“Amazing”, “joyful”, “rewarding”, these were never words I would have used to describe my impending parenthood, though other people threw them around quite liberally. I was more likely to go with “terrifying”, “life-destroying” or “catastrophic”.
I was pretty sure that having children was going to completely lay waste to my current lifestyle, an indulgent existence of going out late and sleeping in later that I was really quite attached to. I went in to the whole fatherhood thing expecting it to be a complete disaster, and I only got it half right.
Why do it? The love of a good woman, and the trust that it would be an interesting ride, if nothing else. But I did not take the leap expecting it to be like an episode of Full House – and going into the whole experience with a bar set too low to limbo under turned out to be the perfect start.
As a bloke, I was allowed to express this doomsday scenario freely and openly, which was also quite cathartic. Guys really are the Jeremy Corbyn of parenting – going in, everyone expects a complete failure so even when we lose, we win.
My low expectations of the parenting game came from a woman, however: my mother, whose experience as a teen mum was as tough as you would imagine, even with some great family support. Still, she was quite clear about the devastating effect that the whole parenting thing can have.
Funny thing about breeding though, even with very low-expectations, sometimes they were not low enough.
I expected to lose sleep. But I did not expect to be woken hourly for two years, only to discover that our eldest had sleep apnoea. One tonsil operation later and he was sleeping like that proverbial baby, but by then we had a second, non-proverbial baby that was up all night.
I expected I would do things for my children that put me out of my comfort zone. But – as someone with a phobia of bugs – I did not expect to become a breeder of stick insects. You know, those huge, lobster-looking insects that torment Kate Capshaw in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Well, thanks to a suggestion from another parent, we bought two insects, then successfully raised another batch from eggs. I once drove from Sydney to Melbourne with 40 newborn bugs in a makeshift cage in the back seat of the car because we couldn’t leave them alone for a week.
You won’t find a picture of a stick-insect infested car back seat when you search a stock photo library for “fatherhood”, but you should.
I expected that parenting would force me into contact with people I would not have anything in common with. But I did not expect to have a conversation with a father about his child’s poor behaviour only to have him just stop talking and just stare at me. For a seriously squirm-worthy amount of time. He just stood there bug-eyed and silent, like he was trying to make my head explode with a Jedi mind trick.
Sometimes these lower-than-expected lows were a bit scary, but mostly my pessimistic approach meant I better appreciated the highs. For all the lost sleep there were also the mornings my children would come into bed for a cuddle. For every odd parent there was a new pub buddy.
I was even a little proud when we donated our stick insect family to the Melbourne Museum, where they are still on display.
Above all, my low-ball approach meant that my relationship with my children could develop without pressure. I did not worry when they popped out and I did not instantly adore them; it took time to grow into the step-in-front-of-a-bus love that I had heard about.
Not putting pressure on myself, or bowing to the pressure that people, often unwittingly, put on new parents meant less stress, because a house with a newborn is plenty stressful enough. I avoided the trap of constantly chasing parenting highs only to be disappointed; I may have been in the parenting gutter but I was looking up at the stars.
With the teen years not far away it might be time to hit the reset button on my expectations. I am digging this parenting thing now, but I realise that things are unlikely to continue this smoothly – particularly if they take after me.