A dispatch from your future self
Life after toddlers: it gets better. Or less exhausting, at least.
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This weekend I got a glimpse into the future, and I have promising news for parents of young children: it won’t always be this hard. It gets better. Kind of.
My sister and her kids came to stay with us here in Barcelona, our first real visitors since the before times. Spending time with your siblings as a fully-grown adult is a gift: there’s no one in this world who had the same childhood as you, but they’re the closest proxy you’ll ever find. We talked into the night, cracking up as we regaled each other with our own family fables, our partners looking on, laughing along, occasionally looking aghast, as we compared different perspectives on childhood events.
I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much I ended up with tears streaming down my face. The wine helped. Oh, did we ever drink a lot of wine. Whilst I was sad to see them leave, my liver was delighted, and has since been taking a well-earned period of rest and recuperation. Our stash of vino was so depleted my sister was compelled to apologise for “Tiger Who Came To Tea-ing your house” when departing on Sunday evening.
Her kids—my nephew and niece—are 12 & 9, a fair bit older that mine. Her partner’s kids bookend and bisect hers, at 14, 12 & 8. They had both forgotten, they happily admitted, the relentlessness of parenting young children. The constant need to be alert, protecting them from themselves, and every potential accident. The overwhelming exhaustion as you arrive at the end of yet another day, finally having soothed them into the night, praying you won’t see them again before 7am. And the inevitable collapse into a heap on the horizontal slab of preference, barely able to stitch a sentence together with a person you once promised to have and to hold, as you now take turns resting on each other’s chests in a valiant attempt to make it through a single episode of whatever show everyone is talking about this month.
They offered hope from the other side. It does get easier. Or, at least, less physically exhausting. “But don’t be fooled for a second,” they told us, “into the idea that it gets easy.” Whilst the fog of fatigue will, one day, pass, there will be new problems to deal with, incomparably more intricate. Some you’d expect—screen time becomes more of an issue, as does dealing with the drama from other people’s kids. Other issues are less predictable—at one house they’ve instigated a “no memes at the dinner table” rule, after countless evenings spent flummoxed whilst an army of adolescents regurgitate soundbites from YouTubers, or re-enact whatever the TikTok of the moment might be. And behind those issues lie even more, unsuitable for a public newsletter, where anyone involved might one day find, read, and intuit a connection.
Bodhi will turn three in a few weeks. I’m not wiling away, or willing away, any of these moments that could be a last time. I took him for a nap on Saturday, held his hand while he fell asleep, and took the opportunity to join him for an afternoon slumber. It won’t be like this forever—in ways that make me simultaneously excited and heavy-hearted. But I’m looking forward to being a little less tired. Soon.
3 things to read this week
“Many Teens Report Emotional and Physical Abuse by Parents During Lockdown” by Ellen Barry in The New York Times. If there’s a theme to this week’s newsletter, it’s that whilst life might get less physically exhausting, the problems will become more mentally taxing as our children grow up. The NYT covered a survey from the CDC where almost 55% of US teens admitted dealing with emotional abuse, and 11% suffered physical abuse, from a parent over the last year. “These data really confirm that we are in a severe crisis in terms of mental health among young people, particularly among female students and students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.”
“Why American Teens Are So Sad” by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. Thompson took the same study and outlined four reasons contributing to the almost doubling in “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” amongst US teens: increasing social media use; a reduction in real-life socialising; the ongoing stress from climate change, war and gun violence; and, finally, overbearing parents: "In the past 40 years, American parents—especially those with a college degree—have nearly doubled the amount of time they spend coaching, chauffeuring, tutoring, and otherwise helping their teenage children. Anxious parents, in seeking to insulate their children from risk and danger, are unintentionally transferring their anxiety to their kids.”
“Gen Z is the loneliest generation—and it's their parents fault” by Daniel Cox in Insider. Closing off a triple-header of bad times for teens, a separate study found that 56% of Gen Zers reported feeling lonely at least once a week during their childhood, compared with 24% of Boomers. Parents again form the crux of the issue, with a staggering amount of extracurricular activities eating away at opportunities to enjoy childhood. “It's clear that we're raising kids who are more accomplished but also lonelier and less socially connected. And we're setting these patterns in motion early.”
The shifting Overton window of Dad Rock
And now for something completely different. Many were rightly riled at McSweeney’s shifting of the dad rock Overton window, and re-christening their favourite bands under it’s banner. We go live to The National, and their lead singer Matt Berninger, to chart the evolution of becoming a dad rock dad:
2003. Matt writes “Slippin’ Husband” for The National’s second album. The lyrics tell the story of a friend, husband and father who is boring his friends to tears, and destroying his family, by dreaming of the life he could have led on another path.
You could have been a legend, but you became a father
That's what you are today, that's what you are today
Spending all your time, somewhere inside your head
Haunted by the important life you could have lead
But your kisses aren't enough to keep your kids in line
So you better straighten out yourself and give your baby time
Cause if you don't give her what she needs
She'll get it where she can, cause she's lonely, man
2010. Matt’s evolution of dad continues, as he talks to AV Club on the launch of “High Violet”, after becoming a father himself.
“Once you do have a child you want to talk about every detail of it. And it is really boring to all your friends and it should be. I was really worried about even going there at all. It was just such a big part of my life in the past two years. My daughter is almost 16 months old now. It was a major part of what was going on in my head, so it was going to get itself in there somewhere as much as I tried not to. But I think I was able to do it without being too annoying.
It hasn’t affected things much more than that I’m going to try and tour a little less. It’s hard to be away but it always was. When I was single, I had a hard time being away from home and just floating from place to place with so much time on highways or people’s floors. That’s the same. I’ll try and bring my wife and daughter on as much touring as possible. My wife, she knows I would not be as good a father or a husband if I were miserable and not able to chase this and stuff. So she’s been unbelieavably supportive and involved for years now.”
2019. Matt goes “full dad” as he raps alongside “The Helpsters,” Apple TV’s ersatz Muppets, deftly dropping big words like “sesquipedalian” into his flow. I’m genuinely curious—do musicians get paid to do things like this? Or do they do it for shits and giggles? Sesame Street obviously have a solid lineage of great musical guests, and when my daughter was younger and we watched Yo Gabba Gabba and I was always impressed by the calibre of artists they featured, including The Shins, MGMT, The Roots, Erkah Badu and The Flaming Lips. Answers to the usual address.
(Thanks to the dads in TNF community, who shared all three of these links over the last week.)
Nope, not done with dad rock yet
Radiohead are my favourite band of all time. I know, I’m a cliché, but it is what it is, and I like what I like. I finally got around to listening to Johnny Greenwood and Thom Yorke talk to Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett on the Smartless podcast. They touch on becoming parents and the role their kids play in the creative process, and Johnny shares a great story about his son’s taste in music:
“I remember being really, really anxious that one of my sons didn't seem to like music. And then this was when he was 12 he suddenly said “I found something I really like, it's an artist called Lybrec.” And I thought “ah yes, Lybrec, he’s an German techno guy, I'm sure I've heard of him”.
He said “I listen to it all the time.” I thought “Finally he's got some exciting, cool taste.”
And he gave me his his phone. And it was Liberace.”
The whole thing is worth checking out. Jason and Will are huge fans, so there’s a lot of fawning, with Johnny and Thom deflecting awkwardly. But if you’re a fan, it’s well worth you time.
Previously on The New Fatherhood
Last weekend we had a good ol’ chinwag about hobbies, and touched on gardening, skincare routines, and other positive distractions. Here’s a few highlights.
“I have been into pop up cards/books for some time, but now im trying to learn more professional mechanisms. I love creating something unique for special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries). It doesn’t take lots of time, but people really love getting them!” Sebastian
“Lately, I’ve been leaning into cooking. My primary non-child related accomplishment while being on paternity leave has been perfecting a (American) biscuit recipe. I’ve also been into gardening though I’m late getting my seedlings going this year.” Jim
“Recently I've started weightlifting (which is really not something I ever thought I'd do, lol) mostly because a friend needed a lifting buddy. I'm not trying to go crazy with it, but I'm four months in and really enjoying the extra energy in my body. I also stay home with my two year-old daughter a couple days a week, so having gym time gives things a nice balance.” Michael
“I got into 35mm film photography recently. These manually focused images are not perfect but feel very real and the colours are way nicer than anything that comes out from a phone. Feels like Christmas everytime I develop a roll!” Jonas
Things also touched on the difficulty in finding time for the hobbies we love after becoming parents.
“My daughter is now around 4 months and the change in hobbies has been one of the biggest struggles for me. There is a ton of info out there about not losing one's self and maintaining a person-parent balance so I won't get into it (I'm sure we all have experienced walking that particular tightrope). But, nonetheless trying to find time for myself has been tough.” Thomas
“Hobbies? As if. Sleep (or the eternal pursuit of it) seems the only available pastime. As a father of a 4.5 year old boy and a 1 year old girl, there is no time for anything really. Assume this improves.” Neil
It gets better Neil. The whole essay today was inspired by your comment.
Wrapping up with a long one, but worth sharing in full.
“I came here to write pretty much the same thing. I'm a serial hobbyist and it's an important part of my life. I knew going into parenthood that the loss of time was going to be one of the harder parts for me, and it has been. It didn't help that I've caught so much daycare crud this winter that running, the hobby that keeps me healthy and is easiest to fit into a busy day, has completely fallen by the wayside.
I can tell you from the far side of 9 months (which probably feels ages away to you but will arrive in a flash) that it's slow but it does improve. I'm sleeping better and have a little more energy. Naps are long enough that I can actually tackle a meaningful task with reasonable confidence that he'll stay asleep. Someday soon he'll be able to toddle around and keep himself entertained for short periods while I putter in the garden or whatever. Whenever winter finally goes away, we're going to take our first jog in the jogging stroller
And, one thing I'm very much looking forward to as he gets older is involving him in some of my hobbies and going along for the journey on whatever hobbies he wants to get into. One of my friends does woodworking with his 5 year old daughter and it melts my heart.” Ian
Thank you to all the dads who continue to take part in these threads and continue to overturn my long-held internet rule of never reading the comments.
Have a question you’d like to ask one Friday? Hit reply and send it my way.
Want free subscriptions to your favourite Substacks?
Wrapping up this week with the bit of the newsletter where I attempt to convince you to exchange your hard earned cash for my effort putting TNF together. But today is your lucky day, because instead I’m passing on a request from the folks at Substack who are looking for interview participants for a one hour research interview, after which you’ll be given a $60 Amazon gift card (booooo) or a $120 Substack voucher (yay) that can be used for two of your favourite publications (*coughs*)
Head over here if you’re interested.
This was a fun one to write. Did you like this week’s issue? Your feedback helps me make this great.
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