Having a child was clearly the easier part. Our son was born and in full potty-diaper-colic mode. We were sleepless parents. This was part of the deal, wasn't it? Then how come every depiction of parents and babies in the media is of families brimming over with laughter and joy? How come parents don't talk about how tough it really is to raise a child? How come all of us, our friends, families and colleagues, paint this rosy picture of utter contentment? Don't get me wrong. No one regrets having a baby. The happiness that a baby brings into his or her parents' world is indescribable. But there's more to the picture.
The saying goes, 'It takes a village to raise a child'. I haven't investigated its purported African origin. I don't know the context. But I believe that whoever came up with it was trying to say that it takes a hell of a lot of effort to raise a child. Of course, even if I'd heard of the saying before we had our son, it wouldn't have changed a thing; we would have still gone ahead and had him. But a mild correction in my rose-tinted vision of the future, based on the media and society's portrayal of what having a child means, would not have been remiss.
So, if I were to pose this question to you, what would you list as the three things you wish you'd been told when you were having your child? What would be the truths that could have better prepared you for what lies ahead, the tough parts that hide under the gilded moments of parenting?
Let me tell you mine:
You'll have to learn to adjust your independence
Abraham Lincoln once said, "The best way to predict your future is to create it." You just did. You created your future and that of your newborn. Now get ready to face it. Nothing can really prepare you for this. And no matter how prepared you are, the real thing will still take you by surprise. When you get married you stop thinking of yourself as one person. You are now a couple. But when you have a baby, it's a whole new level of commitment. You are now a family. Suddenly decisions morph from being based on the needs of one or two fully grown people to being based on the third little person who has come along. A little life that is completely dependent on you. So every decision, whether it's an investment in time, money or even emotion, will have to be made keeping this newcomer in mind. As husband and wife, you make mutually beneficial career decisions. There is a pattern, a comfortable rhythm to things. All of this changes in the blink of an eye the day you have a baby. Things like spending quality time with each other as a couple or with yourself, even, going out for dinner, planning for vacations all of these now require meticulous thinking and planning. Nothing spells practised spontaneity like parenting. Even your most personal lifestyle and body decisions like sleep timings, work schedules, diet and, fitness are now planned keeping in mind that you are now a family. The changes don't end. Your choices and decisions change rapidly to keep pace as your baby grows bigger and bigger.
You will need a lot of physical and mental energy
Speaking of babies growing bigger, you have no idea how rapid that process is. As he grows, the physical and mental energy that you'll need to keep up with him will only increase. Earlier, you were sacrificing sleep to tend to them. Now you'll be sacrificing boys' nights, the 9'o clock news and India-Pak matches to help him with his homework. The colic-induced headaches will give way to what-school-to-pick ulcers. You'll have to play with them, run after them, talk to them, answer their questions and control them when they become unruly. All this, if things are moving along nice and smoothly. You may not have been a sportsman in your youth, but the day your kid falls sick, you will turn into a marathon runner while racing to the pediatrician. Do yourself a favour, find a pediatric you trust before you have a baby. Your previous noise-averse self will be forgotten as you sit in clinics surrounded by bawling babies. A crying baby is seriously loud and it will get to you, but you'll deal with it because you know that the other parents are going through the same trauma that you are-of seeing their baby sick. My insides churned when I saw our son down with gastroenteritis. Kids are resilient and they recover; it helps when parents go with the flow too.
Make time for each other. It's important
A child grows from a wind to a hurricane and then a black hole that swallows all your time. Okay, I'm kidding about the black hole part, but you will not realise how quickly time flies while raising a child. As a couple, as husband and wife, you will have to make extra effort just to be able to spend time with each other. This is comparatively easier when you've set up support systems like daycare, or when you have your own parents pitching in. But if you're on your own, this will require determined effort. You'll have to keep telling yourself that there's more to family bonding than changing diapers and preparing food for your child. It's especially important for us dads to take on this responsibility because mothers almost always take the bigger share-mental and physical-of raising a child. This is where spending quality time as a couple becomes important. You knew this before you had a child but it's easy to take this for granted once you've become parents. There will be times when you won't want to make the effort, but do it anyway. Make the time to be human beings even though you have to be superheroes for your children every day.
All these are, of course, the things I've learnt. They aren't rules. Parenting is as individualistic as it gets because no two people-and certainly no two babies-are the same.