Guest Blog by Josef Mogharreban
At what point does a parent start believing they know what they are doing as a parent? My wife has returned to work and, after taking arguably the most difficult shift (the first three months), for the first time in my daughter’s young life, I have been given the opportunity to take over full-time parental responsibility.
How did I get here? Who in their right mind would leave me, a new father, at home with the most important and seemingly fragile aspect of my world? As it turns out, for the first time in my adult life, I have flexibility in my schedule. As a doctoral student, a full four years into a five-year program and solidly immersed in the stop-and-go rhythm of dissertation, I am not currently tasked with any teaching responsibility or coursework that would require time on campus. Additionally, leaving the part-time employment that I did have, although instrumental in keeping me connected to campus, did not provide a salary to justify the costs of full-time childcare. However, the problem as a graduate student is: although you are not necessarily being paid, you are not unemployed. Deadlines loom while emails and drafts of chapters are expected to be sent (and of significant quality, I might add). There is also financial incentive to finish as expeditiously as possible – I am still paying the University the minimum amount to be considered enrolled, almost $1,600 every three months! In the end, though, it was a relatively easy decision, one that any cost/benefit analysis would have revealed. The timing (and differences in our income) was too obvious to deny. So here I am, listening to the garage door close on my first full day as a stay-at-home dad, instantly regretting the data I poured over that led me here.
Almost two months have passed since that initial regret/anxiety fueled panic and, admittedly, many things have become easier. Although baby still wants what she wants when she wants it, and not always with the schedule I have in mind, with each hour that passes, my recognition of her needs against the flexible eat-play-sleep schedule of a five-month-old becomes more acute and a little less overwhelming.
Now to begin the process of slowly incorporating time for me. Baby duty is isolating, regardless of my gender. The truth is, my circle of close friends neither have children nor can they meet up at 2 p.m. on a weekday for a coffee, a beer, or comment experientially on the inherent frustrations of your baby not eating a full bottle when you know that (a) she is hungry and (b) will be a hell of a lot happier, less fussy, and nap more soundly with a full belly.
So, who to turn to? Frankly, its hard meeting new people. The chances of meeting a similarly aged stay-at-home dad that I can talk to about more than our shared life as new dads at my local coffee shop are not good. Granted, this is only a theoretical observation (and not one I have tested thoroughly). If I am honest, I have not sought dad meetups or blogs geared towards dads, or moms for that matter. The little googling I have done tends to be specific to a situation I have found myself in (i.e. “warning signs your baby has a concussion”, “number of times breast milk can be reheated”, “how much television is too much for an infant”). For now, she and I are still figuring each other out.
I have accepted the fact that any isolation I feel is temporary, I hope, and have found comfort in talking with the family and friends I do have about the astrologic highs and bottomless lows of being a new parent. Additionally, although we do not have an end date per se (like what my wife was afforded during maternity leave), I also do not intend to be home with her indefinitely. I have a burgeoning career I would like to get off the ground, a dissertation to finish, and a place within the professorate I aspire to reach, all sooner rather than later. That said, the timetable is my own, providing flexibility to meet the needs of my family, a choice we are truly privileged to be able to make.
Ironically, the idea of being at home was initially exciting simply because of the amount of work I would be able to accomplish, even if only during nap time. Like many times before as a new dad, I was wrong. My kid is not yet on a predictable nap schedule and, what’s more, prefers to sleep solely on your chest. She will sleep in her Rock-and-Play if properly encouraged, however, will sleep for far less time and less restfully than if she is sleeping on you.–one of the many things we are currently working on to make life a little easier. For the time being, even during nap time, there is no getting a laptop out, let alone opening it and having time to put a few thoughts together. So, what else? Luckily, I have found a gym nearby that offers up to two hours of childcare for a nominal fee. Awesome! I’ve been looking for some needed motivation and an hour or more of uninterrupted me-time at the gym certainly fits the bill. Only 10 more hours to fill before mom gets home.
So, it’s not as easy as I was expecting. Shocking! You take a wholly unknown variable and drop it in the middle of your life and expect it to behave well with the rest of life’s many variables in some predetermined and predictable way. Yeah, right.
Through all the difficulties, so far, the frustrations, the limited acknowledgment I get from a baby for helping to keep her alive one more day, I believe, unequivocally, that I will never look back on my time at home with her and think, “I wish I hadn’t seen that big, gummy smile of hers at 6:17 a.m. on a Tuesday”. Every time she gives me that goofy grin, a powerful sense of validation, a sense that “you’re doing it right”, is viscerally felt. Every time I read a situation right and respond appropriately to a need I may or may not have known she had, my confidence in this fatherhood thing grows.
Through this experience thus far, I have learned to trust a few things: I trust I am going to get a lot more wrong before the words “I think I’ve got the hang of this” ever escape my lips; I trust that my wife is there to worry and care for us both (even when we are doing well) for she is one of the strongest and most attentive new mothers a guy could ask for; and I trust that I am the luckiest father in the world to have the privilege to spend this time with my little girl. I trust that.