Lessons learned

So here it is, the ill-advised parenting post. I say ill-advised because it is, perhaps, unusual for the fathers to write anything. It’s all a bit risky us getting involved in writing about this stuff, which I think actually pretty accurately maps to the experience of a lot of fathers. In many ways, there is a bit of a feeling that somebody is going to respond to one of your opinions with, “that’s nice dear, but the professionals are here now”.

And I mean this well. Fathers shouldn’t be the centre of attention in the process, this isn’t something that needs correcting. Many men do need to be more involved and supportive, and there are lots of good programmes to help encourage this, but men need to remember that becoming more involved does not mean driving the process. I can still remember overhearing a man from the other side of the maternity ward telling his partner, “No, no, that’s wrong, how is he supposed to feed like that? You’re supposed to hold your breast more like this.” That is not being helpful, quite the opposite in fact.

Dilbert Cartoon

So with all of those caveats in place here goes.

1) You will be so tired and stressed at times you will actually consciously re-evaluate all previous points of tiredness and stress and move them down a rung. I know you’ve been tired and stressed before, but not like this. The only thing that can sustain you through this is knowing that it will pass, it will get better. It doesn’t seem like it will, but it will.

2) It will change everything in your life, but in a weird way. Do you remember how you seemed to be really busy at uni or 6th form but always had time for Countdown, Blue Peter, Neighbours, Home and Away and going out to the pub and a gig and the movies when you had the money? And now you realise that no, you were never really that busy before. You could go back to that life right now if you wanted, but you don’t because going and getting a job is better really. For fleeting and not so fleeting moments you dream about your past life and think wouldn’t that be great to be able to sit around drinking lots of tea and watching TV and not having to worry about much, but then you remember living with 6 other smelly students who kept drinking your milk and never washing up and you remember why you left, got a job, and never want to go back really. Same here in a lot of ways. You do sometimes wish you could go back, but you would have to give up the person you’ve made, and that seems impossible now.

3) The hardest thing to get over is the lack of choices you have about everything, which is also the easiest thing in a way. I used to like to be able to say, yeah I’ll do that tomorrow, or perhaps tonight we should… But you can’t do that anymore. Having a baby does take some of the spontaneity out of life, but on the other hand, it does mean much less dithering. You do end up just getting on with stuff. You will almost certainly feel a little out of control about things though.

4) Relax. I am reminded here of the moment in the Big Lebowski where Jeff Bridges is shouting at John Goodman to calm down and he’s replying, “calmer than you are dude, calmer than you are”. Telling a stressed person to relax is likely to, quite rightly, get you a poke in the eye. What I mean is this, figure out what the small number of key things are for you. Eg. feed baby, get sleep yourself, change baby, have a plan to get food for yourself, know what feet to foot means, watch out for choking and drowning, have a way of knowing what the temperature in the room is. And then everything else is secondary. Didn’t do the dishes, forget it, you’ll either get to it or you won’t. Is your baby putting on enough weight? The only thing you can directly do anything about this if you are breastfeeding is be less stressed which is not going to happen if you are stressed about the weight of your baby. Seriously… Less smart, less able and people with fewer resources have brought up and kept alive lots of people. In fact people have more than one baby! It will be ok.

5) Nappy bags. Everyone will tell you about getting nappies, taking a car seat to the hospital, blankets, a pillow from home for mum etc, all good advice. But somehow people don’t mention nappy bags in all of this. You put the nappies in these small plastic bags before you put them in the main bin so the smell doesn’t get out. They are very handy.

I hope this doesn’t sound like me complaining, it might change your life… but it’s totally worth it.


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