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The Unexpected Stresses of Fatherhood, Ranked

One dad ranks all the sources of anxiety that come with raising kids.

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The following story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.

A certain amount of stress is inseparable from life as we know it. The pressures of work, the strains of marriage, the frustrating inability to get the phone to sync with your Bluetooth speaker ⏤ all take their toll on an otherwise peaceful existence. But a man with kids soon finds that the source of life’s stress has shifted significantly. No longer is a dad as troubled by minor things like his career or his masculine image. No, now his days are spent worrying about things like spills, or nap time (unfortunately, not his own) ⏤ or worse, a sick kid, compared to which a Mongol invasion would have to take a back seat.

To illustrate my point: One night, in an attempt to help my exhausted wife get some rest, I slept on a futon in the den so I could get up with our two-year-old daughter, who was still a terrible sleeper. Things had been crazy, and I got to bed way too late. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter had been playing earlier in the day with the fold-up lamp/digital clock we keep in the living room ⏤ dear little gadget ⏤ and had somehow managed to set the alarm for 2 am. When that hideous beeping began, I bolted upright from the deepest of sleep without the slightest idea of where I was. Groping for the alarm beside my bed, I slowly realized I wasn’t even in my bedroom. I stumbled through the darkness over toys and furniture until I reached the little shrieking object on the bookcase. Of course, I then had to figure out how to unfold the lamp so I could turn it on so I could see the alarm so I could turn it off. What I forgot to do, however, was cancel it. The next night the same thing happened again. Life, I quickly realized, would be much different moving forward.

I offer this little experience as an example of the unforeseeable stresses life with kids inevitably presents. The following day, I thought it’d be interesting to rank said stresses based on how much anxiety they induce. The result was the following chart from my book Glad to Be Dad: A Call to Fatherhood. May it, like a blaring lamp alarm in the middle of the night, alert you to the variety of pressures you’ll soon be facing.

Chapter 5: The Dad’s Stress Chart

(0 points represent no stress at all; 100 points signifies a complete mental and physical breakdown)

9 points and below: Forget it. Nothing in your life happens at this low a stress level.

10 points: You wake up, realize it’s morning.

15 points: Your eight-year-old cuts his own hair.

17 points: Your eight-year-old cuts his own hair; neighbor kid tells him it looks cool.

19 points: Your fifteen-year-old cuts his own hair ⏤ all of it.

20 points: You serve ramen noodles for lunch; your 3-year-old makes noodle necklace.

23 points: Your 3-year-old wants to learn how to play “Monopoly.”

24 points: You have company for dinner.

26 points: You have company for dinner and your child spills crackers.

28 points: You have company for dinner and your child spills milk and applesauce.

30 points: You have company for dinner and your child spills milk and applesauce on your company.

33 points: Your child’s favorite picture book is Everyone Poops.

34 points: Your 3-year-old loudly disagrees with you.

36 points: Your 3-year-old loudly disagrees with you at the mall.

39 points: Your 3-year-old loudly disagrees with you during a sermon on “Harmonious Family Living.”

40 points: Your child is painfully shy.

43 points: Your child is not shy at all.

44 points: Toast in Blu-ray player; disc in toilet.

45 points: Oatmeal in toaster.

47 points: Oatmeal in toaster overnight; small fire in the morning.

48 points: Younger teenage son gets in fight with 3-year-old.

49 points: Older teenage son gets in fight with younger teenage son.

50 points: 3-year-old beating on both sons.

52 points: You accompany child to toy store.

53 points: You accompany bull to china shop.

55 points: You accompany child to china shop.

57 points: Your kids play Spider-Man in china shop.

58 points: You experience a minor illness.

63 points: You experience a major illness.

65 points: Your kid wakes up feeling grumpy.

67 points: Trying to show child how to eat liver, you actually taste some.

70 points: You’re a childless couple and you move to Baghdad.

75 points: You’re a couple with children and you move down the block.

78 points: While intoxicated, you agree to take kids to video arcade the next day.  You forget; they remember.

80 points: You promise 3-year-old you’ll watch a video with her; she chooses David the Gnome.

83 points: You promise 3-year-old you’ll watch a video with her; she chooses Barney.

84 points: 3-year-old has doctor’s appointment.

87 points: 3-year-old has doctor’s appointment and must get a shot.

89 points: 3-year-old must get a shot but nurses are all out of  Finding Nemo band-aids.

90 points: Every member of family gets flu.

91 points: Every member of family gets flu and throws up.

93 points: Every member of family gets flu and someone throws up in the dishwasher.

94 points: You can’t afford a mini-van.

95 points: Divorce.

97 points: Divorce and you get kids.

98 points: Death of spouse.

99 points: Death of spouse but you don’t notice because it’s car-pool day.

100 points: Blu-ray player won’t work.

Tim J. Myers is a writer, storyteller, songwriter, and senior lecturer at Santa Clara University. He writes for adults and young people. His work has made the New York Times bestseller list for children’s books, has been reviewed in the Times, and has been read aloud on NPR.