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. Just ask Dr. James Fedich, a 39-year-old doctor from Sparta Township, New Jersey. Ever since he had his first kid, who is now nearing four, he’s woken up at the break of dawn. He reads. He works out. He feels more centered before his family wakes. It makes him a better dad.
In college and graduate school, I was the night owl who didn’t start his homework and projects until 10 o’clock at night, and stayed up until three in the morning. Even once I got out of school and residency, when I first opened my own practice, I used to watch The Tonight Show, and I’d stay up until 1 every night. I really only started to shift that schedule when I met my wife. She’s a school teacher, and she was more of an early riser. She’d get up and exercise. But I’d still sleep in until 6:30, or seven. Then, when we had children — I have a 3.5 year old and a five month old, now — I started getting up at 4:30 or 5 in the morning.
Having little kids, the minute they get out of bed, they’re up and going. Once 7am hits, it’s total chaos in our house. The kids are running round, getting changed, getting breakfast ready. It gets noisy. But when I get up at five, the house is silent. I have a home office, I’m able to read, plan, do some me-time activities, while the house is quiet. Because from 7 in the morning to eight at night, it’s noisy. Being a nighttime person with small kids is hard. By eight, I’m drained.
I’ve come down with a pretty good routine. I’ come downstairs at five, I set my alarm for 5:20, but to be honest, these days I’m usually up by five anyway. I’ll read for the first half hour and have my coffee. I usually read business and motivational books. And I make sure I get some exercise in, too. From 6 to 6:30 I’ll pop on an audiobook and walk the dog for half an hour. By then, my wife is usually waking up, and we’ll start making breakfast and getting the kids ready around seven.
There are so many benefits to this routine. The biggest is having solid half hour or 45 minutes of reading and thinking in the morning. That’s hard to do at any other time of day: At the office, or while I’m taking care of the kids. I get home, put everyone to bed, and at that point, I’m tired and I just want to talk to my wife and relax a little bit. I want to relax and calm down at night. So being productive in the morning helps a lot. I do planning and high level thinking, and I usually try to go to the gym, but with everything going on, I don’t get that done every day. So really, I just making sure I get at least a half an hour of a long walk. It gets the blood pumping.
Being able to wake up without struggle super early has been a huge change that’s happened to me over time. I really look forward to waking up early. It’s the only time I get to myself anymore. I own a business; as soon as I walk through the door, my staff has questions, there are people waiting to see me. At night, I’m with the kids. This one hour to myself is so, so huge. I don’t even sleep in on the weekends. I’m still up at five, reading for 45 minutes, walking the dog, the same routine, seven days a week.
I sacrifice a lot of my own time for my children. That’s fine. But in that hour, I do what I want to do. I read my books. I go on my walk, just me and the dog. I look forward to that. I look forward to clearing my head. To being productive. To drinking coffee. I need it to happen early, too, because at the end of the day, I don’t have the energy to do what I need to do.