Six months ago, my life changed dramatically from that of a self-absorbed goal-seeking machine to a father of baby premature triplets, born at 27 weeks gestation. They were all very tiny, born at two pounds or under (less than a kilo) and we had a long, difficult ride to get to the stable point where we are now.
Vaulting into parenthood means that it’s not just about me any longer. I now had to care for a wife and three special-needs children.
I had big dreams before that, about how cool it would be to be a professional triathlete / musician / novelist / blogger / professor, but once the children came along, it became a priority to maintain my status at my day job with its generous paycheck, benefits, and family health insurance plan.
If I didn’t have health insurance, we’d be bankrupt already. The doctor’s bills have easily totaled over a million dollars for operations and extended stays in the hospital. It was four months in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit before my first child even came home.
There are a number of important realizations that came out of my experiences during these first six months. As with all great challenges, the lessons are spectacular. I’ve meditated long and hard in moments where I gazed into my children’s eyes during midnight feeds as to what this all meant. At first, I was a bit resentful that everything had to go on hold for the next untold number of years, but one night it finally hit me…I just needed to give myself a break and reassess my priorities.
It shouldn’t have to take an event such as birthing a small brood to make one reassess their life. Really, these lessons are easily applicable to any person’s life, whether you have children or not, if you take a few moments to understand and apply them.
Lesson #1. Less is generally more
But too much less is bad. Subtracting every material object from one’s home means, inevitably, a fair amount of sitting around twiddling one’s thumbs. It also means having to hit up your family, friends or neighbors each time you need a tool that was culled from your minimalist household. You don’t want your children growing up in rampant consumerism, nor completely devoid of any stimulation. When they go off to school, they are going to get assaulted by consumerism, by distraction.
The best approach is balance. It’s important that they have a taste of that beforehand and learn from you what the family’s priorities are.
Lesson #2. Life principals are more important than goals
Having financial goals, career goals, fitness goals, diet goals etc. all going on at the same time means less time for anything else, namely spending time with your family. With three babies there is not much time for me to do anything except care for their basic needs.
So, rather than a goal of losing thirty pounds by my next birthday, it’s best to adopt strong life principals such as eating till I’m only 80% full instead of enjoying the all-you-can-eat buffet, drinking only water and tea instead of the quick sugar high of soft drinks, spending five minutes to do some strength exercise or stretching instead of vegging out in front of the TV.
Lesson #3. Have a Goal (or Two)
Having said that, set a goal (not a dozen) for yourself. If you get one hour a day to work on a goal, then that is really something, but even ten minutes can help you make tremendous progress. The point of this is that you still have something that is exclusively yours, and not just for the sake of the brood.
Putting all of your goals on hold can lead to resentment and in times of stress, you don’t want to be using an argument with your children about how much you’ve sacrificed for them. You need to set your own challenges in life that you can overcome.
For me, my goal is writing and publishing a book, and giving myself 365 days to do it. Writing one page a day (200-300 words), each and every day, is a simple plan for achieving my goal.
lesson #4. Take Care of Yourself
This is a corollary to the previous tip. You’ll do your children no good if you don’t have the health and energy to take care of them. Additionally, they feed off your habits because you’re the greatest teacher that they have. So if you go through your day hunched over, tired, exasperated, they too will learn that this is how to approach life.
Of course, time is of the essence, so you may not have time to go jogging an hour a day, but you could do some cardio one day a week. Or spend a couple minutes outside, running or jumping rope. You can do wonders with just five to ten minutes of simple Yoga and stretching.
Feed your body properly and get adequate rest. The steps are not hard, but it does take some will to implement them on a daily basis.
This is the most difficult of the lessons for me to put into practice. It’s very easy to put health on the low end of the priority list. My children need me as they are growing up, and they need me to be healthy. Being unhealthy, or not being around at all is a tremendous burden for one’s family.
In order to prioritize this, I had to create a trigger to exercise and my preference is toward Yoga. If I tell myself that all I have to do is roll out the Yoga mat on the floor, then that becomes my trigger to sit down and do some poses.
Lesson #5. Keep Your Wits About You
When anger starts rising, that’s when it’s most important to mind the consequences. I can tell you that babies are stressful, and having multiple babies just compounds the situation. I’ve certainly been guilty of saying things out of frustration in the heat of the moment. But that’s when it’s most important to check your tongue, specifically before it escalates into something you can’t back down from.
Lesson #6. Practice Gratitude
This is perhaps the most important lesson of all.
Raising children is a series of beautiful highs and challenging lows. Remember, there are blessings all around you, regardless of your circumstances.
My wife and I went through four years of tests, frustrations and doubts followed by expensive fertility treatments before we were blessed with our triplets. We are very grateful for the entire process.
I make sure that I take time every night to write down five things that I am grateful for.
This started as a paper journal, then evolved into using the IPhone app, Gratitude, and is now grown into publicly declaring over at My Gratitude Log online. Five minutes, to write down five things is all you need. This practice alone is so enlightening that it will change your life.
In conclusion, I don’t really know what the next six months will bring, nor the next eighteen years after that, but I do know that there will be new challenges and even greater rewards and it is with this in mind that I embrace whatever the future may bring.
About the Author: For more articles on simplifying your life and opening up resources to develop what really matters in your life, check out Charley’s blog – You, Simplified. To see pictures and read about the triplets, head on over to Scribe for the Tribe.