'The Walking Dead' Returns: How New Parenthood Is Like The Zombie Apocalypse
Image courtesy of AMC
I see my life -- as the parent of a 1.5 year old -- in the characters' quest for survival. The show tells the story of a small band of survivors after modern society has been destroyed by a zombie outbreak. What the show is really about -- its theme -- is about keeping your humanity and spirit in the face of hardship and a complete disruption of your previous world.
To me, this sounds a lot like new parenthood, that first year or two when a strange being -- dependent on you to survive and thrive -- dominates your daily life and disrupts everything about your previous existence.
What are the ways that living with a new child is similar to surviving the zombie apocalypse?
1. You will be in denial until you actually experience it yourself. When Rick, the show's primary hero and a sheriff's deputy, wakes up after being in a coma in a hospital with the world overrun by zombies, he is told by other survivors how society has crumbled since has been unconscious and about the nature and origins of the walkers. Until he has gained sufficient real world experience, Rick doesn't truly accept how the world has changed.
Similarly, new parents are often told by experienced parents that after a baby is born, their lives will be completely altered. They are told that they will never sleep again, that their marriage will change, and that they will love their baby more than they could think was humanly possible. But until you actually go through parenthood's stressors and joys, you won't actually be able to understand it. And somewhere in the back of your mind, you might think that your baby and your experience will be different. But it won't. It will be the hardest -- and best -- thing you'll ever do.
2. You will need to learn the ways of irrational and primitive creatures. Yes, there is nothing that is cuter, smells more heavenly, and causes your heart to swell like a new baby. However, their needs are fundamentally basic and primitive. They need to eat, sleep, poop, and cry. You will not understand their language of cries and wailing. Just as Rick and his group of survivors learn more about the zombies -- how they were created, how they are killed, how they reproduce, and their habits -- in order to survive, new parents similarly must learn their babies' and toddlers' patterns, temperaments, and needs.
3. You will need to team up. The gang on Walking Dead make it through the impossible by working together and balancing each other's strengths and weaknesses. Their survival is most threatened when they turn on each other, such as last season when Shane -- because of his love for Lori and resentment of his former best friend and husband -- is almost successful at dividing the group. The survivors' personalities often clash, but they come together to work for the group. Similarly, the stress and exhaustion of new parenthood will try even the best marriage. You will fight about nearly anything, especially at 2 a.m. after the fifth wake up of the night and it's been weeks since you had more than a few hours of rest at a time. But just like the survivors on The Walking Dead, you need to learn how to work best as a team and capitalize on each partner's assets. Just as one of the Walking Dead survivors might be good at fighting zombies with a bow and arrow, one parent might be an exceptional swaddler.
And you also must accept help from outside your "band" of survivors. Individuals or pairs stand little chance of survival during a zombie apololypse. At some point, you're going to need assistance from another group. For instance, during this season Shane and Lori's baby is saved when a stranger retrieves the infant formula left by Maggie and Glenn are kidnapped. New parents must also enlist outside help. Get relatives, friends, and neighbors to cook, clean, and do errands for you.
4. You will need to strip down your optional commitments. You don't see anyone on The Walking Dead worrying about getting back in shape for swimsuit season, planning for a luncheon, or updating their Facebook pages. (There is a character, the Governor, who has a side hobby involving aquariums with which he spends a great deal of time, but anyone who watches the show can tell you how that works out.) Keep your life to the basics, at least for a while. Don't worry about anything besides what's right in front of you, which will be primarily a screaming baby for the next several weeks.
5. Appearances don't matter at this point. Every character on the show is dirty, wears ripped clothes, and sweats profusely. They wear whatever they can find and what helps them survive. Likewise, new parents should give themselves permission to wear whatever feels good and helps them get through the day. That stained sweatshirt that you never want to take off because it's so comfortable, but don't let yourself wear in public? Sure, wear it for five days straight. Don't feel like blowing out your hair or even brushing it? It doesn't matter. There will probably be puke in it soon anyway. A shower, however, will probably do wonders for your mental state, as the survivors on The Walking Dead discover when they discover the CDC headquarters.
The good news? Your survival prospects -- and a return to your previous life -- are a lot better than the characters on The Walking Dead. The bad news? The virus often returns: many people do go on to have a second baby.