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Rejoining the World

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Sooner or later it will be time – perhaps not yet, but one day you’re going to recognize that it’s time to come out of your hole.

You’ll step tentatively at first, maybe squint a bit.

You might even be surprised to see what your partner looks like by the light of day, not as a father at midnight madly trying to hush a baby back to sleep, but as the man you chose to spend your life with, the one with whom you made the colossal decision to have these socially ostracizing creatures in the first place.

Oh yes, sooner or later it will be time.

Having young children can make you forget yourself, or at least much of yourself.

We have camping gear that’s been sitting in our storage area for years. It hasn’t been used since Chloe was born.

Before we had kids we’d try to get out at least twice a season, on a backpacking hike into the woods or a canoe trip in Algonquin Park. It was a big part of our lives. Now it seems a distant memory.

I once complained to Julie that we were too busy socializing every weekend and didn’t have any room on our calendar to make other plans. Well, the calendar now has plenty of white space.

Getting together with friends meant a lot of work and inconvenience. Seeing a movie required finding a babysitter. As time passed, we became comfortable in our roles and routines – not satisfied or happy necessarily, but complacent.

It was just easier to resign ourselves to our situation.

Children, especially fussy children, force you to re-juggle your priorities. You realize very quickly that in order to survive young parenthood, you need to hunker down, keep your eye on the ball, and just get through it.

Every time a scheduled nap is missed, or they go to bed late at Grandma and Grandpa’s, it’s you that pays later when they wake at 4:00 screaming.

So you give up on other priorities – especially anything that requires the least bit of flexibility. After all, if baby ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

This withdrawal is normal. It’s a necessary coping mechanism, especially when your baby isn’t “that baby “ – the one who magically slept through the night at 12 weeks old who sits happily on the floor smiling contentedly at everyone who walks by.

I’ve heard tales of parents who took their babies with them to parties and rocked them gently under the table with their foot while they continued to visit.

They’re the same parents who tell you very assuredly that you should be less rigid and not stick so religiously to sleep schedules.

“Of course,” I think. “That’s what it is. I’m getting a kick out of being rigid and uptight.”

What I should have done was take Chloe to one of those parties and rock her with my big toe while she screamed blue murder all evening under the dinner table.

But fussy baby or not, there is a time when, as parents, when we should take a step back and widen our focus.

It’s okay to hunker down in the short term, to recognize the immediate, acute needs of your new young family. But it isn’t healthy in the long-term.

In North America we already drink the Kool-Aid that says we are solely responsible for our children’s’ upbringing, success, and happiness – as though the rest of the world in which they spend so much of their time has very little to do with it.

I would venture to say that our single-minded obsession with our kids does little to help them grow and understand themselves and the world around them.

Believing that our kids cannot learn to thrive without us is as dangerous as believing that we cannot thrive without them.

From the moment our children are born, it’s our job to start letting them go, a little at a time. When we teach them to take risks, but assure them they have a soft place to land when the fall, we are teaching them to be human teaching them both to strive for what they almost dare not wish, and to support those around them when support is most needed.

But to truly teach these lessons we must teach by example. In short, we must reach for our own heights, demonstrate our own grace in failure, and engage in the communities around us.

As young parents struggling with small children, we re-prioritize our lives to focus on a monumental task, as we always do when faced with an immediate and crucial need. But in the long term, our children should not be our only or even our number one focus.

It is often said that children are like sponges. They learn by observing and by mimicking. What can a parent, no matter how attentive, possibly teach a child in the long run if he or she isn’t taking the time to know herself, to dust off her childhood wonder , and to embrace new challenges?

So here is my challenge to all of us, when it’s the right time: Make time for yourselves. Make time for your spouses. Make time for your friends.

Take the time to remember what it means to be you and to explore those things that were important to you before you had children.

Do all of this, not in spite of your children, but for your children. They don’t need you to just be nannies –a nanny is a position, a job, not a person, and certainly not a parent. Children need parents. And parents are individuals first, and nannies second.

Sean SuttonSean Sutton lives in Ottawa, Canada with his wife and two children, Chloe and Emily. He spent much of this year on paternity leave following Emily’s birth and started a blog to document his experience.

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