Monday, 2 November 2015

As a parent..... (Lessons from my first week or so of fatherhood)

Because there are nowhere near enough blog posts on the internet about parenting, I thought I'd better shed some light on this seldom-discussed issue, from the perspective of having been a Dad for a total of 12 days.

The first thing to say about being a parent of a newborn son is that, to some extent, much of what I read about before he arrived is absolutely true:

Yes it is life changing. Yes it is tiring. Yes it is stressful. Yes it can be expensive (if you're not careful).

Yes changing nappies is kind of gross. Yes I am learning to get by on far less sleep.

But, also:

Yes it is amazing. Yes it is super cute when he does a little sneeze. Yes I am loving it.

But there's some other things I've learned in the last couple of weeks since the arrival of Master Fox Washington Capper, that are a bit surprising or that have confirmed things I thought I knew.

(The following list is based on my experiences of these last 12 days. Please bear in mind that we have experienced neither colic nor teething at this point, and I'm still currently on paternity leave.)

1. The internet is full of bullshit about parenting

Bar a few very honourable exceptions (Stuart Heritage's Man with a Pram series in the Guardian, and this priceless list from one Mr Dan Slee - seriously this one in particular has been a massive help) there truly is some utter guff online about parenting.

This I believe starts during pregnancy. One of my roles during the 9 months was that of Royal Chef - ensuring nothing untoward passed my wife's lips.

When I googled "can you eat feta cheese in pregnancy" for example, the incredibly helpful responses ranged from "my friend was killed instantly by eating feta cheese" to "eating feta cheese resulted in me giving birth to Superman". 

Now if you're interested, the answer to this question is quite simply and conclusively: "if it's made from pasteurised milk, yes. If not, no."

But we all know the internet isn't that simple. 

This then goes in to the weeks before birth. 

Entire prairies in Kansas seem to be devoted to housing data centres hosting "my pregnancy was worse than yours" blogs, followed up with "having a baby is a life-ending nightmare from which there is no escape - but I wouldn't change it" opinion pieces.  

Once you've realised that actually it isn't quite as terrible as all these blogs say, then you're on to "if you think having a newborn is hard, having a toddler is a total living hell" pieces. 

It's an infinite loop of misinformation, directly conflicting "advice", and pointless scaremongering. Oh and let's not forget the essential air of condescending "as a parent" superiority. 

If you want advice during pregnancy visit the NHS website. Don't bother with any others. 

The rest figure out by speaking to humans you trust and / or by figuring it out yourself. 

2. It's not THAT hard

I'm obviously not referring to childbirth itself here just so you know. 

And that's the end of that sentence. 

But really, looking after our lad is not that complicated. He sleeps a lot. This is punctuated by crying. This crying is solved by either feeding him, changing him, or making him warmer or cooler. Failing all those things, it can be stopped by a good cuddle. 

A brilliant insight into parenting I had a year or two ago before we were pregnant from a very good friend was words to the effect of:

"It sounds like it should be a nightmare, but it's great."

And this is the best description of having a newborn baby I can think of. 

Yes it's more difficult than life before a baby. You get less sleep. But you don't get no sleep. Our little guy works on a 2-3 hour loop of feeding. This basically continues on a 24 hour basis. This obviously includes night time. 

One of us gets up whenever he does THAT cry to let us know he's hungry. Whoever is up (we take it in turns) changes him (we do this first for reasons that I won't bore you with - email me if you really want to know), feeds him, winds him, and cuddles him for 10 minutes, by which time he has a look on his face not unlike that of a student leaning against a kebab shop window after a 2-4-1 on shots night at the local student union. He then goes back to sleep, as does whoever is up. This continues until morning. Then during the day a similar cycle occurs. Though he's a bit more alert in between feeds. 

Is having a red faced baby screaming in your face with a pooey nappy at 2:30am a lot of fun? No clearly not. But making him so he's not crying and going back to sleep with a smile on his face is part of the fun, and leaves you with a warm glow and a sense of achievement as you go back to bed for a couple of hours before doing it again.

You're more tired than usual but you cope and adjust. That's what paternity leave is for. 

It's not rocket science.

3. Our dog has loved it. Our cat has totally freaked out.

Now this is a weird one.

We have a 18-month old Cocker Spaniel and a 9 year old cat.

The dog, who has very much been the baby of the household until recently has adjusted amazing well to him being here. She loves him, she's always looking out for him, gives him the occasional little ear-lick (which I'm sure is absolutely FINE), and has started to perform an essential service in letting us know when his nappy needs changing.

The cat though has not been so keen. She's normally really unflappable, but this has thrown her. On the first night home, when I was awake the entire night (my fault for being over-aware of every minor noise - not remotely necessary), the cat actually demanded at least as much attention as our son.

She was wailing and needing holding - to the extent that at one point, I needed to lie on the bed in the spare room while she walked all over me clawing me for about half an hour. I woke up (well got out of bed, I never slept) covered in scratches.

She's slowly got used to it over the past 12 days, but her general freak-out has been one of the surprises of the week....

I guess cats are very aware of changes in environment. Fascinating creatures.

4. Timing is everything

Those 2-3 hour cycles I mentioned - we're very lucky (I think) that we pretty much can set our watches by them.

What it does mean that if you want to do anything that requires an time commitment over an hour (going out somewhere in the pram, making dinner, having a mid afternoon kip), he needs feeding prior.

Do that and life can resume almost as normal for the next couple of hours.

5. At 12 days old, even CBeebies is way too advanced.

During pregnancy we talked a lot about all the cool stuff we'd do with our son when he got here.

We still have very advanced plans to go to Legoland (the proper one in Denmark mind) when he's about 4, and to Star Wars land at Disney World when it's open in, I don't know, 5 or 6 years?

But even outside of that, I was quite looking forward to playing and doing silly songs off the telly once he got here.

Unfortunately all these things are still a way off while he's in his eat - change - wind - cuddle - sleep cycle.

I tried to watch like 10 minutes of CBeebies the other day with him. I might as well have made him watch Eraserhead.

He had no idea what was going on - and i guess possibly won't for some time to come. Which is fine...

6. All other children look huge.

And related to this, whilst watching CBeebies, I was struck by how grown up all the kids featured in programmes looked.

They were wearing trousers! They were standing up on their own! They seemed to understand a basic narrative arc!

On my second day of paternity leave, I took the dog for a walk and had a chat to a young mum also out with their beagle. She had what looked, in comparison to Fox, like a 10 year old strapped to her front. Turns out he was only 5 months.

I guess babies grow quickly. I didn't realise they were so small to begin with.

7. Paternity leave = amazing

I can't overstate this. It's brilliant, and I've loved every minute. A true gift to men everywhere.

When else are you off work for 2 weeks, being at home, and it being ace? You don't have time or inclination to "do a few jobs in the garden". You just have to be at home getting to know your kid, and spending time with your wife or partner.

It's brilliant.

Thank-you Employment Law.

8. The mother of your child = God

I'm not going into child birth here.

Google it. I'm sure that'll prove very enlightening.

It's obviously different for everyone, but one common denominator that everyone will tell you, and I fully concur, is that your wife or partner will go through the wringer to at least some extent. For this, they deserve your unending respect, support, and treating like a God amongst men.

Seriously, it's an amazing thing they've done for the past 9 months, and went through for 24 hours.

Cherish her and forever be in awe of her. She did an unbelievable job.

9. Changing, feeding, winding = incidental in the grand scheme of of things.

I refer back to point 2. If you take all these things in isolation out of the context of having a baby, they sound awful.

And to some extent they are. I'd never fed or changed a baby before, and totally freaked at the idea of doing so.

But, context is indeed everything.

All of these things are just necessary, and really are not a big deal. They're essential to having a healthy, happy baby, which is obviously what you want.

They don't take long, and are just a natural part of your life now, and here's the thing, THAT'S FINE.

In the grand scheme of things, these are no big deal, and not to be stressed over. Once they're done, they can go back to being asleep or incredibly cute, or both.

10. The one crucial piece of advice. 

I could do a big list of practical things here, that we've found out in the past 12 days (don't bother getting an expensive digital monitor, change first then feed, get a bouncy chair blah blah blah) and if you really want to ask, please do.

I was given some great advice off other dads during the time we were expecting, none of which we found on the internet.

My advice to any prospective parents on the strength of the last 12 days would be simply:

"Keep your baby alive in a manner that you are comfortable with."

Anything to do with having a kid: the pregnancy, the birth, the looking after, the setting up home etc, must be entirely designed to suit you and you alone. Other people will have good nuggets of advice, but really it's totally up to you to ignore or act upon.

Anyone who judges you for your decisions, or insists you follow particular path, does not have opinions worth listening to.

I may well revise this entire list in another 12 days, but this is how I feel right now.

Basically, it's great. All the hard work and tiredness is 100% worth it. It's the best thing we ever did.

If we can do it, so can anyone.

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