My kids are now 11 and 15 and pregnancy, delivery and infancy are increasingly dim memories. What strikes me now even more than it did at the time is the poignancy of adage, “The days are long and the years are short.” A new baby (or babies) will stretch you and your marriage to the breaking point if you let it.
One piece of advice: Find a mantra and repeat it often. For me, it was “She’s only a baby.” Repeating this over and over in the middle of the night kept me focused on my bigger role as protector and caregiver even through the frustration of spilling powdered milk on the floor or the dirty diaper that fell on the dog. Find a way to continuously remind yourself that the tiny moments of fatigue, anger, and resentment, while inevitable, are nothing in the larger timeline of family life.
You really can choose to see your baby as an obstacle to your happiness; the arrival that spelled the end to all of the things you hold most dear: Sunday golf, Thursday poker night, late dinners with friends, long languorous sex in the afternoon. Or, without regrets, you can throw yourself into the most important role you have for the next 18 years and beyond. This is nothing that you haven’t heard before, but the greatest regret men express on their deathbeds Is that they didn’t spend more time with their families. Is this because they just enjoyed whiffle ball that much, dozing in the theatre during a G-rated movie, or the drives across town chauffeuring a group of chattering teenagers? Maybe. But my bet is that age helps them feel the poignancy of the bond between mom and dad and baby, and how all those moments together lined end to end add up to create the emotional life of your child. I heard it said recently that when you have kids your role changes from creating memories for yourself, to creating memories for your child. If you can remember that as much as you can through the inevitable moments of anger and frustration, as you string these memories together, you’ll be the great dad you want to be and the memories you make will be worth all the effort.
So find that mantra. Use it to focus your attention to the task at hand, to what is gained, rather than what is lost. It really will help you remember the most important thing in the moment.