05 December 2008

Paternal Psychology

This week I thought that I would share some ideas about how fatherhood is going as well as how I have been managing my expectations over the last seven weeks.  As you can see above, my daughter wears her trousers just like daddy -- she's a High Rider.

I was a little concerned through the pregnancy about how I was going to cope with having a baby in the house.  My track record of tolerance with little people is pretty limited.  Even as a camp counsellor, I was never given kids under 10 years old to manage.


Uninterrupted time - in order to write (or think) well, I need extended blocks of time without interruption.  The office can be a great place for getting things done without distractions, just not during business hours!  As a private equity guy, I used to work late, and weekends, to access this quality time.  Working at home, there is a risk of constant distractions. Given my higher workload these days, I have returned to using Seven-Habits techniques to improve my time management.  I shoot for the completion of up to three tasks per day.

In the house the baby takes priority.  Having been in the driver's seat for a few years, this shift in the family's pecking order has taken a little getting used to! The disruption to my life has been tiny compared to the changes in Monica's routine.

While it might be tempting to barricade myself in my home office... 
seek personal time by long hours spent training... 
purchase an external office and leave my wife a baby-widow... 
...fleeing does not serve my goal of a healthy, long-term marriage.

Three things that I remind myself, pretty much daily, I'll outline them and explain how they are impacting my approach:

1 -- I want to have a successful marriage.
2 -- It was my choice to have the baby.
3 -- What would a good friend do for me? 

While having a breast-feeding wife that looks like an FHM model is entertaining, it's not really what I value in my marriage.  For the single guys out there, I recommend that you look for the following in a wife: (a) kindness; (b) patience; and (c) an ability to gently point out when you are slacking.

If you don't know why (a) and (b) are important then you probably need them even more than me!  My slacking point is a subtle one, it's not about being pushed -- more about helping you be the man that you already want to be.  The approval of one's wife can be a powerful incentive and motivating force. Our wives want to be proud of us.

With that in mind, my "dad" mindset has been to be a good husband.  We discussed this before Monica became pregnant.  To me, being a good husband means supporting her role as mother.  This suits me because it took some of the pressure off from the transition.

This mental mindset helps me frame every request that I get from Monica.  Each time I help out with Alexandra, I am investing in strengthening our marriage.  The more tired/busy/stressed I happen to be... the greater the investment.  


Just do it -- diapers, snacks, any request... just do it.  Wives value reliability and when you handle any request smoothly, without issue, it will do wonders for your marriage.  By doing the little stuff, you will get a surprising about of time/space when something important comes up (however, the baby shows that there are a lot of things that can wait).

Another tip, get the baby out of the house when she's screaming (the baby, not your wife).  In the early days, when Monica was out of whack from sleep deprivation, taking the baby for a 20-40 minute walk in the middle of an evening meltdown... that made a huge difference.  Monica was able to grab a shower, a meal or just sit down on the couch and sleep for a half an hour.  

I probably only made this gesture a few times but (because I made a genuine gesture and wasn't asked) the value of the action has endured for two months.


Wife support, rather than child care -- I made a decision to live in Boulder, where Monica grew up.  M's local network makes a HUGE difference with "free" support.  I made a decision to pay for a nanny.  While I could save a few bucks by (effectively) increasing Monica's workload, I calculated that it would be better for our marriage if she was supported (the baby was going to be OK either way).  

I also made a calculation that the expenditure (~40% of our family budget) would provide me an incentive to work a bit smarter.  In a future article, I will explain how I use personal incentives to get myself out of bed in the morning.

Pronoun choice in the above was deliberate.  While "we" discuss the family plan and budget, ultimately "I" accept responsibility and get it done.  I don't think there is any one way to run family finances.  However, it is essential that the structure for financial management is agreed, balanced and communicated.  Finances are a huge stresser when either spouse feels that the relationship is out of balance.

Choice - In dealing with Alexandra, remembering that it was my choice takes considerable pressure off.  When we choose to be a parent, certain tasks automatically flow from that decision -- diapers, screaming kids, cleaning up barf... they are a natural consequence of a decision we made.

Somehow creating that "reality" in my head gives me a lot more patience.  A few times this patience (call it: 'coolness under fire') has been misinterpreted as not caring.  I need to remember that mothers and fathers have different thresholds of urgent.

Reliability - Monica values reliability and, while I change my mind a lot, I am consistent at the risk of being boring!  

The way my day shakes out, I work mornings and evenings.  I place meetings, training and errands in the afternoon.  We've developed a system where Monica sends me a text message when she needs something.  There is no minimum threshold for a request.  Diaper changes, glasses of water, snacks... she buzzes and I wander downstairs from my office (yesterday's office view below - Molina wonders why I am not riding much...).

Similar to Mars/Venus tips, it seems to be a lot more helpful to pitch in with a lot of little items than one big item.  As well, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of difference between item scoring.  Of course, writing about the "baby game" in my blog will likely impact the overall rules and scoring!  Good thing Monica is kind and patient...

Sleep -- I wanted to sleep "as a family" in the early days.  Trouble was... I couldn't handle it!  Since Monica's water broke, I think I've spent five nights in the same room as her.  Every time I attempted a night's sleep with the baby, it completely destroyed me.  It was quite comical at the hospital... after the childbirth, I slept hours and hours with doctors/nurses/family coming in and out of the room.  I was ruined but I did every diaper change for the first 72 hours.  Invest heavily at the front end to establish your reputation!

It didn't get much better the few times that I tried to sleep with mom and baby at home.  I would "wake up" in the morning, get out of bed, and go sleep in the guest bedroom.  It wasn't working for me, and when I moved out, Monica realized that it worked better for her to have me out of the room.  We're going to "re-introduce" me to the bedroom shortly.  Again, smart psychology to make it a treat to sleep with mom & baby.  She knows me well...

As a final aside, I think the Tao Te Ching talks about the zen of babies.  I could never figure out how a baby could be zen.  Now that I have my own, it became clear very quickly.  

The most remarkable thing about babies is their total lack of memory -- they just "are".  I first noticed it with complete relaxation with hiccups.  Next with oblivion to throwing up on themselves.  

Rather more encouraging is instantly moving from melting down to placid... that keeps fatherly hope alive.  Each minute could be the last minute of a meltdown. 

Hope is a good thing to have.

Back next week,

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