Being a martial artist for the vast majority of my life, I feel as though my self-discipline is exemplary. This was until my son was born. Then things changed. I was so disciplined that I never pulled an all-nighter in college, never missed a class in college until I was a senior, lost 60 pounds in one year through rigorous exercise and dieting, started a business while working full time as an engineer and finishing grad school…ok you get the idea.
The structure and routines I lived by were essential to me. I never understood how people just floated through life, flying by the seat of their pants. Prior to the birth of my son, I had things planned out through the pregnancy, the first few months, and even the ongoing situation of being a parent. My wife and I came to the agreement that I would be the primary care giver since I had a successful business with a flexible schedule and to be honest, I really wanted to do it.
I realized quickly that I was no longer in charge and my structure and routines meant absolutely squat. My son was the new king of the castle and his routine was what we were going by. Then the COVID19 pandemic occurred and what remained of the self-disciplined, structured, routine oriented life I was used to flew away like a virus in the wind (if only COVID would do the same).
Looking back at the last 14 months, I actually feel as though I was able to maintain some sense of order and discipline in my life despite the circumstances. The following are some tips and lessons I learned that may be helpful to new dads out there.
As I mentioned, I was big on routines. Just because the routine you had pre-fatherhood is no longer feasible, it does not mean you just throw it all out. Find a new routine that coincides with your child’s. The exception to this is the first 3 months. During the first 3 months, you are in survival mode. If you can have a daily routine during the first 3 months you need to write a book on it because it would be a best seller. If you are the primary care giver, I would recommend you plan at least one day a week for yourself. This could be even just an afternoon or evening once a week. This small routine will allow you to have a small sense of a routine and allow you some much needed self-care, even if all you want to do is catch up on sleep. After 3 months you should be getting a little more sleep as your child starts to sleep more at night and you can start a routine. Do not try and schedule too much as you will never get it done and you will end up frustrated and/or overwhelmed. You will be doing much less but you can still be productive if you use the next tip.
If you’re like me, you want to do everything, solve everything, fix everything, check off everything on the to do list. With a new baby that is not going to happen. A baby’s routine is pretty simple: eat, play, sleep, repeat. Every child is different, but this is the general plan for all babies. As they get older the durations of each item will change but it will still follow this general structure. You can structure your routine around play time and sleep time. As I mentioned, you won’t get everything done so you need to prioritize. Even though I am the primary care giver, I still work. My schedule is flexible though so I can deprioritize work at times. My prioritization looks like the following:
- Take care of son’s needs (feed, change, bathe, put down for nap, play with him)
- My own self-care (exercise, meditate, read, rest)
- Work (many different tasks)
- Leisure (watch television, play games, puzzles/projects, play music)
My goal is to get one thing done in each area after 1) in the order presented above. Some days you will only get 1) done. Your child may be sick, and you need to go to the doctor then tend to him the rest of the day. That is fine, it happens. However, on an average day you won’t need to only tend to your child. You should be able to get one thing done in at least one other area with the goal of getting something done in all of them. If it is a great day and you have the energy to do more then go for it! If not, it is no big deal, don’t beat yourself up, which leads us to the next tip.
You didn’t sleep well last night and are exhausted. You don’t have the energy or motivation to exercise the next day even though you know it is important and the first of your priorities. Sound familiar? It probably sounds familiar to people without kids too! This will happen. In fact, this will happen more to new dads than to other people. Take it in stride and take it day by day. Make the goal of getting back on track the next day and forget about the previous. Sometimes I will have several days in a row like this and you will too. When this happens, I like to use a trick I call reset Mondays. I think of Monday as the start of the week. It is a fresh start. The previous week is in the past and I can move forward with a renewed motivation.
- Flexibility-Be Like Water
Just because you have this great routine all planned out and things are going smoothly, don’t get too excited. Things will undoubtedly change. Be prepared to pause what you are doing and resume it later or even resume it the next day. You will also need to change your routine as your kiddo gets older. This usually happens at the exact time you finally get a solid routine in place. As Bruce Lee stated, water flows and takes the shape of its surroundings, be like water my friend.
- Live in the present moment/Enjoy every second
With everything going on chaotically, trying to be the disciplined dad can be challenging and frustrating. When you are sleep deprived and haven’t been able to get anything done or stick to anything that resembles a routine, just remember to live in the present moment and enjoy every second. Your kid will do something that melts your heart and makes it all worthwhile. Remember that nothing lasts forever and cherish the time you have with your child watching him grow and develop into a little human, it is truly the best thing there is.
If you have any thoughts or ideas on being a disciplined dad, be sure to add comments to this post.