Fatherhood has been a fascinating, frightening, fulfilling journey. The journey so far has been full of lessons, 5 of which I would like to share here…
5 Findings on Fatherhood From a Fairly Fresh-Faced Father
“So how does it feel being a dad?”. That question always brings a smile to my face, as it leads to several moments of self-reflection and contemplation, which then confuses the person who has asked me because they are then just standing there looking at me smiling in the distance and not saying anything.
Fatherhood has been a fascinating, frightening, fulfilling journey. Although the last eighteen months have felt like a blur, there are also some very vivid memories that I doubt I will ever forget: The moment I knew it was time to go to the hospital for the birth and the entire journey through labour, or when I witnessed my daughter enter the world. Her first smile, her first word (which was Baba, obviously…), her first steps.
Having the challenges brought about by COVID and the pandemic added a new dynamic to life. All the expectations in the leadup to the birth had to change. No ante-natal classes, not being able to attend scans and check-ups, not being able to actively share the joy in the build-up to the birth, all brought about difficulties, emotions and tests that only Allah and His wisdom and mercy could guide us through. My daughter was born during the Autumn of 2020, which was essentially peak lock-down. Birthing partners were not to accompany the expecting mothers-to-be until active labour and had to instead wait in their cars in nervous anticipation.
Meanwhile, the government was promoting an Eat Out to Help Out campaign, where they encouraged groups of people to dine in restaurants. It was bizarre because if the rules were followed, the only way I would have been able to constantly be there for my wife during the birth was if she was to give birth at a Nandos. Alhamdulillah, Allah created the circumstances that meant I was there for the birth. And Subhanallah, witnessing the birth is something one can never forget. A truly surreal, awe-inducing, a miraculous experience that makes you marvel at Allah’s might and mercy all the more.
Then the real fun began.
The journey so far has been full of lessons, 5 of which I would like to share here. I thought it would be best to split it into three 6-month parts to signify my reflections and findings over the last 18 months.
Birth to 6 months
1. Mothers are miraculous
It is related that The Holy Prophet Mohammad said in his well-known discourse, “The heaven is under the feet of the mothers.”
This statement rang true in my ears after what I had witnessed from before the birth, to the birth itself, to everything after. Honestly, mothers go through a whole universe of challenges, including the craziest thing which is firstly carrying another whole, growing, moving human inside them, and then pushing said little human out, while maintaining their grace. Then, after that ordeal, they need to then feed them and ensure they are well looked after, all while recovering. It really is incredible and truly super-human.
2. As the father, be there.
After this realisation that mothers are the real superheroes (a relation that is only profound if experienced first hand and goes beyond the words anyone could ever tell you), I was naturally asking myself how I can fulfil my role as a father to the best of my ability. There are the expected job-shares between the two parents such as nappy duties, nap times and baths, maybe even some cleaning if you’re really lucky. The specific roles also usually kick in, with the father going to work and the mother looking after the child.
However, what I learnt was that just as there is a need to be emotionally available during the marriage pre-kids, there is an even greater need for the dad to be there for the mum, especially during the first 2 months post-partum. This period is when the dreaded baby blues kick in for the mother, so being the support for them as the father is all the more important. In general, parenthood is optimal when both parents are involved, but more importantly on the same page and are helping one another on the journey.
3. Sleep is the biggest thing you will lose
To this day, I can count the number of days I have had a sound night’s sleep on 2 hands, and that is because I was away from my wife and daughter for those nights! As a unit, I don’t think we have experienced a night where my daughter has slept through for months. Some children sleep through the night, others do not. However, for the first six months, sleep will be something you will need to consider sacrificing more than anything else. I initially resisted this realisation for a very long time, which led to frustration and annoyance.
However, after a lot of stubborn resistance, as my body, and more importantly, my mindset adapted and accepted this new reality, and with it, my expectations on how many hours I could get a night, some level of composure returned to life and it became a bit easier to deal with. There will be times when you will spend hours upon hours trying to put your little one to bed while trying to ensure that your wife gets enough rest after looking after the child for the day. You will then put them down in their bed, turn around and hear them pipe up again. It happens… a lot.
Subhanallah, these are all tests from Allah to develop us as. If we learn from these tests and overcome them by adapting, we will come out the other side a lot stronger inshaAllah.
6 months to a year
4. Patience is paramount
In a more general sense, your patience will be tested to unimaginable levels to what you have experienced pre-children. I experienced situations that I had never anticipated and therefore did not know how to react, which felt excruciating. There was, and still is, that natural sense of panic that kicks in at those moments. The experience can be very overwhelming. You have a baby that is crying for an unknown reason, you have exhausted all your solutions based on all the books you have read, all the advice you have been given, all the burping you have done. With each passing minute, you’re thinking “Now what? What’s wrong??”
What got us through those tough times, and what I know will get us through the others to come, is the unity my wife and I had, and more importantly the reserves of patience and resilience we had to build within each other with each experience.
Increased patience helps us regulate our emotions, which then frees our brains up to then think of better solutions and act accordingly, while also letting our instincts kick in. The alternative is to flip out and lose that composure, which basically adds fuel to the fire and does not help the situation at all.
I found that in order to build these reserves of patience, I needed to take some time to reflect after each experience, and spend it recharging and speaking to my wife. Sharing the lessons you have both learnt and offloading allowed us to fill up our cups so that we had the capacity to deal with the next situation, with the added advantage of the feedback we had shared with one another to help us along the journey. This requires transparency and open, honest communication, portrayed in a kind way so that both parents can benefit.
12 – 18 months
5. Connection is key
You may notice how quickly your kid adapts to things, and how quickly they transition from one development stage to the other. When my daughter was a month old and lying on her back for most of the day, I couldn’t fathom how quickly she would then sit up, crawl, stand up and start walking, from that stationary position. What I found amazing about it was that once they make the transition, they adapt so quickly that it then feels like they have been doing it since birth!
They develop at a near exponential rate and their brains are like a really absorbent sponge, picking up the most unexpected things along the way. It is important to realise that you are the most influential person in your child’s life. You are their point of reference, the person they model their behaviour on, the person they trust to guide them along their journey through life. The need for you to constantly connect with them is therefore paramount. Ditch the highlight reel and tune in for the full experience, and I guarantee that you will have a more enriching experience while getting to know your child.
When I thought about this, I then began to ponder on how my daughter’s actions would reflect my own and how careful I had to be to act appropriately and with utmost Akhlaq so that she would learn to do so as well.
She was always observing when we were together. I then had this thought that has stuck with me ever since the early days of the journey; If I am so worried about my daughter mirroring my actions that I feel I need to improve my actions to become more God-centric, why am I not already doing this for Allah? The Creator, the All-Knowing, who we ought to be dedicating our lives to worship and serve, and who has knowledge of all my actions?
I realised that I ought to flip the situation, aiming to act in a way that pleases Allah while then being mindful of my daughter and any future children picking up on my actions. It is still a major work in progress, but I have noticed that our efforts to create an Islamic environment in the household has started to bear fruits, with my daughter mimicking our movements when we pray, as an example! During the first few years, I have read that our children learn best through observation and through the actions of others, particularly those who they trust and are around most. It is therefore up to us to fulfil our duties as Muslims and maintain good Akhlaq, so that our children can do the same.
At the end of the day, it will all come good inshaAllah. It really is up to you to make it so, while relying on Allah always.