Week 1 of Parenting December 17, 2010Posted by ficial in brain dump, parenting.
Our son was born 9 days ago, and it’s been quite the life conversion. Of course, that comes as no surprise. One thing all parents agree is that having a child radically changes one’s life. What I find so interesting is the ways it does so. Lack of sleep is certainly a part of it, but though dramatic it’s not the real shift. Responsibility is a part of it, but I got my responsible adult certificate many years ago when I first voluntarily went to the dentist. Having a kid is definitely a larger degree, but not necessarily a different kind – it’s all about taking care of what needs to be done and prioritizing long term over short term. Obligation is also a component, but having previously bought a house, acquired a cat, and married my wonderful wife I’m very familiar and comfortable with the idea.
The biggest change for me is more in the day to day processes of life. I’ve felt constrained for time on the long scale – there’s so much more I want to do in my life than I could possibly fit (and now even more gets crammed in). However, my daily activities usually happened at a pretty relaxed pace. Parenting changes all that. I find myself looking for ways to trim 30 seconds off this or that process, and multi-tasking in a way I’ve never had to before. Everything is constantly being balanced against everything else and I operate just at the edge of chaotic confusion. I imagine new-parenting alone would do that to me, and it’s intensified by working on finishing our new house at the same time. In some ways I find it akin to the vibrancy (not to mention insanity) of working in a start-up, and I guess in some senses it is a start-up. Here are a few more thoughts and observations from life as a new parent:
- I’m a huge fan of automation – my favorite appliances are the dishwasher, clothes washer, and, more recently, roomba. Each time I use one of them it’s like I gain that much more time in my life. This holds true even more so now. Some of the more marginal time-savers, e.g. using a stand mixer instead of mixing or kneading by hand, which I had previously considered largely optional now feel very important.
- Operational planning is key, on a small scale as well as a large one. There three main aspects to this. First is look-ahead. In addition to whatever I’m doing at the moment I’m also thinking about what comes after that, and after that, and so on. Playing lots of board games over the years has been good training for that kind of thinking. Second is task clustering. I try to do as many tasks as possible for the given location, time, and kind activity: never grab one thing from the fridge when you could grab two more at the same time and save multiple door openings and item searches, when washing the feeding supplementer also was a couple of other things in the sink, when putting away groceries in the pantry grab a couple of items from the dishwasher to put there as well, and so on. Third is pipe-lining, and more generally task over-lapping. In a basic sense, this covers things like starting the next load of wash while the first one is drying so there will be a new load ready for the dryer as soon as the first load is done. On a finer scale it means things like putting away a dozen pieces of silverware while the tap water heats up, or putting away one cereal box while getting out another with the other hand. Basically, whenever possible be doing multiple things at once.
- I need to have a hierarchy of default behaviors that take minimal mental involvement (I learned this from our cat, which starts washing herself whenever distracted from whatever she was doing). Prior to parenting, if I got distracted or forgot what I was doing when I walked into a room I would just spend some time to try to remember what it was. Now whenever that happens I do other things (cleaning, folding, putting away, and general basic maintenance stuff) while I figure out what it was I was supposed to be doing. Partly this is a matter of efficiency and self defense – I’m so distracted so often from juggling so many things that I’d otherwise spend most of my time just figuring things out and not actually doing anything (thrashing). The other part is adaptability – parenting is an extremely reactive process at this point and whatever plan I have may fall apart at any moment. I need to be able to do something useful with my time while I regroup.
- Doing customer service and contract work was good preparation for parenting. Babies have all kinds of needs they don’t know about, and all kinds of demands they can’t articulate. Some problems need solving, some merely placating, and some will solve themselves if ignored for a little while.
- I’ve never been a real baby person before (though I really like kids once they get to a more interactive stage). I’ve appreciated and admired them from afar, but never been one that wants to hold the child of whomever we’re visiting. That’s definitely changed for our own kid – I get a real kick out of holding him and playing with him.