Time together, gathered as a family, is something I can best describe as precious. It’s important time, valuable time. Sometimes rare and always fleeting. Let’s be honest, though: it’s equal parts rewarding and exhausting…and that’s okay.
I love being a dad and I adore being a husband. Both are things that bring more joy in my life than I could have ever anticipated. There is constant adventure and learning around the corner. There is also a whirlwind of emotion inside me, always. At any given moment I am excited, scared, nervous, giddy, fearful, melting, jealous, angry, frustrated, elated, challenged, confused and, most notably: happy. It is a very strange combination of feelings that I didn’t know could exist before I became a father. No one could have prepared me for it, and just about anything I read before our first was born suggested pretty much the same; that there are no words to describe what you’re about to experience.
Not for one moment do I think that I could be the singular voice of guidance to help new fathers understand what synchronous joy and frustration is about to befall them, but I can state this: through all of the emotions, thoughts and considerations that one can experience, self-care tends to fall to the bottom of the list, despite its level of importance and it’s something that, with the support of my loving wife, I am only now beginning to understand.
Challenge and struggle come in many forms and looks different for each individual but the one common denominator that I believe to be true is this: you can’t be everything to everyone all of the time and the sooner you recognize and accept that, the sooner you can start to embark on a path of well-being that will enhance the joy that already exists in your life.
When I breakdown the events of my day, there tends to be a lot of “take” throughout the normal course of events. I wake up, run through my routine of pouring coffee, preparing breakfast and lunches for the family, double checking and organizing my schedule to ensure I’ve got all that I need to get through the day before heading out the door. I hop in the car, maybe for you it’s a bus, your bicycle or strapping on your roller skates before making your commute. Whichever method of travel you take, it is going to require, at best, a minimal form of attention to ensure you are either avoiding a head-on collision or maintaining a civil level of conversation with ‘Daryl, the Uber guy’.
When I arrive at work, which, almost by definition is non-stop demanding and, the level of “take” only ramps up. Meetings, assignments, deadlines, workshops, reviews, task lists, prep work; it’s what I signed up for and my employer pays me (hopefully well) so, fair enough, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t draining, exhausting or trying.
Lunch comes around and would give me a moment of solace were it not for ‘Frank’ who, despite the lunch room providing ample seating for 40 people and we’re the only ones in there, insists on sitting directly beside me while he incessantly slurps back his ramen and attempts to engage in conversation regarding the most recent and shocking reveal on last night’s episode of the Real Housewives of Anywhere But Here. To escape this drudgery I decide instead to eat at my desk, where the phone keeps ringing, emails keep dinging and staff members parade through with phrases like “Sorry to interrupt, but can I ask you something?” or “I see you’re eating lunch, but do you have a minute?” Some of these interactions can be quite pleasant, welcome and enjoyable; but that doesn’t mean they aren’t taking away a certain degree of energy.
At the end of the day I punch the clock, make the return trip home and begin the next phase of my day. Unfortunately, by the time I walk through the front door, it’s not uncharacteristic to have very little fuel left in the tank to spend real, quality time with those I deeply love and actually want to be around. I manage to get through dinner prep and service with enough time to still make it to skating lessons, which miraculously ends unscathed. Now it’s on to bed time routine; story time, six trips up and down the stairs looking for ‘baby’ or ‘dolly’, prepping a snack, getting fresh water, brushing teeth, finally! They’re down…”Daddy, you didn’t tuck the blanket in properly and my pants are inside out”.
An hour later and it’s finally quiet. Time to clean up the house, put away the laundry, empty the dishwasher. Sigh.
Now, speaking personally, I’m not alone in these endeavours; my wife and I are a team and we’re in this together. Did she have an easier and more forgiving day than I? F@#& no! She’s tired too, and deservedly so for all of the same reasons; our world is full of “take” So, yes, I took the long way home on this one, but now we get to the point and address the headline – the time has come to “Give” something, namely time, back to myself.
As someone who struggles with guilt with every waking breath and moment, this concept was a hard one to accept. On any given day it is, or was, damn near impossible for me to sit down and not think and feel that I should be doing something else. Something more. Something that contributes to the household. Sweep the floor, fold the laundry, steam clean the carpets, re-shingle the roof, you name it, I feel like I should be doing it. It becomes even more impossible for me to sit and do something I deem selfish while my wife, at that very moment is doing any one of or all of the aforementioned tasks; and let me tell you: she can shingle with the best of them. It wasn’t until she started to instil in me the notion that taking time and caring for myself IS contributing to the household. Hmmm, an interesting concept.
So, I started small; rather than rushing a coffee in the morning, I take my time enjoying it. On my lunch break, I may still sit at my desk (Frank is nice but that ramen isn’t getting any quieter), only I engage in activity that I enjoy; reading up on movie news, listening to a podcast or searching for new Lego sets. And, on that note, I buy a Lego set from time to time and and enjoy putting it together, either with my family or on my own. I take time to myself; watching a movie, going for a walk, playing a video game, playing guitar, visiting a friend, writing a blog, whatever. It is time where nothing is being taken and it allows me to refuel. It’s something I am getting more comfortable with but I’ll tell you, it took me a great deal of effort to understand that this ‘time for yourself’ approach is a critical component of self-care and it continues to improve every aspect of my life.
Please, don’t get me wrong: I still contribute equally towards all that is required to ensure our home maintained and our kids are healthy, as does my partner. Because that’s what we are: partners. We share in our household and parenting responsibilities by respecting that giving ourselves some time apart, doing what brings us individual joy and balance, keeps our home healthy, happy and ultimately: closer together.