Bundles of joy and months of stress

pinneo1This week I was thinking back to when our first son was born. He was not your average cooing baby. He was super colicky. He wouldn’t sleep. He had a surplus of energy. He was demanding and fussy– and those were on the good days.

That was more than four years ago and, although still spirited, he has grown into a bona-fide and pleasant 4-year-old champion that my wife and I are extremely proud of – but she and I clearly remember the wailing, the sleepless night, the fear of wondering if we’re doing something (or everything) wrong … and we remember the stress. There was a lot of stress.

And then we had our second son, who although healthy now, was diagnosed with infant reflux and put on medication and a special diet at age three months. That was awful in every sense of the word.

I don’t know which one was more stressful – but I’m so glad they’re both healthy and alive.

I started thinking back to those days this week because of something horrible I read in the Boston Globe. It was a report that shaken baby syndrome had doubled in the past few months here in Massachusetts. To be clear, the syndrome happens when an adult shakes an infant so violently that its brain is severely injured, usually permanently and sometimes fatally. In many cases, it’s been discovered that the adult was driven to shake the baby because it was crying uncontrollably.

Experts linked the recent rise in Massachusetts to economic stress, the Globe reported.

I read of one 6-month-old baby who was brought to Boston Children’s Hospital with multiple fractures and bruises. My eyes welled up as I read the doctor’s remark about the “really sweet baby, who was so easily comforted and just snuggles right into your neck.”

Asked myself, “Who could do such a thing –and why?”

And then I remembered the stress.

The kind a man feels when he’s deprived of sleep, and feeling weak, empty and beaten by a small wailing babe no bigger than a loaf of bread.

When his life is no longer his own.

The kind that makes you want to rip your hair out.

Mentally poisonous stress – the kind of stress that distorts reality all out of proportion. A stress that, if not checked, could drive anyone to want to shake a baby.

But let be there be no mistake about this … no matter how bad it is for a man, it is far worse for his wife.

And although most babies do make it without their moms shaking them or hurting them … the stress is real and dangerous.

I think of it like holding a glass of water straight out in front of you. Easy work, no sweat. But as time goes on, and the longer she holds the glass, the heavier it seems. After a few minutes it’s noticeable. After a few hours it starts to burn. A day into it she’s going to be miserable and trembling. After holding it like that for a few days, she’s going need to get some help.

And as I reflected this week on the past four years, I realized what my role as a father and husband has become, and what it should have been then, but wasn’t for lack of experience.

I was focused on my career that would provide for my family. I was focused on money and the future.

Which is fine to a degree. But I was working overtime with my brain – and undertime with my heart.

I once read, a long time ago, that the best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother with everything he’s got. I naively and simply thought it sounded noble. But as father of two boys – it makes perfect sense to me now and is the foundation of my philosophy as a husband and a father.

I’ve come to see my role, as I hope every young father’s does in way or another, as the person in the family who kills stress, and keeps the home free of it. I want to take as much of my wife’s stress away, so she can be in a better place from day to day for herself, the kids and me.

Sure, us men get stressed and tired too, but no need to bring that through the door. Like knights, we wield a might sword when we’re out there in the wild (office), but we sheath it at home where it’s warm and the day’s catch of meat is cooking over the fire. No need for a sword there. No need to fight. I look forward to coming home and surrounding myself with the people who matter most and who give me joy and energy.

I leave work at work. It makes it easier to walk through the front door and say to my wife (though not in these words), “I know your day was more stressful than mine, what can I do for you.”

And then I take the glass of water and I hold it for while.

In all honesty, a lot of the time that means picking up after myself, not arguing over little things that I feel I need to stand my ground on – and just remembering, as best a caveman can, to be helpful by not making things worse.

And it means keeping my own stress in check.

In the next post, I’d like to explore various ways of coping with personal stress.

It’s like just before take off on an airplane an the attendant says if oxygen masks drop from the overhead, you should put yours on first before trying to assist someone else.

That makes sense. We gotta take care of ourselves if we’re going to take care of families.

We’ll talk about that soon. Feel free to chime in with your comments. How do you deal with stress? Do you have any stories of overcoming it?

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6 Responses to “Bundles of joy and months of stress”

  1. Kelly K. Says:

    It sounds to me as if you have learned a lot in the past 4 years. I hope you read this again and again and remind yourself of what is most important. You do have a wonderful family!!

  2. Becky Says:

    My stress level has droped when I stopped putting “make believe” demands on myself and opened myself up completely to my relationship with Kevin. When you work together as a team and are aware of how much each other does for each other it makes things easier to deal with.

  3. lukepinneo Says:

    Becky – that reminds me of a fascinating concept I read in a book called, “The Five Love Languages.” http://www.fivelovelanguages.com/

    In short, the idea is that each person expresses love differently than their partner. For example, one might express love with words, and the other might express it through acts of kindness (washing the other’s car, etc. Another might express it with gifts, the other with physical touching (hugs and kisses).

    Relationship problems occur when couples assume they both speak the same language. She might wonder “Why doesn’t he SAY he loves me … I tell him all the time.” And he thinks “What does she mean she doesn’t feel loved? I just spent all day washing her car because I love her so much!”

    I read it a few years ago and it made a huge difference for us. Great read for anyone no matter where they are in their relationship!

    Thanks for the comments!

    Luke

  4. danigary Says:

    Luke,
    I really enjoyed this post. As Rob and I are looking at the future, parenthood is frequent topic of conversation. We have worked hard to create a harmonious haven at home and we are both totally aware that this dynamic will be inevitably changed with the addition of children. This knowledge will do absolutely NOTHING to prepare us for the changes, the stress, the sleeplessness and the shock! However, I know that it is putting us in a great frame of mind because many couples just jump into it not thinking about the changes that lie ahead, but more along the lines of, “Ok, now we’re married the next step is to have kids, right?” It’s so refreshing and it truly warms my heart to see other couples (you and Kumi) who take these steps out of great love for one another. But even more importantly, it takes a huge load off my heart when I read your words about the difficulties that you both had. To an outsider, you make it look so easy. I’ve envied this seeming effortlessness and have been in utter awe of it all.

    To be honest, your post has made me feel that parenthood is more realistic than the many people who are constantly asking us “so when are you going to have babies!?” I’ve felt so pressured by nearly everyone in my life – that I’ve been so reluctant to take that step. I’ve seen how difficult it is – but the facade of “it’s so much more rewarding than anything in my life!” without the honesty of those realities of how taxing it can be on both a relationship and the individuals is rarely mentioned by anyone until it is used much later as a reason for the near dissolution of that relationship…

    In short, reading this today lifted a heavy weight from my heart. It takes a lot to be so forthcoming about such a personal subject, and I am grateful. Having grown through so many stages of life with you – and closely – I am so proud of the man that you have become. You are an exemplary father, husband, and friend. I love you dearly. Keep the posts coming – and I’ll keep loving them!

    PS Have you read anything by Stephen Covey about the 90/10 Principle? I try to keep that in mind – especially as a teacher! Also, the book “Eat, Pray, Love” is pretty life altering. Sometimes stating the obvious, but in a way that makes you laugh at yourself and think, “Yep, that’s me in a nutshell.” I read it frequently.

  5. Feeling stressed? « Luke Pinneo Says:

    […] Luke Pinneo On Fatherhood « Bundles of joy and months of stress […]

  6. Humpday, Jan. 27, 2010 « Says:

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