I can't believe I haven't written in three months. It's so good to be back.
I started dad sabbatical (aka Sadadical) in September 2022, and the boys started preschool a few weeks ago. I had a full year of bonus time with them, and WOW, did they teach me a lot.
When Sadadical started, I wasn't confident I could handle it. On their last day of daycare, one of the teachers said, "You don't stand a chance. I bet we'll see you back here in a week." While doubt has always fueled me, I'm not sure I disagreed with her.
A year later, things couldn't be more different. We have a rhythm and are comfortable with each other. We're buddies, and we (mostly) thrive together. It wasn't always easy, but we figured it out.
Since what I learned applies to more than parenting, I thought I'd share my takeaways and the lessons learned from Sadadical.
You Are Capable of More than You Think
We are often subject to constraints we manufacture ourselves or, in my case, that are created by daycare teachers. Social media tells us what we can be and how we should act. Friends expect us to be the same person we've always been. Parents have expectations of the lives we should live.
In reality, you are capable of more than you think. You can change careers, commit to fitness, start a business, move to a dream city, cut back on drinking, or successfully parent twins. Nobody gets to tell you what you can do. Nobody gets to put their constraints on you.
Wisdom Comes from Unlikely Places
One day, towards the end of Sadadical, Lou and I were reading books together before bed. I told him I couldn't believe how quickly he was growing up, and I wasn't sure I was ready for him to start preschool.
He replied, "It's okay, Dad. It's time for us to go to school. We're big kids now."
It's always a good sign when your therapist is a four-year-old. More importantly, it showed that wisdom can come from unlikely sources.
Everyone has a unique perspective and life experience. Even four-year-olds come to things from different angles. Epictetus said, "We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak." It's worth listening, regardless of the source.
Energy Management is Crucial
Before Sadadical, getting away with poor habits and still having a decent work day was easy. Skipping a workout, getting a Chipotle burrito for lunch (often double-wrapped because their tortillas are amazing), watching extra TV before bed, or having an extra beer at dart night didn't matter. I could mainline coffee all morning and get through the day.
With frenetic twin boys who want to play all day and need to get the energy out, just getting through the day isn't an option. Keeping energy levels up not only allowed me to embrace their energy, but also fueled me to be a more present, intentional dad. I was nowhere near perfect, and let Curious George babysit them more than I should, but good habits beget more energy and a better version of myself.
It Doesn't Matter
In so much of what we do, we get caught up in the little things at the expense of the big ones. Kids need to put the toys back in the right place, keep the new shoes nice as long as possible, and color inside the lines.
But it doesn't matter if the toys are put in the proper bins, as long as they fun while playing with them. It doesn't matter how many words the kid down the street can spell, everybody eventually knows how to spell "cat." It doesn't matter how many camps, clubs, sports, and extracurriculars other kids are in, they just want to spend time with their parents.
The time we have with our kids is painfully short and none of this lasts forever. In parenting, as elsewhere in life, it's easy to get caught up in the competition, gossip, and comparison games.
In reality, it doesn't matter.
Garbage Time is the Best Time
I'm amazed by the number of families that vacation with young kids regularly but dread daily life. They pour months of planning and thousands of dollars into a grand trip while grumbling about "having to" drive to soccer practice.
I'm shamelessly borrowing from Jerry Seinfeld here, but give me the garbage time any day. There's no doubt that kids enjoy big trips, but the threads of daily life weave together a far more beautiful tapestry.
The morning breath while carrying a kid downstairs for breakfast, giggles over meals, decisions over what shape to cut a PB&J, sports in the yard, music in the car, and bike rides in the neighborhood. Chatting with a stranger at the grocery store or sharing a bag of chips at the driving range beats lugging a cart full of cheap toys through hot sand.
We often feel like we have to savor Life's Big Moments. I learned that I get to enjoy garbage time.
Consistency is Key
I'd bet "give an inch, they take a mile" was first uttered by a tired parent. Kids are way smarter than us, and they know when they can get away with something. Being reasonable and consistent with them works so much better than being strict sometimes and lax others.
For adults, eating real food most of the time will always beat attempting to go paleo. Sweating a little every day beats trying to become a Crossfitter. Reading something you enjoy for 20 minutes a day beats forcing through a book a week.
Consistency > intensity.
Give Yourself Grace
Parenting magnifies everything. The highs are higher and the lows are lower. Time is somehow both compressed and elongated, and feelings from love to frustration are more profound than ever before. Having kids means your heart now walks around outside your body.
I've realized that this is all part of the journey. It's okay to get pumped when they do something great, angry when they do something dumb, and disappointed when they do something you asked them 100 times not to do.
What matters is to give yourself grace. Whether you got short-tempered with your kid, argued with your spouse over something pointless, made a mistake at work, missed a workout, or needed a Wednesday beer when you planned a dry week, tomorrow is another chance.
While consistency is key, striving for perfection leads to fragility. You'll never be perfect, so when you inevitably slip up, give yourself grace.
Let Things Take the Time They Take
As someone who spends a lot of time trying to be more efficient, it's painful to let things just... happen. I try to make good time anywhere I drive, fit tasks together in the most productive way, and stack habits together. I listen to podcasts at 1.5x speed and always listen to something while working out or doing chores. In short, I'm one of those people.
Sadadical taught me there's no point in being one of those people when two strong-willed kids are in charge. No matter how efficiently I plan the day or how much I try to squeeze in, the day will derail. It will take more time than expected for bathroom stops, reading books, and marveling at the neighbors' Halloween decorations. And trying to squeeze in one more thing will only make it worse.
It's better to prioritize what matters, build in extra time, then let those things take the time they take.
Look Like an Idiot
One of the most beautiful things about kids is how little self-awareness they have. They have no problem yelling in public, wearing quesadillas like a hat, or ripping a fart in line at the grocery store (then laughing hysterically). They have no shame, and it's awesome.
It's easy to fall into the trap of trying to look cool around other parents. Many others at the playground are off to the side watching their kids, but it's SO MUCH more fun to engage with kids. Kids' lack of self-awareness is a short-lived gift, and it's much more fun to dig for bugs, skip rocks across the water, play tag, and swing on the monkey bars.
Being an adult is hard. We face real problems every day. Whether with kids or not, why not let out the inner child occasionally and embrace looking like an idiot?
Buy the Drums
It's likely my most controversial takeaway, but just buy the drums. We bought an actual drum set for the boys last Christmas. Although I deadened the sound as much as possible, it's still... loud. But we have had a blast playing music together. Sure, we get odd looks from other parents, and grandparents have to turn down their hearing aids, but life is too damn short not to have fun.
Anthony Bourdain supposedly said: "Eat at a local restaurant tonight. Get the cream sauce. Have a cold pint at 4 o'clock in a mostly empty bar. Go somewhere you've never been. Listen to someone you think may have nothing in common with you. Order the steak rare. Eat an oyster. Have a Negroni. Have two. Be open to a world where you may not understand or agree with the person next to you but have a drink with them anyways. Eat slowly. Tip your server. Check in on your friends. Check in on yourself. Enjoy the ride."
I'll add: buy the drums. And if Fitz and Lou taught me anything over a year, it's how to enjoy the ride.