Being a father is really hard for me. I know that can be a triggering statement for some people, and I realize that the struggle is relative. My kids are healthy, I’m healthy, my wife is healthy and amazingly supportive. I know there are people who have it much much worse, and in any kind of “on paper” comparison, I have nothing to complain about.
And it’s STILL hard for me. Nothing I’m about to say will be news to any parents reading this, but a full night’s sleep whenever I decide to take one is not guaranteed, unexpected tantrums are the norm, a day of downtime is a thing of the past, hell, going to the bathroom alone is a thing of the past.
A whole host of things have sustained me throughout the time I have spent being a parent. First and foremost, a supportive partner who embraces that things are fair even if they aren’t even. She has shouldered more of the load than I have, and has given me some recuperation time when I need it. I got lucky that she wanted to be with me and go through the process of being parents together. I’ve always found it interesting that the things that draw you to a person at the beginning of a relationship (hot-and-heavy chemistry, partying together, going out for champagne brunch, etc.) have very little to do with the day-to-day reality of a long-term relationship. But I digress.
The things on which I want to focus are the couple of choices that I’ve made that have, I think, helped me navigate fatherhood a little bit more smoothly than I could have otherwise.
First, committing to my health has been a really grounding force for me. Sticking with my eating strategy while throwing in little tweaks to improve here and there have helped keep me feeling sane and like myself throughout this process. If I’m honest, vanity probably has some role in those positive feelings (not that I’m a fitness model by any stretch, but I have stayed in good shape, and even improved my body composition while having tiny kids), but there is also an element of self-care that has helped me keep tabs on myself and how I’m feeling over the past four years that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t been eating intentionally.
Second, remembering to sleep when I can has been huge. The more I learn, the more I believe that the importance of sleep for every single human function cannot be overstated. It’s not easy to get sleep for little kids, but I almost never stay up later than I have to and try to maximize and optimize the time I do have.
Third, I’ve rediscovered how important it is for me to meditate regularly. For our purposes, meditation is a proxy for whatever your version of mindfulness is (music, yoga, running, etc.), but its role in managing my stress is essential to my wellbeing and really easy to forget. I always thought of meditation as something with a cumulative effect. Meaning if I sat every day for two weeks, I’d notice myself slowly feeling better. However, I’ve also come to understand that there is an acute impact when I sit and when I don’t. Nothing will make you evaluate your patience like having a four-year-old and a two-year-old, and I am just better at being with them when I’ve meditated that day.
The stress management part of health is easy to overlook. Stress seems like a non-negotiable part of our lives, and to some extent it is, but I do notice that when I take active steps to make myself resilient to it, everything feels better. Health journeys should be about more than abs or a new PR in whatever you’re doing…not that there’s anything wrong with those things. On the other hand, the larger goal would be to maximize your experience. I think that feeling strong and physically able are very important to that, but I also think using meditation to teach and reteach myself to remember that everything (even the family bathroom trips and tantrums) are temporary and don’t need to define the quality of my day are essential to being Whole and well.