Lessons from my first year as a parent

My favorite passage on parenting from Kahlil Gibran says this on the subject of learning – “Strive to be like them. Seek not to make them like you.”

In that vein, here are the top five lessons I’ve learnt from watching our infant become a walking, babbling one year old.

  1. Be clear about what you are optimizing for and be engaged when you’re pursuing it. Babies have a high level of clarity about what matters to them at any given moment. Sleep matters most. If sleep isn’t taken care of, all else is futile. Food comes next. Again, if their stomachs aren’t full, they pursue that single mindedly. And, if they’re playing, they’re fully engaged in doing so.

    I’ve found that clarity and engagement to be very inspiring. This is coincidentally the year I decided to engage on my engagement with life. I didn’t realize then that my role model for engagement was right at home. “Strive to be like them” rings very true.

  2. The natural thing to do after a fall is to get back up. When kids learn a new skill like pulling up or walking, they’re extremely comfortable with falling. They expect to fall and pick themselves up each time. When our daughter learned to pull herself up, she’d do it 300 times a day. It was mind blowing. A great reminder that failure is not the falling down, it is the staying down.
  3. Find delight in simple things. The bar for delight is low. If it isn’t a simple game of peek-a-boo, it could just be a bunch of stacking cups. I’ve become more aware that our happiness is simply a measure of our reality compared to our expectations. If our expectations are low, it is really easy to be happy.
  4. Be ready to smile, love and trust – if people prove themselves worthy of it. In a wonderful post about parenthood, Jeff Atwood wrote –

    I wasn’t sure how to explain meeting new people to Henry, so I decided to just tell him we’ve met a new “friend” every time. Now, understand that this is not at all the way I view the world. I’m extremely wary of strangers, and of new people in general with their agendas and biases and opinions. I’ve been burned too many times. But Henry is open to every person he meets by default. Each new person is worth greeting, worth meeting as a new experience, as a fellow human being. Henry taught me, without even trying to, that I’ve been doing it all wrong. I realized that I’m afraid of other people, and it’s only my own fear preventing me from opening up, even a little, to new people that I meet. I really should view every new person I meet as a potential friend. I’m not quite there yet; it’s still a work in progress. But with Henry’s help, I think I can. I had absolutely no idea my child would end up teaching me as much as I’m teaching him.

    So. True.

  5. Change is the only constant – so, be willing to adapt. There’s a certain amount of flexibility that comes with having a baby around the house.  They have a rough schedule but they may or may not stick with it. The good news is they’re just as open to changes in your plans as well – change is expected.

    This has been the toughest learning for me. I wrote about this a few weeks ago in a post titled “It giveth and it taketh.” From that post –
    There are these moments of sheer awesomeness interspersed with moments of “Oh god – there goes another one of my well laid plans.”

    That’s the interesting thing about what “it taketh” – it says a lot about me and my expectations of the process. The more I plan and I expect, the more I feel “it taketh” and the more I find myself needing to learn to let go and grow.

    In that sense, parenting is a lot like other great journeys (school, challenging projects, engaging jobs, marriage, etc.)  – it is what you make of it. The more you give, the more it takes out of you and the more you grow in the process.

Year one has been a fascinating learning journey. Looking forward to many more.