Forfeiting Finish Lines with Young Children

I am stumbling through a week of sickness currently and am shocked and appalled that life has not slowed down in sympathy to my condition. Once you begin having children, there is no such thing as ‘time off’ or ‘catching up’; I was half-heartedly hoping feeling sick would magically induce our newborn into sleeping through the night, the toddler would cease her ornery phase, dishes would start cleaning themselves, and dinner would suddenly appear on the table after work. It turns out that sickness as a father actually means sleeping even less, working even more, and parenting more difficultly. If only my daughters had come equipped with a warning label so I would be better prepared…

So often in life we work towards things that have an end attached to the means. When we go to school, we can see a graduation date. When we’re teenagers, we can see the deadline for independence and freedom. We can see definitive conclusions to so many different actions we undertake that it is somewhat jarring to begin the journey of parenthood, where all of these finish lines begin to blur. My wife and I occasionally become attached to the thought that “If we can just make it through potty-training…” or “If we can just survive until the newborn is sleeping through the night” but the reality is that those miniature trials are never ending, especially when having multiple kids. Conquering one set of challenges inevitably leads to another more difficult wave.

We are currently battling sleep deprivation as our 15 week old is slooowwwly stretching out her sleep time. I can, however, already assume that teething battles and rampant daycare viruses are anxiously awaiting to continue our pattern of minimal sleep. We hold no illusion that there’s any chance for consistent overnights for the next decade, even though we still dream (if it’s possible to dream in just 3 hours of sleep) about our newborn reaching a full night’s sleep. Furthermore, as a young family probably attempting a third child at some point in the future, we understand that this cycle will return with a vengeance should we ever acclimate to something else.

The family budget aligns with this same philosophy as well. Survive the medical bills? Here’s two years of constant check-ups and 184 forms of the common cold and flu to deal with. Survive the time off from work post-baby? Welcome to the ridiculously expensive world of daycare. From infant seats to high-chairs, from cribs to big girl beds, and from diapers to dresses, the relentless climb of financial commitment grows steadily right alongside the child. Daycare over? School registration fees and latchkey care is right there to take its place. Relief is decades away.

When I think about feeling sick and whimpering around the house, I must understand that parenthood allows for no pauses and recovering my health will not suddenly grant me full nights of sleep and well-behaved children. I suppose the moral of the story is that parenting requires us to let go of these finish lines and do the best we can as each phase blends with another. I have a strong tendency to function in a very goal-oriented capacity; forfeiting a focus on an endgame is flustering and occasionally overwhelming, but that seems to be parenting in a nutshell. It’s all about fastening the seatbelt, doing the best you can with what you’ve got, and pushing forward without looking so far ahead you don’t enjoy the daily grind, no matter how exasperating it can be.

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