Category Archives: Parenting Skills

When parenting is like Metal Gear Solid

I wouldn’t call myself a gamer, but about ten years ago, I remember really getting into Playstation’s Metal Gear Solid. As the first 3D stealth game, you made your way through the different levels of the game, often through the avoidance of armed guards.

If you were detected, the alarm would go up, the guards would get anxious and start looking for you. Your only recourse was to wait out their routine sweeps, avoid the guards’ sight and stay quiet. And you could stay like this for quite a while, until the guards eventually gave up the chase. You could then breathe a little easier. I can still hear in my head the ping the game made when ‘all clear’ came and I could and carry on with the mission.

A decade later, when V. is restless and crying at night and I’m on duty with her, I try to think of this waiting game like waiting for that ‘all clear’ ping in the game. When I have picked up V. to get her to fall asleep on my shoulder, I then have a very delicate time of it slowly returning her to her cot. I have to keep her close to my chest, bend over the side of the cot, lay her down, slide my hands out from underneath her and creep over to the nursery door. All in complete silence. Sometimes there’s a noise out on the street, or the floorboards creak or one of my bones click (!) and suddenly she’s rousing herself. I freeze, and think of waiting for those guards to give up their search for me. I have to just be patient and stick with the walkthrough me and the wife have designed.

Another time, I shall think of how to compare parenting with tossing a CS cannister into a room.

When You Realise You’re on Your Own

Sometimes we’ve had a question about raising our baby. And we just can’t find a straight answer.

Best selling books about the subject offer conflicting or insufficient advice.

Friends with children swear by a solution that worked for them. But then don’t fully explain how the solution works.

Grandparents offer little help or forget what it was they did, when you were a baby.

Online forums are filled with ‘me too’ posters but no actual useful answers.

There seems to be a deafening silence when it comes to your question.

Once in a while, you realise: You Are On Your Own.

I have two aims with this blog. Firstly it is to create a record of my time as a new dad. My second aim is to publish useful guidance for other parents that is routed in the practical and the mundane. To offer recommendations or reflections on my own experiences that would help readers to organise themselves, prepare themselves or protect themselves.

But, as with my own experience of having questions unanswered, this blog will be unsatisfactory or incomplete for some parents. I mean, I’m posting a blog every five days that tries to cover all aspects of being a new parent..? I could write a daily blog just about sleep training alone.

So to those readers, I recommend you cherry-pick what advice you find relevant. And use your intelligence, patience and common sense to work out a solution for everything else. That’s how I’m trying to work out stuff.

Breastfeeding for men

Breast is best. Babies can’t get a better start. The mother and baby bond is stronger. All true.

What they don’t tell you about breastfeeding is how frustrating, painful and upsetting breastfeeding can be. And how sometimes it doesn’t go according to plan. In fact, if you look at the statistics, most of the time it doesn’t go according to plan.

At our NHS antenatal class, I remember F. raising a question with the midwife about breastfeeding. What if it’s painful? The midwife said very definitely, that it should not hurt if you are doing it right.

F. gave birth to our daughter at home and with no pain relieving drugs. Not even an aspirin. And she did it with an amazingly positive attitude throughout the labour. So when she tells me, in floods of tears, that the let-down and the latch-on she experiences when breastfeeding are both too much to bear – then that is what it is.

However, my wife is also a determined woman. And she had decided that V. was to be breastfed. We tried different positions for breastfeeding, for both mother and baby. We read books, and watched demonstrations on YouTube. Nothing worked. And for two months – several times a day – F. endured the pain and discomfort, even though it was getting worse and worse. Finally, F. would wince even before she put V. to her breast.

Finally, we found an understanding and experienced lactation consultant. She told us we were doing everything we could. She suggested a plan to try block feedings. Her proviso was that this approach reduced the number of feeds per day and that possibly we might experience a reduction in milk supply. But it might also ease the pain. We would supplement V.’s breastfeeds with formula. The strategy worked. Its been six weeks since then and the pain associated with breastfeeding has almost gone.

At that antenatal class, the midwife was a perfectly fine teacher. But, when it came to breastfeeding, we experienced a dogmatic response that seems quite common on this subject.

Guys, if your woman is having problems with breastfeeding, don’t let anyone else tell her she’s ‘doing it wrong’. She’s trying her best. That’s enough.

Panic at the Children’s Disco

Our first children’s party – as parents.

A very good friend of ours invited us to a party for his son’s 3rd birthday. The venue was in a lovely function room above a lovely pub in Canonbury.

There’s been little opportunity for us be part of a social network of parents. So me and F. saw this Sunday afternoon slot between 2:30 and 5:30 as a rare opportunity to observe parenting en masse. And party etiquette. We took notes.

My first observation is that there seems to be a dichotomy when organising a children’s party. At its centre is a child, plus friends. But the parents’ presence means that adults have to be catered for too. Which turns the party into a standing about, milling kind of event. Like a wedding; kids running between a forest of legs.

If I’m to be organising these shindigs for V. in a couple of years, perhaps I should have turned up in time to catch the children’s entertainer and got his card. I heard he was good.

Back home, V.’s party bag was raided by her mum and dad. We shared her tiny Toy Story chocolate bar. I then mercilessly crunched through her Chuppa Chup before practising with her new plastic tin whistle. She was asleep.

So, no real panic and not really a disco. I just liked the title.

Laundry

The washing machine has just finished its latest load of baby-related laundry. As I pull the tiny items out of the drum and into a basket, I count 92 separate pieces. It takes quite a while to hang them out to dry and they end up occupying two clothes horses and every radiator in the flat. The reusable nappies account for a large proportion, but there are also muslin cloths, bamboo wipes, bibs and baby clothing.

There’s also the lining of Moses baskets that get sick on them, Mummy’s clothes that get sick on them, the odd pair of Daddy’s trousers with poo on them, white towels with poo on them, bathroom floor mats with sick on them.

Some things I would recommend with postnatal laundry;

• A washing machine/drier combo. At the very beginning of F.’s pregnancy, our washing machine broke. It was an amazing piece of timing; we could shop for a replacement washer knowing we were going to need it for baby things. And we chose a combined washer/drier with a large (9kg) capacity and a good range of economy programmes. Those features have been invaluable because the washing never stops. A warning though; the tumble dry function on our mid-priced isn’t 100% effective. Especially for heavier items, hence why I’m hanging out so many things to dry. But it gets a good start on the drying and that’s good enough for us.

• Collapsible toy baskets. The kind that are like a coil of metal wire, surrounded by netting. I think they are intended as toys baskets but are invaluable for laundry. When they are empty, they fold up flat. Great for saving space.

• Laundry schedule. Put on a load every evening so it’s ready for you the next morning.

• Only buy new clothes, linens and soft furnishings that can be washed at 40°C. Delicates that need 30°? We never find time to wash them.

Trimming our baby’s nails takes nerves of steel. My wife’s.

Like many newborns, V. had begun to scratch own face. On advice from a paediatrician, we limited the use of tiny mittens on her hands. The doctor gave us the option: she either learnt not to do it now, with soft nails, or weeks later when her nails had hardened. It was hard to wake up in the morning and see her perfect complexion left with a new scratch. But eventually, this behaviour lessened.

However, now she had taken to pinching away at F.’s chest whilst breastfeeding. So we tried either peeling her nails off or biting them. Neither worked at all for us. We left it.

But weeks later, V. had learnt to use her nails as deadly weapons. They were both longer and stronger. At breastfeeding, she was still clutching away at her mother and this time leaving visible, angry scratches. V. was also beginning to claw away at my forearm when lying in the ‘tiger in the tree’. I choked back tears of pain as she would attempt to sever my forearm from the rest of me. We took to renaming her Lady Deathstrike.

So we had to bite the bullet and try to trim her nails with a nail clipper. As I lined up a tiny finger tip and brought the steel clippers to her nail, she would not stop moving. A trickle of nervous sweat rolled down the side of my face as I slowly pressed the jaws of the clipper over her minuscule nail. What if I snipped off the end her finger? Years later, she might sit, seething at me, as her piano teacher patiently explains to us how V. would never be able to reach an octave and should abandon her dream of mastering Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Concerto. I bailed.

It was up to my wife’s nerves of steel. She waited until V. was in a deep sleep, following her feed, and clippered every nail. Three days later, they were grown again.

Muslin cloths: WTF?

I’m starting to see that parenting is surrounded by a lot of dogma.

Before V. was born, one of the essential items we were recommended to stock up on was muslin cloths.

“You can’t have enough of them”, they said. As far as I understand, their primary job is to clean up possett. Sick-up. Spit-up. Vomit. ‘Oopsies’. Whatever you want to call it. You assume, therefore that muslin cloths are essential because of their absorption qualities.

So we dutifully bought some and were gifted some (new).

And guess what? They don’t work. They don’t fricking work. We have two types – one from a major department store’s own label and some own-brand from a small, up-market chain of baby shops.
Both makes are 100% cotton. Neither work. You think, initially, well, cotton. That’s good, isn’t it? Cotton? For cleaning up babies. I mean TOWELS are made of cotton, right? But muslin cloths are more like large, thin handkerchiefs. They seem to actually repel liquid. I mean, I’ve watched V’s possett run down a muslin cloth and collect in a fold, as pool of liquid. It’s like watching mercury running over a surface.

If you are forced to use these things, don’t buy small sizes. You’ll need ones the size of a pillow case, so the cloth can cover from the chin to the feet.

If any parent has found an alternative to these things, I’d appreciate the heads up.