I've never been much of a resolutions kind of guy, but with my toddler's rapidly changing set of skills, life moves fast. This year, I'm taking advantage of the tradition to pause and reboot. In no particular order, my parenting goals for 2011 are:
- Take time to recharge.
- Don't forget that the baby is just a baby.
- Stop thinking about what you can do when the baby is not around. Instead, take a nap!
- Get a babysitter at least once a month, even when you and your partner have no plans.
- Lower expectations!
When I focus too intently on a task, I tend to start seeing the trees instead of the forest. Taking a break helps me regain a sense of the big picture. It instills new energy, a fresh perspective. And what work has ever been more consuming than that of raising a child?
I resolve to take a couple of hours for myself each week to recharge. Maybe I'll unplug and curl up with a book after dinner, or go for a run around the park when my wife comes home from work. For a while I did these things regularly, but patterns shifted with the change of season, and now I find myself either drooling in front of the tube or sweating to get things done right up to bedtime, neither of which leaves me refreshed.
Social outings can help, too, but only if I go out with people who don't want to talk about the baby the entire time. I want to do things that I enjoyed before the baby arrived, and do it guilt free. Time off from dad-duty means that I return to my son calmer of temper, and with a greater appreciation for the little guy's boundless spirit.
Feeding my interests outside parenting ends up making me a better parent as a whole.
Speaking of my son's boundless spirit, I have to remember that when he's at his most irrational, chaotic and contrary, he's not out to get me personally. It's difficult at these moments to avoid arguing with him -- "You indicated you wanted an egg for dinner, why aren't you eating this?" -- or whine about being tired, or threaten to put him on time-out when maybe he's actually trying to communicate that he's ready for a nap or feeling bored. He's not my little brother, out to annoy me till I snap.
No, as wearing as his incessant needs can be, he's just responding to the world the best he knows how. A world that, for him, is ever-changing, often confusing, sometimes frightening and maybe, until those last four molars come in, accompanied by an omnipresent ache. I resolve, even at the height of violent tantrum, or at five in the morning when he's refusing to fall back asleep, to take a deep breath and have compassion for him and respond as rationally and patiently as possible.
This one's going to be hard.
In those precious moments of quiet when the baby is asleep, my mind races. What to do? Clean the dishes, check e-mail, browse the news, call a family member, and what about my writing? The list of responsibilities is endless.
I promise that, before I do anything, I'll listen to my body. When the thought of stretching in silence and relieving a lumbar sore from carrying my clingy baby around all morning beckons, I'll do it. When I've been bouncing from activity to activity and doing chores in between the cracks and my head is throbbing, I'll put on some quiet music and lie down. Because I know from the few times I've allowed myself to just let go of the to-dos and rest, I end up being a better parent, husband, writer and human in the long run.
Nothing grounds a person like a solid sleep.
Not only do I need more time to recharge, but my relationship with my wife does, as well. Too often I see her only as co-parent and housemate and forget to look at the woman that I fell in love with so many years ago. When we take time away from our son to hang out, be silly, indulge our romantic sides and share a movie or drink or dinner, we re-solidify our foundation. We end up feeling better and stronger as a couple -- it's like doing a team-building exercise, although of course that makes it sound entirely un-sexy, which it's anything but.
So in 2011, I will arrange for a babysitter at least once a month. We'll figure out what to do once the date is set. We could end up at the theater or around the block having a pint; either way, it'll do my heart good and lighten my spirits.
It's entirely possible that next year I won't do all the things listed above, or do them consistently, or as well as I would like. Really, the list itself is flawed, which is why I never liked resolutions to begin with, because this just covers my goals as a parent and not as a husband, friend, son, writer or any of the other roles I play in life.
OK, sure, my primary focus right now is on my son. At one and a half, he needs me the most. But even with this narrow set of objectives, there will be days when I fail. I will lose my temper when my son's testing limits, and I will feel frustrated when I don't accomplish everything that I would have liked to, or when I've not been the dad that I would like to be. Today, for example, was one such day.
And you know what? That's OK. Kids are nothing if not resilient, adapting all the time, greeting every day as a fresh opportunity to live and learn. As a parent, I must do the same.