by Dr. Kevin Hyde
I don’t know about you, but before I became a father I had visions of wrestling, playing catch in the backyard, and silly dad jokes that make everyone roll their eyes. As the father of two girls under the age of four, I can definitively say that, while those things have all happened, the reality of fatherhood has been very different from my original expectations.
For example, I came up with this blog idea as I was trying to shovel yogurt into the mouth of a two-year-old as quickly as possible so we could make it to church on time. Spoiler alert: we were late. Not in my original plan...
I know that I’m not alone in having real life laugh in the face of my dreams and expectations. In fact, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that we’ve ALL had that happen at some point in our lives. Parenting, and fatherhood in particular, just tends to be one of the most eye-opening examples.
We may or may not recognize it, but we all enter fatherhood with an agenda. Either we want to emulate our parents… or we want to be sure that our kids get a better experience than we had as children. But the experiences we remember that helped form our expectations of parenthood typically come from memories during grade school, pre-adolescent, or teenage years. We can’t remember what our parents were like during early childhood, and that’s probably a good thing!
The first thing we are faced with as fathers is how to love a wrinkly potato that provides no response other than to let you know that you have no idea what you’re doing so you should hand the spud back over to mommy. More than once I questioned whether I was ever going to figure out how to feed or comfort the baby.
But the good news is I was a diaper changing champion. It was like I was on the pit crew for the Daytona 500, which meant I got all sorts of accolades from those around us. That’s right, gentlemen, you change a diaper and you get accolades while your wife is lucky if she isn’t criticized for not having organically certified, reusable cotton baby wipes on her 24/7.
I never expected that it would be a struggle to try and connect with my child during the early months, but it was. My wife was the comforter, the source of food, and the one who recognized which cry meant which need was unmet. I was jealous of how close she was with our child… but I couldn’t tell that to anyone because, “men are tough, they figure things out.” Things would’ve been a little easier without that preconceived notion because I could’ve learned that I wasn’t alone. Now I know that many men feel exactly as I did.
I wasn’t actually alone, it just felt that way because my pride kept me from opening up to others!
Reality started matching up better with my expectations as our oldest turned one and became a serious daredevil who LOVED me throwing her up in the air, wrestling all around the house, and letting her climb trees in the backyard. My wife actually got jealous of the connection the baby and I developed during this period… so she demanded a second child.
Hey, for number two at least I was prepared for those early months, right? HA!
You’re probably beginning to notice a pattern. I hold some expectations in my mind of how something should go, and I end up shocked/frustrated/disappointed/hurt/angry/etc. Not a very fun pattern to be stuck in!
So what do I do about it now that I’ve got two toddlers?
I try very hard to stay engaged in the present moment. Granted it’s not always easy. I find my mindfulness meditation practice ebbs and flows just like my exercise routine. But I absolutely recognize a connection between feeling less stressed, anxious, and irritable when I’m more mindfully present with my family.
Even just five minutes of mindfulness meditation each day helps me respond better to the inevitable frustrations that arise from spilled milk, sibling arguments, or plans that need to be changed because of unexpected illness. I feel more fulfilled when I’m able to stay focused on playing with my kids, or really observing them while playing on their own in the backyard... instead of looking at my phone.
So if you are a fellow father, I would challenge you to put down the phone, turn off the TV, or turn away from whatever occupies most of your attention and see what happens when you truly engage with your kids in the present moment. You might find the kids obey a little more or even that your wife feels a little more seen. And a pretty nice bonus is that when your kids are grown up and out of the house, you’ll have no regrets about not spending enough time with them. Living out your values is never a bad thing.
Whether a situation meets your expectations or not, or whether another person would call the situation “good” or not, doesn’t make a lick of difference in what you and your family define as quality time. Don’t let those unexpectedly enjoyable moments continue to pass you by. Reality should be the only expectation.
About the Author
Dr. Kevin Hyde is a clinical psychologist licensed to practice in the state of Florida. He resides in Pinellas County with his wife and two young daughters. In his spare time, Dr. Hyde enjoys relaxing at the beach with family, watching Nationals baseball, baking bread, and keeping up with current events. He founded Pinellas Anxiety Specialists with the intention of providing high quality anxiety therapy to reduce the stress and anxiety that so many cope with on a daily basis.