If I had to sum up in one word what it feels like to be a parent—the day-to-day reality of parenthood—I’d say conflicted. You want your kid to sleep in, but you can’t wait for the day’s first hug. You want to feed him a healthy breakfast, but when he asks for “bown suga, yeah!” on his oatmeal, you can’t resist. You want to be by his side at all times… unless he’s rage crying because you made him put his milk back in the fridge.
You love your kids without restraint, but you also can’t wait for them to just fall asleep already. It’s a conflicted life. Sometimes painfully so. Recently, it’s been more painful than ever, as my wife and I have been struggling through the decision to enroll our son, Macklin, back into daycare.
This short 500-word column is nowhere near enough room for me to explain what a blessing it has been to spend the past 18 months as a stay-at-home dad. I had no idea what I was doing at the outset, and I’m still not sure I’m qualified to be my son’s primary influencer. It was an experiment forced upon us by two less than acceptable daycare experiences when Mack was still a baby. Now, with those memories still relatively fresh in our minds, we’re preparing to try it all over again.
The conflict is this: I know quite well that Mack is going to thrive, but I don’t want to let go. I don’t even like thinking about it. Our time together has changed me so much for the better—and in so many different ways—that it’s hard for me to imagine giving it up.
A few months ago, I had several job opportunities float my way, which was the first time I was really confronted with this idea of having to say goodbye to my son for eight hours a day, five days a week. I hadn’t necessarily been looking for a new job, and Macklin was still on the daycare waiting list. In other words, none of us were quite ready. So, when a couple of those opportunities turned into offers, I had an easier time rationalizing my way to maintaining the status quo.
This time around, however, it’s Macklin that has been presented with the opportunity. He’s the one with an offer on the table, and it’s too good to turn down. His mom and I are still agonizing a bit over the decision, but watching as he toured his new classroom with an unshrinking grin on his face helped put us at ease.
When my wife first told me the news that she was pregnant, I cried. Hard. Not tears of joy like you’re probably thinking, but tears of fright. Even though we were trying for a baby, I was immediately afraid when confronted by the reality of it all. Afraid of how our lives would change. Afraid of being a bad parent. Afraid of saying goodbye forever to a life of independence. I had never felt so out of control of a situation. It was the most selfish reaction, and I’ll never completely forgive myself for it.
Two years and eight months later, I’m once again feeling the tears well up as I write this story. While still partly selfish, an acknowledgement that big changes are once again on the horizon, these tears are anything but fearful… and, in fact, strangely comforting. They’re proof that my psyche has changed and my emotions are no longer swallowed up in a vacuum of self-absorption. I’m still anxious, but for all the right reasons.