So are you happy being a dad?
It’s a question most new dads (and mums) are likely to be asked at some point. But it’s a hard one to answer without mumbling some standard platitudes: “Oh yeah, It’s hard work but, yeah, it’s great. Thanks. I mean it is harder than you expect. God I’m sooo tired.”
Or worse, rattling off a terrible anecdote: “Oh the other day, god this was funny, so [insert your baby’s name here] was sitting in the bath and they did a fart and the cat was sitting on the edge of the bath and it got a fright and nearly fell in, and, well i guess you had to be there…”
At this point the person who asked the question has a) glazed over b) started checking their phone c) started talking about themselves.
Anyway, what i’m saying is that the question of whether or not we’re happy being parents never seems to get beyond the banal small talk.
It’s almost as if we’re scared to admit that (gulp) we might not be delirious about the whole lock, stock, and two poo filled barrels.
Maybe we need to talk about this. Maybe it’s time for a bit of group therapy. Who wants to go first?
Oh, there’s no one here in my imaginary group therapy room.
OK. I’ll go first.
This is not a post about love. There’s no question that I love Baby B. For some people even that can take time but i loved him from the moment i saw him.
Happiness is something else. It’s an elusive emotion at the best of times. Humans have been pondering the nature of happiness for as long as they’ve been able to think.
For Aristotle happiness was the act of doing not feeling; the Greek word Eudaimonia means ‘human flourishing’. Epicurus however said happiness flowed from a life lived in peace, tranquility and surrounded by friends. Hmmm.
Babies haven’t read Epicurus.
The baby’s arrival is meant to be a happy time but for many people it’s a fairly traumatic time and immediately followed by weeks of sleep deprivation, poor diet, stress, confusion, and a lack of general fun.
I think it’s safe to say that during the first eight to ten weeks of being parents we were surviving each day rather than being happy.
Let’s see what the research says. Earlier this year an Open University study was reported to have found that couples without children are more satisfied with relationships and feel more valued.
Well thanks guys. Thanks a bunch for that.
You may as well have driven round to see all the parents in the UK in an open top sports car, pulled up outside, spent a few minutes kissing and giggling, set up a table in the garden and had a leisurely breakfast reading the papers, then played them a montage of all the researchers going to the cinema, having dinner in a posh restaurant, sipping cocktails on a beach at sunset, laughing with friends in a bar, having a day out walking in glorious countryside unencumbered by nappy bags and an all-terrain pushchair, and finally swimming in an infinity pool before heading off for all night sex.
Now, i’m not saying that’s what our life was like before Baby B. But there were a lot more nights out and mini-breaks in boutique hotels. Just writing the words boutique hotel has brought a wistful tear to my eye.
But then we knew we were giving up those things for a different life. And being older parents we’d had a good run at being DINKies (i don’t think anyone under 40 uses that acronym), and we were also not even sure if we’d missed the boat. So it would be churlish to moan about actually having a baby.
In amongst all this talk about happiness lurks the spectre of it’s nemesis, depression. If you ever feel like it’s all getting too much please don’t put on a brave face. Don’t grin and bear it. Don’t say you’re fine if you avoid going home in the evening and work late or go to the pub. And look out for the person who is at home all day. It might be the baby blues or it might be more. Talk to each other. Talk more than you used to, not less.
There may never be a time when communicating as a couple is more important. Look out for your wife, partner, girlfriend, but do remember that men can suffer from post-natal depression too.
Of course, research reported in a newspaper is usually reported with a particular angle, one that’s designed to make headlines. Let’s look at the research again for some more clues. The study actually found that,
“Parents appear to engage in less relationship maintenance than childless participants.”
Relationship maintenance? Is this code for…sex? Surely not.
Well partly; it was more about appreciation, of each other, and,
“the time and effort required to complete the everyday mundane tasks.”
Saying thank you was highly rated, as were cups of tea!
Moving away from academia and into the anecdotal evidence of friends I think a lot of relationship unhappiness after having a baby stems not simply from the tiredness, and the mind numbingly dull routine of nappy changing and feeding.
What really knocks happiness out of the equation is forgetting about each other’s needs. And those are way less important than keeping a baby alive, but without them, the vital unit that created the baby might fall apart.
For dads the early weeks and months are a weird time when you can feel a bit of a spare part. And let’s face it for most men no longer being the most important person in your other half’s life that can make you wander around like a sad puppy.
The key to overcoming this is to get involved as much as possible. This won’t make you happier but it will stop you dwelling on the things you no longer do together.
So my advice? Make tea. And say thank you. And do try to muck in with the poo management and wandering around at 3am looking for the thing that will make Baby drop off again.
Make sure you give each other permission to go off and just do something on your own for an hour or two. And if you really can’t take another moment in your baby’s company, find a willing babysitter as soon as it feels ok and go have an afternoon tea somewhere, or a night out just the two of you.
Half a year in i would say we are still missing some of the things that used to make us happy, but there is definitely a new kind of happiness growing inside us and between us and we carry it around like the warm glow you get from a fluffy towel that’s been on a radiator. Or the heat of a summer day that loiters in the garden after sunset.
And he seems to like making us happy. Maybe it’s an evolutionary trick to keep us caring for him. Or perhaps as his personality grows he’s realised the world is a better place with a bit of happiness.
As he can’t yet make us tea we will have to make do with playing a game of Tickle Squirrel.
It looks like this.
I’m linking up with The Big Fat Linky on The Dad Network
Categories: Big Issues