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First-Time Parents

Youll have to excuse me this month if my column lacks its usual snap and insightfulness, but Im in the midst of an exercise in sleep deprivation following the birth, last month, of my first child.

Before the arrival of my wonderful daughter, Ella Dale, I was offered tons of advice and encouragement from close friends and even people I barely knew. Get your sleep now; youll need it, most of them said. Becoming a parent will change your life for the better, others chimed in. Its the best thing youll ever do with you life, still more of them offered.

Frankly, I was getting a little annoyed with all of this sage advice and wisdom. Most of the comments seemed pretty obvious and clichd, and I was even a tad spooked by the over exuberance of some parents who couldnt wait for me to join their exclusive, parents-only club. It almost seemed like a case of misery loves company from some of these folks. Most of all, however, I just wanted to get on with all of it and judge for myself what parenthood was really all about.

Now that Im actually a father of a beautiful and bright baby girl Im determined to avoid becoming one of those people who think, their kid is more special than anyone elses or their parenting style better than the next guy. In fact, Im amazed at the extreme learning curve associated with first-time parenthood, and am impressed at how easy some parents that Ive know have made it look.

For years Ive had very strong opinions on the way children should be raised. Having much younger siblings provided me with a higher comfort level when dealing with infants, and it was easy to judge a parenting situation from a distance. What I didnt recognize, however, was how intense parenthood instantly becomes to a first-time parent. I didnt grasp the degree of pressure and the lack of rest (and sleep) you get, once your child is born. Its easy enough to judge another parents actions in a given situation on the subway, for instance, but its a whole other thing to deal with those same issues, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

And even as many times as I was warned, nothing prepared me for the sleep deprivation and amount of patience required when dealing with a fussy baby. Ive wondered in amazement more than once at how so many people manage to raise more than one child. Ive always been better at focusing on one thing at a time, rather than juggling multiple tasks. I guess its like anything else, though, it gets easier with experience.

Just when I thought I couldnt make it through it all, however, we turned a corner with Ella. One night she truly tested us by keeping us awake, off and on, from 1 a.m. to 8 a.m. Then, miraculously, the next night she basically slept through the night and has continued to be a better sleeper ever since. It wasnt by chance that this happened, as we gained new insight from books, DVDs, family, and friends, that gave us all more confidence in each other. It was an amazing feeling to go from near despair to a sense of comfort in our role as parents.

Of course, well continue to have our challenging days and stressful nights, but my wife and I have developed a better system for silencing the various baby alarms that go periodically. Karen keeps a chart of feedings, naps, and diaper changes, and my specialty is the swaddle and calming reflex techniques of Dr. Harvey Karp, author of the Happiest Baby of the Block.

Its a bit like facing the challenges of running your business. Payroll, accounts payable and receivable, customer relations, and job status tracking can be overwhelming until you put a proper system in place to do it all. People will give you business advice and may annoy you in doing so, but the best you can do is to listen and determine how it applies to your given situation. Remember that most business challenges can be solved. With babies, most things can be solved, but there will always be those pesky hiccups.