Written by Matthew Rigberg, LHMC
“Oh, parenthood is amazing,” they told me. “I can now see how empty my life was before she was born,” was a fairly common refrain. And I looked at them sideways trying to figure out how their experience was so different than mine.
Of course, my wife and I were elated to welcome our first child. Throughout the first year, I existed on a combination of joy, fear, exhaustion, love and caffeine. LOTS of caffeine. My challenge was to continue engaging with my growing family while negotiating the compromises that parenting necessitates, including a fairly rapid reduction of “me” time. Talk about ripping the pacifier out…
A Whole New World
My wife and I chose to take on the challenges of early parenthood head on. Compromising with each other was harder than expected. Irregular and inconsistent sleep proved to be as exhausting as it sounds. Acknowledging that our interests came second to the baby’s meant that we had less time to spend with friends and family. In hindsight, I understand this transition as a catalyst of my personal growth.
Reconciling the loss of my pre-parent identity helped me prioritize new ways to engage in my family’s system and allowed me to define the type of father I wanted to be. I discovered fulfillment by taking care of my wife and child using strengths I was aware of, such as empathy and patience, while being compelled to uncover additional skills including organization and improved communication. Distractions that I previously held in high regard lost significant value. I am a better father (and human) for embracing the changes and challenges of parenthood.
A Pleasant Surprise in Compromise
One new skill I uncovered was cooking. Initially, taking on a larger role in the kitchen was necessary. Though, the more I planned menus, went grocery shopping and prepared meals, the less I felt like a passenger. I’ve become proud of the way that I can contribute to the health, nutrition and sustenance of my wife and children. I am emboldened by the way my children are adventurous eaters, partly because my contributions exposed them to new foods. I’ve yet to meet another five-year-old that can peel and eat edamame faster than my oldest daughter.
Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded…that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.
– President Barack Obama
And guess what? Cooking for my family brings back that “me” time, albeit in a way that I never imagined. Chopping veggies has become meditative and an opportunity for quiet reflection. A passion for cooking has led to conversations with my father and grandmother that I would have never had otherwise. My children have taken an interest in cooking and the kitchen has become a place where we connect and bond. I feel appreciated by my wife and swell a bit when she tells me, “I told my friends out at dinner that you could make most of the menu better at home.”
Take Initiative and Contribute!
Cooking for the family is not the solution for every parent. Yet, as partners and fathers, we can always find new ways to contribute, identify personal strengths and engage, rather than avoid, challenges. Remember, redefining one’s identity is an action of personal growth not limited to the provocations of young parenthood.
The truth is parenthood can be equal parts overwhelming, amazing and scary, so it’s important to take time to consider what type of parent we want to be. In part two of my blog, I’ll share some of the most impactful facts about parenthood through history and in today’s age, so stay tuned.