The moment I first held my newborn daughter in my arms
Posted in Commentary on Jun 5, 2013
This is a personal post, not a technical one. We tell ourselves a lot of lies that are not okay. I want to out one of them. It is important to be real, to be true to oneself. This matters.
The lie starts something like this: the moment I held my newborn child in my arms, I looked into her tiny face and felt an all-encompassing, pure love. I was breathless. I could not think, speak, or move. My life was complete, and I knew I was changed forever in that instant. I knew that I would do anything for this tiny creature, even give up my own life.
This script is repeated ad nauseum in books, TV shows, movies, songs, and most of all, person-to-person. If you have children, ask yourself, is this honestly the experience you had? No? Well, you’re not alone, because this is by and large an absurd lie. Unsurprisingly, psychologists who study attachment can tell you that most people take time – some of them a lot of time – to become strongly attached to their children. If you don’t have this phony experience of mindblowing love at first sight, nothing is wrong with you. You are perfectly normal and this is okay.
Many men, in particular, don’t feel strong feelings for their children until many months or even years have passed. I know not only through my own experience, but also because I’ve asked literally dozens of fathers, and heard not one single story that matches what we’re told we should feel by popular media. Shockingly, some men never feel the feelings of fatherly attachment we’re taught we should feel. And that includes many of the best fathers that have ever lived.
If you aren’t a father, maybe you don’t know this, but infants do very little for a long time. They are helpless and confused, and they can’t move, they don’t recognize you, they don’t smile, they don’t laugh, they don’t express affection. They cry, poop, sleep, and eat, and they generally make you cry by interfering with your own pooping, sleeping, and eating. By the time children even begin to crack a smile, parents and grandparents have spent sleep-deprived months mistaking fart grimaces as smiles, out of a desperate desire to believe it’s a smile. Beyond smiles, it takes a long time until children return hugs or say “Daddy!” or snuggle or want to sit on your lap with a book and read.
The experience of being a father is very special, but let’s not lie to ourselves and give ourselves inferiority complexes if we don’t feel anything but exhausted and irritated for a long, long time after a child is born. Be patient and honest with yourself. It is more important to be honest than to conform to ridiculous expectations.
Why do we perpetuate this harmful and inappropriate lie about our blinding love for our children? Maybe it’s because we are confused about what love is. Love is not a feeling, it is the act of caring for another’s well-being, through conscious decision and a huge effort against internal resistance, because you know it is the right thing to do and for no other reason. Loving feelings are sometimes a result of loving action, and often don’t come soon or strongly, but real love is not conditioned upon the feelings, because they are an effect, not a cause. If you’re interested in this line of thought, I recommend reading “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck. Love is not a feeling. I know this is not what most cultures teach, but it’s true.
And if you do have an amazing experience of overwhelming feelings in those first few moments, be a little reserved in how you share it with others, okay? It could be a great favor (an act of love, in fact) to a great many people.