2023 – a year of dilemma and forced growth

this past year has been a struggle between adjusting to domestic life and the churn at work. there are definitely highlights but the lowlights were pretty low.

some of the places i got to visit and the events i got to witness this year:

  • Jan – Shawn and Karina’s engagement party in San Francisco
  • Mar – San Diego with Fan, Sunni, Jenn (sister), Paul (her boyfriend)
  • May – Montreal for Danny’s bachelor party
  • Jul – Banff camping with Fan, Sunni, Jenn, Paul
  • Aug – Mt Rainier camping with Jess, Jarod, Izzy
  • Sep – London for work (bless up for business class)
  • Oct – Sedona, AZ for Scotty’s bachelor party
  • Nov – Charlotte, NC for Danny’s wedding (I was a groomsman)
  • Nov – Bay Area, CA for work presentation, but brought Fan and Sunni
  • Dec – Cartagena, Colombia for Shawn and Karina’s wedding (I was best man <3), Hoang and Diana’s engagement
  • Dec – Costa Rica for family roadtrip with Fan and Sunni

Fan’s mom left at the end of February, and i used the last of my paternity leave to bridge the gap until Sunni started daycare in April. my life situation finally moved out of the transition period afforded by grandma, and it was painful. that first week, i literally developed high blood pressure from the sudden uptick in constant attention required to take care of an 11mo baby.

over the coming months, i felt like i was losing control of my life. there’s a strong correlation between happiness and the amount of freedom/autonomy you expect in your life. notice the verb i used – expect – as i’m sure previous generations will laugh at how easy i have it, and scoff at my minimal sacrifices. regardless, my reality is my reality and the adjustment was difficult for me.

becoming a parent was my choice and i have no regrets. my underdeveloped muscles of impulse control, familial obligation, and parenting were stress tested. it did get bad enough that i landed back in therapy, which thankfully saved my marriage and family. once again, please pay attention to your mental health and get help when you need it.

here are my learnings from the year. i hope they are useful in easing other people’s journeys.

  • be kind to yourself. this phrase gets repeated and repackaged so often that i mostly dismissed it. there are so many angles to deliver this kindness – materially, financially, emotionally. since i usually treat myself to whatever i wanted to eat or do, i thought i was being kind to myself. it was only in the depths of my unhappiness speaking again to a therapist that i realized i was unkind to myself emotionally. there was so much judgment and people pleasing in how i was living my life. my validation seeking manifested in behaviors that i had come to accept as normal: party until my body felt bad because others expect me to be fun, give my time and energy generously otherwise someone won’t like me, be a high performer at work otherwise i won’t be respected. the stress of it all came crashing down when i developed shingles in the fall. that was my body signaling to me that it had had enough, that i needed to change how i was living my life.
  • emotionally prepare for parenting. there’s the technical skills you need to develop – changing diapers, washing bottles, preparing food – but i personally think the emotional skills are harder to develop. can you provide the constant care and attention a toddler requires whilst regulating your energy and emotions? i recommend spending some time with parents and their children so you can observe what family life is life. start small by helping out at the playground or at a playdate, and then take on the kid solo for a few hours.
  • aim for a passing grade each day. Fan likes to emotionally self-flagellate when it comes to her parenting. in response, i remind her that out of the 100 decisions each day presents, she simply needs to make enough correct choices to get a passing grade. did you serve breakfast on time? did you give comfort when your kid hurt themselves? did you serve lunch on time? did you stay engaged during playtime? did you serve dinner on time? were you off your phone during bathtime?
  • get signoff from your partner on travel plans. this probably seems like relationship 101, but there is an expectations shift when a child joins the family. each weekend away from your family means your partner is solo with the kid. must you attend that bachelor party? that business trip? that camping trip? sometimes you can trade weekends like she can do 1 bachelorette party and you’ll do 1 bachelor party. communicate often and negotiate early.
  • continue dating your partner. life gets more complicated and compressed when you start a family. it’s easy to deprioritize 1-on-1 time with your partner in the hectic day-to-day, and weeks turn into months, and “suddenly” you are emotionally/romantically distant. entropy means everything in the universe decays over time, and your relationship is no exception.

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