They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something.
If that’s true, then by my calculations I’m only about a third of the way to mastering being a parent of a 0-1 year old.
Still, as the single activity that I spent more time on than any other in the past year
I feel compelled to write and reflect on it a bit.
Specifically—on the things I’ve learned about being a parent, the things I wish someone had told me going in,
and the things I’ve come to realize about myself.
If I’m lucky maybe I’ll reach some new parent at the right time and save them a few lessons learned the hard way.
Note: this post is not about how to raise children. It’s about how to be a parent.
You know, how to take care of yourself while dealing with this tireless monster that has
suddenly invaded every aspect of your life.1
Dealing with chaos and disorder are two major adjustments in year one.
Cartoon from Nathan W. Pyle’s Strange Planet.
Alright, lets dive into the meat of it. Starting with…
The Highest-Leverage Change You can Make in Year One
That’s right, I’m actually declaring this the best and most important piece of advice in the whole post.
Are you ready?
The #1 thing that I will recommend to all new parents is… sleep training.
Sleep training is far and away the highest ROI activity that we undertook in terms of time / effort / emotional
investment to direct improvement in quality of life.
Basically you go through a rough-ish three days where you have to listen to your kid cry for up to an hour
when you put them to bed and it’s hard and sad, and then you come out on the other side and you
never have to worry about putting them to bed again.2
It’s magic. You get back hours and hours of terrible
Sleep training really isn’t discussed enough. It’s so easy and so effective.
And, from a whole lot of reading as well as anecdotal and firsthand experience—it’s incredibly consistent.
I cannot recommend this strongly enough.
Your sleep is important, and the training itself is so so easy relative to the reward size.
The book we read on how to sleep train was Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
but honestly you can probably learn all you need by Googling a few blog posts.
Note that you have to wait till your child is old enough (we did it around six months).
Other Opinionated Big-Picture Advice
Everyone wants to give you advice when you become a parent.
So I like to recommend a tip I got from my friend Anthony whose only advice was “don’t listen to anyone else’s advice.”
Basically, every parent needs to choose what’s right for them and their child and no one will
know that better than you.
That out of the way: here’s my best advice.
And, remember, I’m focusing on the parent experience.
It’s gonna take another 25 years before I’ll know whether this worked on the child.
But these are the best set of tips and things I wish someone had told me that I can offer.
When we were expecting, the advice I got from a dad who seemed to have everything figured out was very simple: do stuff.
Get out of the house. Go out to dinner. Go on vacations. Live your life. Bring the kid.
My experience has been 100% aligned with this. Watching a baby is tiring. And boring.
Yes, it has its moments which I’ll get to, but by and large watching a baby is about not killing them and passing the time.
Well, turns out humans are pretty easy to not kill—it’s the time passing that’s tough.
Another benefit of getting out of the house is that it creates more Instagrammable moments.
Getting out solves that problem.
Instead of sitting around with a crying baby at home and fighting with your partner about who’s gonna deal with it,
you go out to dinner.
Yes, sometimes it’s tiring, and sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes you end up in an awkward place with a crying baby,
but by and large the quality of life is just so much better than sitting at home.
Also, the other thing getting out does is teach your kid how to deal with being out.
Which is great, because then as they age and start to develop free will they don’t fight—e.g. being in a carseat or being
in a carrier—and you continue to have greater freedom and flexibility.
Getting out is particularly easy in the first few months when your kid has no schedule, no mobility, and is basically a plant.
This is the best time to go out to dinners, parties, whatever.
For the first couple months there isn’t actually a huge difference between your child and a plant.
A very, very, needy plant.
As babies age and start getting bored, mobile, and bedtime-constrained, the space of places, things,
and times you can go out starts to narrow, but there’s still an overwhelming amount of kid-friendly
stuff in the world to do and see.
Go get out there!
Differentiate Quality and Non-Quality Time
By and large, there are two types of time with kids.
Time where you are deliberately spending time together and doing something / appreciating one another.
And time you are just trying to survive and hope goes by as quickly as possible.
For me, in the beginning it mostly felt like non-quality time, and then as Lockwood grew older and more interactive,
hanging out with him started getting a lot more fun.
Here’s how I think parents should navigate this distinction:
- Identify which time you are in (quality or non-quality)
- If you are in non-quality: divide and conquer.
Do not force the whole family to spend low-quality time together.
Rather, distribute the load between mom and dad and any other caregivers
you might have around and give others a break to take care of themselves.
- If you are in quality: enjoy and appreciate it.
It’s mostly about mindset. The moment you realize you’re in quality time you’ll gain a lot more appreciation of the small things,
the element of family, etc. rather than watching the clock.
Also—and this is a bit more advanced—with a bit of mind-hackery you can sometimes convert non-quality time to
quality time and then your experience of the situation suddenly improves.
Meaning, time “having to deal with baby” becomes time “getting to hang out with baby”.
I recommend attempting this mindshift when forced upon child care duty—especially when you have some energy.
Meditation techniques can help with the framing change.
That said, sometimes—especially when you’re zombie-level tired—your capacity for quality time appreciation
is basically nonexistent.
In that case it’s—in my opinion—totally fine to be less-than-present.
Lord knows your kid is not sitting there appreciating you when he’s desperately trying to climb on
furniture or shove paper in his mouth.
So I’d say, don’t skewer yourself if occasionally you stare at your phone for a bit while your kid plays safely in the corner.
Sometimes we all need to recharge. Just make sure this doesn’t prevent quality time from happening too.
Bite-sized Tidbits I Wished Someone Had Told Me
In no particular order…
When you first have a kid you think you are not going to get continuous sleep for two years.
I even led my two-week parenting blog with that statement.
But at least for us, the worst period ended up being much shorter than that.
Yes, the first few months are brutal, but by 6 months we were lucky to be getting about as much sleep as before kids.
Sleep training probably helped a lot.
When buying pajamas, do not get buttons.
Have you ever thought about how many buttons are needed to keep an entire outfit together?
That’s how many buttons you have to fasten on squirming, crying child. In the dark.
Every time you change a diaper.
Zips are a thousand times faster and easier.
The Costco ones are super cheap and great.
I have nothing to add. This Tweet is perfect.
I’m not going to make a value judgment on breast-fed versus formula, but what I will say is that
if you want your kid to be exclusively breastfed, and mom wants to go back to work, you have two options:
- She can spend literally weeks pumping tiny amounts of extra milk to build up enough stash
for three bottles of milk to “bootstrap” the first day.
- You can give your kid one day’s worth of formula and save mom like 10 hours of time.
What sounds better to you?
Putting Stuff in their Mouths
You can spend a lot of time hovering over your kid taking everything out of their mouth the moment something foreign goes in.
Or you can let them put whatever they want in their mouth and they figure out what is and is not food pretty quick.
You still have to keep an eye out to avoid broken glass, cigarette butts, choking hazards, etc.
But wood chips, grass, sand, and most things you find in a park are all relatively benign.3
And letting them go in the mouth makes watching your kid a whole lot easier.
To my knowledge, no child has ever died from putting wood chips in their mouth.
It sucks, but I’d recommend every mom and dad do at least a few days solo with your kids.
It really helps with empathy and understanding of the things that the other partner always handles
(in my case this was food preparation and night feeding).
Plus giving your partner a break—and getting one—feels great.
Psychologically, there’s nothing quite like a night away from the child where you can’t even help
if you wanted to. It fosters a kind of guilt-free indulgence that is almost impossible to get at home.
Giving both parents this opportunity is good for everyone’s long term mental health and your relationship.
Buy about three times more pacifiers than you think you’ll possibly need, and buy more as soon as you’re down
to 3 or 4 left (because they will get lost, and much faster than you think).
Trust me, you do not ever want to be in a position where you need a pacifier and can’t find one.
It’s just not worth it.
A WhatsApp message I literally got this morning.
Being a parent exercises many mental muscles you never knew you’d need, including:
dealing with sleep deprivation, patience, and feigned enthusiasm.
Honing these skills will help a lot, though you probably won’t have a choice either way.
Some Mushy Feel-Good Musings to Close
I used to joke—though thought I was serious—that I didn’t really want to have kids.
What I wanted was a 5-year-old in five years.
And it turns out there’s not a lot of alternate paths to achieving that other than the whole having kids thing.
One year in, I’m completely overwhelmed by how poorly I predicted how I’d react to children.
I know everyone says that you can’t appreciate it until it happens to you,
but I always thought that was some messed up Stockholm Syndrome cult of lies that parents told themselves to
justify the fact that they had become boring and essentially given up their lives.
Well turns out it’s totally right.
I can’t figure out why rolling around on a bed tickling my son and hearing him giggle gives me so much irrational joy,
but I can say that it does, and it’s real.
And it’s awesome.
It’s a weird and wonderful thing being responsible for a new human’s experience of the world.
It’s a huge responsibility and it’s a huge joy. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Hoping for many more years of fun with this little guy.
I drafted this post on Lockwood’s first birthday.
- Just kidding Lockwood! I love you!
- For the most part. There are these occasional things called “sleep regressions” that you will come to know and love.
- There’s even some evidence that suggests this exposure can be healthy for their immune system and such—though
that might just be me telling myself what I want to hear so I can let my child eat rocks…