Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dad: Parenting milestones to be proud of

I’m tired of babies always getting credit for their milestones. What about parents? Yes, a child’s first smile, words, steps, etc., are all important and should be celebrated appropriately. However, moms and dads do quite a bit of their own development in the first few years, and it goes largely unnoticed, even by the parents themselves.

Infants grow up quickly, but a first-time parent has to grow up even faster. For all the day-to-day development an infant goes through, having to care for a tiny baby human forces a newly-minted parent to make the mom/dad transition faster than you can say “I put the diaper on backwards again.” Of course the transition doesn’t happen overnight. Contrary to what you probably believed growing up, your parents weren’t born knowing how to raise you. They earned their parental know-how through a painful (and in hindsight comical) series of trial and error, just as you, faithful BabyCenter reader, already have or soon will. And just like your baby learned to sit up, drink out of a sippee cup and laugh at you when you stub your toe, there are several milestones you’ll also experience along the way.

The first time you get your child to stop crying without shoving a pacifier in her mouth. Newborns do five things: poop, pee, eat, sleep and cry. Mostly, however, they cry. Sometimes, a child’s crying-for-the-hell-of-it can be curtailed with a pacifier, but it’s a special feeling the first time you pick up your little one and soothe her until she calms down without the aid of a pacey. Maybe you discovered a special way she likes to be bounced or a certain song she likes to hear, but regardless of what you did to calm her down, you just learned a valuable go-to parenting skill.

The first time you take your baby out in public. Prior to the baby’s birth, parents stock up on all the necessary supplies for baby’s first outing: travel system, a pharmacy’s worth of salves and creams, first aid kit, portable bottle bag and a diaper bag that in my wife’s eyes was stylish and practical and to me was just rugged enough to not look like a purse. I remember being excited to use all that stuff before my daughter was born but scared as hell once it came time for her first trip out of the house. After we went through the ordeal of strapping the wiggly newborn into her car seat, navigating three treacherous lanes on I-40 and arriving at our destination with an unspoken desire between us to just go back home and save the outing for another day, we then prepared to fend off all the risks of the outside world that all new parents fear, things like the Ebola virus, Dementors and airplanes falling on babies at random. To our surprise none of those things were an issue, though I was more than ready to dish out a Patronus charm if need be (which is probably a sloth or some form of beached marine animal). After it was all said and done we arrived home with a sleeping baby, no incidents to speak of and a newfound confidence that we might get the hang of this parenting thing after all.

When your child nearly bites your finger off. It’s a rite of passage for any parent of a teething baby. Just don’t bite back. Then your next milestone may be When social services allows you to see your child once a month in a supervised setting.

When you take care of your child by yourself for the first time.
I’m all for teamwork parenting, but there will come a time when your partner needs to run to the store, get out of the house or maybe even go back to work so that your family can stop relying on the “Pet the Baby for $5” racket you’ve been running for the past three months as a source of income. That leaves one parent all alone with the baby, which is a scary proposal for moms and dads alike, even if it’s only for a few hours. It’s like learning to ride a bike with training wheels and getting the hang of it, but then your training wheels run out of paternity leave and have to go back to work, and you really need to get to your friend Johnny’s house so you hop on your two-wheeler, and it’s really wobbly and scary and stressful at first but then you get going and it’s not as hard as you thought and you yell out, “I didn’t need those training wheels, anyway!” and you’re cruising and the wind is blowing your hair back and you feel like a success but then your bike poops itself and it runs down her leg and sticks to the carpet and you realize the changing station is out of diapers, but then thankfully your training wheels get home from work just in time and you hand over the bike and say, “Here, it’s your turn, I’m going to watch Scandal.”

When you really, truly, “hang back.” One of the most difficult parenting instincts to stave off is the urge to rush to your child’s aid at every chance. Maybe he can’t quite reach that hanging lion on the mobile or he’s trying really hard to jam that circle into the square slot on the shape sorter and you just know he could get it if you helped him out just a little bit. There’s a fine line between when your child is trying to figure something out for himself and when he’s asking for help, but most parents — and I’ll refrain from saying just “new” parents — have trouble figuring out when to step in. Contrary to how difficult it is to watch, letting your child fail — and subsequently learn from that failure — is a heck of a lot harder than jumping in at the first sign of struggle. Of course by struggle, I don’t mean toeing the edge of the Grand Canyon or seeing how close he can get to that feral raccoon.

When you decide to have another one.
Because you learn that all the sleepless nights, mind-numbing screaming and crying, constant wiping of bodily fluids and three-year stream of unending anxiety was worth it. Or maybe it’s just because parents have short memories.

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