I started my journey as a first-time dad as an anxious twenty-three-year-old with little direction. I never expected to become a father at such a young age but once I met the woman I wanted to be with, one thing led to another and after several years with one another we ended up pregnant.
Up to that point, I’d spent much of my life shy, anxious and had also experienced spells of depression. Anxiety had always been the one thing that I felt had real control over me. Whether it was social situations or worrying about work, I lived a life inside of my own head.
Being so fearful, when my partner found out she was pregnant, I suddenly had a sickening panic in my gut. The butterflies I had grown up with felt like they were trying to escape my stomach and run for the hills.
Self-doubt had become something I was used to and so I asked myself—” If I feel so unsure about myself, how can I be the kind of dad this baby needs?” I questioned whether I’d be up to the task and if I was being irresponsible by bringing new life into the world whilst it still felt like anxiety controlled me.
Nine months can feel like nine weeks when you’re trying to make sure you have everything in order before your baby enters the world. Before I knew it our little bundle of joy was staring back at me as I carried him around the hospital hallways.
That evening was the first time I really realized how petty the things I had grown up worrying about were. Here I was, looking into the eyes of the only person in my life that made me feel equally as strong and terrified at the same time.
We spend many days in a selfish bubble of self-preservation, calculating how we can manipulate the world to meet our personal needs. It is not until we have something that relies purely on us that we see what is truly important and meaningful in the world.
This was a wake-up call, it was the biggest event in my life that was going to make me grow up and be responsible, I’d have to overcome my anxieties and be a figure that people around me could rely on, especially my son.
Being a first-time father is a time of rapid learning and emotional challenge. Becoming a dad was daunting and scary for me but there are certain things I have learned that have helped me through the stressful worrying times the first few years can bring.
1. The perfect parent does not exist
I was fortunate enough to grow up with two parents that were present and level headed. With a healthy and engaging childhood, I felt a great pressure to live up to how my parents were with myself and my brother. I wanted to be the model parent that my son would be proud of.
I was desperate to be the perfect teacher, coach, inspirer, and entertainer. I quickly learned that I could not be all of those figures, at least not all the time. Spending so much time on social media, I’d scroll through posts of other fathers my age taking their children out for lunch, going for fancy days out and swamping them with lavish gifts. The parents would be smiling and the children would look like they were having the times of their lives.
However, there I was, stressed by feeling like I was out of my depth and trying to support my partner who seemed like she was suffering from postnatal depression. How was everyone making this parenting thing look so easy?
It wouldn’t be long before I realized there was more going on behind the camera. Bumping into other parents at the nursery gates or at playdates, it was obvious they were struggling with the same things as my partner and I.
There is no such thing as a perfect parent, no such thing as a perfect father. When we are children we often see our parents as all-knowing gods that have the answer to all of our difficult questions. In reality, it would seem, they are human beings with the same flaws as any of us.
We cannot be everything to our children at all times, instead, we can only be ourselves for them when they need us.
2. Money is temporary, time is not
Between changing nappies and trying to figure out how a bottle sterilizer operated I was still working all the odd hours under the sun. No matter how many hours I put in, it seemed like there just wasn’t enough money coming out the other end.
With only one wage being cashed each month we were stretched. The anxiety this caused me was crippling. I was torn between being elated about my new family and sleepless about needing to pay the bills.
With empty pockets, I searched for new jobs that would give us enough money for rent and food. I would literally sit on the sofa with my son sleeping on one arm and have my phone in the other hand, searching on job sites.
Through all of this time, my mind was fixated on worrying about money. I could barely sleep and when I did, I dreamt about obtaining money, buckets of notes that would take all my stresses away.
Truth be told, I wasted much of my time thinking about something I had little control over at the time. My thoughts were poisoning the precious time I had with my new son. I was not being present with my son and my partner when they needed me.
We all need money to get by but money is something that comes and goes. Time, on the other hand, is temporary. Our children will only be the age they are for so long and they only care about seeing your face each day, not how much money you have in your bank account.
Being a parent requires you to balance your responsibilities like some kind of Jedi master. For an anxious twenty-something, it’s the hardest skill to nail. Our children and our partners need us to be strong figures that can hold up the ceiling and take care of what needs to be done.
After these last few years, I have struggled with bills, gained money and lost money but overall I have worked towards making myself as present for my son and partner as I can be, leaving my worries for dedicated time periods where I can work on what I need to take care of.
3. Patience is everything
If there is one thing I have learned from being a first-time anxious dad it’s that patience is everything. Not only will your child test your patience but so will your partner, no matter how much you love them or think that they’re perfect.
For young lovers, it’s easy to get wrapped up in thoughts about getting your own apartment, marriage and eventually having a baby to finish the dream off. What people (or your own brain) don’t tell you though is—the reality isn’t a fairytale. It’s d*mn hard work.
Running a family and having a child requires not only patience but resilience, grafting, a willingness to learn, selflessness, commitment, sleepless nights and a willingness to try and increase your emotional intelligence so you can absorb the abuse that you will inevitably receive from those that you love the most.
You will wage war with your partner when neither of you knows who’s turn it is to wash the dishes or who’s go it is to feed the baby. The relationship you hold with your partner will be tested to the highest of degrees and the only antidote you’ll have is teamwork, a willingness to work together and a commitment to pushing through hard times hand in hand.
Sometimes you’ll sink and sometimes you’ll swim. You will feel like leaving and other times you’ll feel like you can’t imagine being anywhere else. The anxieties you have about yourself will have to be shelved so you can support the other people in your home effectively. The burning pride you hold over yourself will have to evaporate so you can keep your home a positive environment for your child and family.
4. The anxieties must be accepted
In hindsight it seems, I have always worried about something. When the money wasn’t running out, I was anxious about spending enough time with my child or partner. When I wasn’t worried about those things, I was worried about work.
Just when it felt like everything was coming together, a “life bomb” would explode and cause me to fret about something else.
Being a father for the first time will cause you to not only grow up a boatload but also cause you to examine all of your past behaviors now you have a little thing that is counting on you.
The silly things you used to worry about become ridiculous and the more important responsibilities you come to have appear at the forefront. The truth is, there will always be something to worry or think about but learning how to make sure you don’t run out of money two weeks into the month or how to manage your child’s tantrums only helps to humble you to a point where you’re better equipped to deal with future adversity.
Being a first-time father was a culture shock for me. Every day is a challenge and there are always new things to learn how to deal with. With a little teamwork and patience though, the experience can be made easier.
Previously published here and reprinted with the author’s permission.
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