Being a parent: the greatest endurance challenge of them all

It is 11.40pm. My daughter is three-and-a-half months old. Having changed her nappy, I am sitting with her on the sofa, tapping out these words with one hand, rocking with the other.

She will not sleep.

At least she has stopped crying. A few minutes ago she was emitting a cry: loud, shrill and rising. She leaves us helpless. How can two competent adults who have gained university educations, who hold down jobs, who live fulfilling lives, to whom a bank gave a mortgage, be made to feel so utterly helpless, so utterly useless, by 10lbs of skin and bone?

I have lost count of the number of times I have thought or said: I don’t know.

I make the mental calculations. If I went to sleep right now, I would potentially have seven hours until the sounding of the alarm at 6.30am.

Sleep. Unbroken sleep.

How I took such simple pleasures for granted. Sleep deprivation does funny things to a man, from being on the verge of hysteria to the brink of physical capitulation. I was forced to take two consecutive days off work last week. I was ill as a consequence of not sleeping properly for three-and-a-half months. I reckon the last time I had a day off for illness was when I was 13.

Fatherhood has been a supreme challenge. Motherhood is undoubtedly harder, but I am not a mother and I never will be a mother. My context – the context I appreciate and understand right now – is fatherhood. My wife and I passed the baton of baby at 6.30pm. She was going out; I was coming in. Baby slept for 20 minutes. Moments of peace; the calm before the storm. Thereafter, two hours of attempted feeding, of thwarted sleep, of rocking, of white noise, of deep breaths. We went for a walk around the block. Eyes remained wide open. Back home, somehow I managed to cook and I ate while bouncing up and down on an exercise ball. Baby cried if I stopped.

I know there are millions of people worse off than me. Millions of people have gone through the same things as me. They survived. There are very sick babies whose parents are right now fretting desperately about their future. They would willingly swap places with me. That doesn’t make the transition to being a parent any easier. The challenge of having years and years of control over your life to very suddenly not is overwhelming. There are moments of wonder and joy, of course. There is nothing greater than the realisation that two people have created this extraordinary, beautiful thing.

Yet it is an extraordinary thing that requires an extraordinary level of care and time. It never goes away, I am learning. Fatherhood is hard, really hard. I struggle for one all-defining adjective as every day the reality is shaped differently.

Compromise. That is the great battle of being a parent. Where do your priorities lie? Pre-baby, I ran a lot. Not as much as some, but up to 60 miles per week. There is very little more important than our health. As cliched as that sounds, you only have to glance across a street, office or train carriage, to realise how many people forget or ignore that. Fatherhood has deeply compromised my sport. I wonder if it will forever. Get your priorities right, some might say. Baby comes first, not an inconsequential trip to the track or a 10 mile tempo. She does, of course, but then other parts of my life do not simply stop because of her existence. No parent should feel guilty about maintaining a sense of independence, should they? Yet I feel guilty for even intimating that my personal pursuits might – for some minutes or hours of a day – be more important than the upbringing of my daughter.

Baby is sleeping now. It is 12.10am. Just under six hours sleep if I went to bed right now. She seems calmer. Do I risk the perilous transition to cot? The process of writing has been cathartic. Perhaps she senses my growing ease? Babies are sensitive to this sort of thing, they say.

The clock has shifted to 12.20am. Time to go to the cot…


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Andrew says:

    Excellent post-thanks. Sums up how many of us feel. I’ve got a two year old and a three week old. I think it’s that pull of opposite emotions that is hard: those wonderful moments versus the grievance of having a great swathe of control taken away. As an essentially selfish person giving up doing the things I love is a massive readjustment. I have a very good wife however who’d rather let me out to ‘play’ on my bike than have a sulky husband stomping around. Focus on what you can rather than what you can’t is my advice and keep smiling for your family’s sake!

  2. james Dore, aka downstairs. says:

    I hear where you are (both) coming from, literally I hear you!

    For what comfort I can offer you is that I also, at times, feel resentment toward the tiny little human in my arms.

    Whatever your lifestyle pursuits, hobbies and profession, they are forever changed by the utterly dependant tiny version of you.

    Nothing and no one, can truly prepare you for the impact the arrival suddenly has and no matter how much you have thought you can ‘fit it all in’.

    My golf clubs now reside inside a faceless storage unit in Croydon and will do for the foreseeable future.

    Placing them, along with other effects inside the unit, of course brought pangs of resentment. When they are dusted off, if ever, I’ll be a shadow of the player I thought I was.

    However, I get home after a long shift, whereas once, it would be the driving range, instead, its’ that smile and ‘gurgle’….

    And for one, I wouldn’t change it for a second as I am now James, Oliver’s dad and maybe, part of my life I once knew is over and by god, a wonderful chapter
    has opened.

  3. Roger Muir says:

    And you wonder why your Mother and I are ‘yampy’!

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