what you are to me.” ”Did you pick my name or did mom?” ”Well, I picked it but we both agreed on it.” ”Why did you call me Abigail?” ”Because it means ‘a father’s love’.” ”So you love me?” ”Well I did, Abigail, before you started talking.”
R – Relationships. Regardless of which way it goes, you will notice that relationships change after you have children. It will be different for everyone, but here are some changes we experienced. First off, your relationship with the co-parent changes. For us, it changed for the better, yet we’ve met couples that really suffered through the arrival of a new little person. Be prepared to give more of yourself to protect the sanity of the other parent. Though you may not think it possible, you will form a relationship with your new baby within seconds. Make sure you treat it with respect, this relationship, for it will last a lifetime. We also experienced the ability to form relationships with other parents over common bonds as simple as having procreated. When people have kids, they have stuff to talk about. Things to vent about. Things to share about. We became the annoying people who always talk about their kids. And finally, we saw relationships with people who didn’t have kids suffer – whether it was jealousy, or that we weren’t fun anymore, I don’t know. But it saddened us to see some friends slowly fade away, regardless of what effort we put in.
S – Sleep. First of all, say good-bye to it. Babies rarely sleep through the night quickly and you will likely be up several times a night to attend to them. Sleep is like a rare jewel, glinting in the sun, just out of reach causing you to sit in your parkade at work, wondering some days how you got there, because you’re so tired you can’t remember the drive. You know all the zombie apocalypse stuff out there? That was inspired by watching new parents trying to make their way through the day. And secondly, at whatever age your child finally starts sleeping through the night – prepare to enjoy sleep like you’ve never enjoyed it before.
T – Tears. There will be a lot of them. Brand-new babies crying, letting you know they’re hungry. Toddlers crying because they fell down. A child crying because she didn’t get the toy or the ice cream she wanted. A six-year old crying because he got bullied during recess. A teen crying because her heart got broken by a boy. Oh, and did I mention your tears? A dad, seeing his baby for the first time – buck up, buddy, because it’s just fine to cry those big, manly tears. Parents’ tears of joy when a child succeeds at something they’ve been working on forever. Tears of sadness and inevitability as you watch your child grow up too quickly, wishing you could just keep them right at this age for a few more years. Tears of pain as you watch your child make bad decisions and even worse mistakes. And shared tears between you and your child, as the proverbial lost son or daughter comes back into your arms, realizing that they still need mommy or daddy at the age of 22.
U – Unconditional. Everything we do for our children should fit into this category. Sure, everyone has heard of this unconditional love, but have you tried it yet? Believe me, it’s very easy to talk about unconditional love and even mean what you say. Practicing it, in turn, happens to be a far more difficult task. Remember the patience I talked about? Make sure it’s unconditional. The same goes for being considerate, affectionate, and anything else you do for and with them. If you can try to make everything you do for your children unconditional, they will learn to do the same for others.
V – Values. You’ve got them. Hang on to them, for they make you who you are. Just as importantly, stick to them and show your children the importance of standing up for what you believe in. Instill your values in your kids. And trust me when I say it’s never too early to start practicing what you preach. Also, at some point, V may stand for something slightly more sinister.
W – Wallet. As in I hope you have one and that yours is full of money. Because it won’t be for long. We had prepared for having a child. We had money saved, and we had tried to take care of as much as possible in advance. But everything changes. If you choose to have a parent remain at home with the baby, your income will likely be reduced. And from hereon in, your bills will get heavier. Diapers, formula, clothing, furniture, baby food, more clothing, toys, school supplies, bicycles, extra seats on the airplane, more meals at the restaurant, and that’s just the beginning. Don’t forget designer label clothes, sports equipment, cars, tuition, weddings. Yes, my friends, you pay the price for children in every way you can imagine – and hundreds of ways you never imagined.
X – X-ray Vision. As co-parents in a healthy relationship, you continue to have needs that require each other to satisfy. I can assure you of this – any time things start steaming up in your bedroom, your children will use their x-ray vision to procure this information and will burst through the door at the most inopportune times, causing you both to jump under the covers, or dive into the bathtub, covering up and casually pretending that you weren’t doing anything to each other. Good luck with that. Because they know. Also, rest assured that when your children have been asked to leave and not disturb again, and you finally get back in the mood, thinking you’re safe – they’ll be back. Because they know.
Y – You. It is so important to remember you. It’s easy to slip into the “I have to be the perfect parent” role. And therein lies the rub – if you don’t take care of you, you can never be the perfect parent. My wife says it best when she says it’s too easy to let “you” fade away into “them”. Yes, much of parenting is about them. But don’t ever forget to treat yourself right, pamper yourself, take time for yourself and your children will have a better parent for it.
Z – Zen-like moments. Trust me, there will be a few. The first smile your baby throws your way? Yep, your heart will melt like cheap chocolate in the sun. Enjoy these moments. They don’t always last long but they make everything you’re going through worthwhile.
I know this isn’t a definitive list. It’s just one that I came up with, in my limited experience as a husband and a father. I hope you’ll comment, adding your own favorite letter for me and others to read – I’m looking forward to them!
Tom Sedens is the husband to his dream girl, the co-founder of 3 kids that make his world go round, blogger at wildsau.ca, and a grateful soul for a life full of blessings.