Welcome to “How I Stay Sane,” a weekly column where real dads talk about the things they do for themselves that help them keep grounded in all the other areas of their life — especially the parenting part. It’s easy to feel strung-out as a parent, but the dads we feature all recognize that, unless they regularly take care of themselves, the parenting part of their life will get a lot harder. The benefits of having that one “thing” are enormous.
For Dustin Artz, a dad of one from Virginia and small business owner, losing what little free-time he had to himself before becoming a father was particularly tough. A natural introvert, Dustin realized he needed a few moments to decompress during those first years of raising his son. So he started going to one place every parent knows as the quiet place: the bathroom. Yes, the bathroom. Here’s why it helped him be a better dad.
I have a super stressful job. Before we had our son, after I got home from work, I’d take the time to unwind. I’m an introvert. Home was my sanctuary, where I’d be able to come home and take a deep breath.
And, when you’re first about to have a kid, you’re like “This is life changing!” But I don’t think realized that it was going to be so hard, in that I wouldn’t have a minute to myself. As someone a little older, as someone who has a stressful job, and needs time by myself, it was really hard for me. I recharge in silence. So for the first year or two of my son’s life, I struggled to find time where I felt like I had ‘me’ time.
When he was really little, I learned that the only space in the house that is off-limits to my wife — because it’s gross — is the bathroom. Like, no one could bother me in that room. It became one of the only places I could lock the door, sit down, take a breath and breathe out. Just for 20 minutes. That’s all I needed. I’d just mindlessly zone out, because in some way, that’s a real luxury when you have an infant. So I’d use the bathroom as my secret sanctuary, to get away when I could. I just wanted to scroll on Facebook and read articles on the internet without a crying baby or a million things to do.
Now, when I’m saying it, it feels selfish. But it was really just 15, 20 minutes at a time. It’s weird. I knew my kid would change my world. I was like, Well, everyone has kids. That’s why people are around! But it was like, holy shit. This is just so hard. Especially for those first nine months. So I needed to find a few minutes.
This is a generalization, but it feels like the baby boomer generation had kids and did the uninvolved-parenting style, where the kids just kind of fended for themselves and they sat on a lay-z-boy and watched tv. But now, you gotta get down on the floor. You gotta hang out with them. You want their development to be as good as you can make it. You can take those shortcuts, and give them a screen, but there’s too much information out there to know that’s the right way to parent. So it’s just tough.
I had no time for myself from work to home, and in those moments, that’s when I felt like I couldn’t ‘do this.’ That flipped me upside down for a little while. But I was wrong. It definitely got better. But that was hard to think about and remember when I was in the middle of it: that this was going to pass, and this kid is going to grow up, and it’s really easy to be like “It’s going to be like this forever!” Even though it’s clearly not.
I still sometimes retreat, but it’s not like it once was. My wife will rightly get on me because she knows. Plus, we have an old house. The locks mostly work, but sometimes, if you just keep jiggling the handle, the door will open. So, ever since my son has been able to walk he comes to the bathroom and I’d just hear him jiggling the handle and then he just barges in. So, that respite was short-lived. It’s funny — my one minute of alone time, he finds me. And I can’t get mad at that! He just wants to bust the door down and hang out with me. It’s cute.
He’s independent now. He’ll barge into the shower. He’ll barge into the bathroom. But my wife, you know, she’s home alone with him all day. She doesn’t have that luxury of me being there during the day. I am well aware that she has it rougher, and that I was lucky.
Today, I run more. I try to be home by 6:30 every night. And at 5:15, I go for a run or go to the gym just to decompress, so there’s a little bit of time to myself, to reboot. It’s kind of switched. It’s evolved.