I wrote this for the Tufnell Park Parents Support Group Newsletter (est 1748) and they published it.
I’m with William Goldman…..
It was when I was surrounded by women that it came to me. Things often do then.
It was just me and the Boy, and eight women : 4 mums and 4 little girls. I was apprehensive. I had had a feeling this might happen and sure enough I was the only one. The only Dad. The only male (apart from the Boy). It felt a little strange.
I thought, they’re all going to be judging me. They’re all going to think, I’m coming up short and I haven’t dressed him right and I’m not paying him enough attention. And then I thought, maybe I have more than the usual amount of sick/spit-up/food on me, (that was his anyway). Cause you know, some is ok. There is a tolerable amount. In fact you could almost say you need a little bit on you – to show you have been trying – getting stuck in and focusing on the child and not yourself. ‘what, that, oh its porridge, must be from breakfast, can’t stop on the way to a play date….’whoooshes past.
Anyway so there I was trying to look both nonchalant and attentive. Which is hard. Cause you see, at that time I had only been doing my day-with-the-Boy for about 6 weeks. And I had only just managed to start getting out of the house. Most days were spent almost… very nearly…getting on top of things and then, at around 3 the tide of toys and my fatigue would overwhelm and I’d sort of give up the idea of getting outside. Put it off to next week…
But I’d done it. We were out and about. We’d dropped-in to the wellbaby centre on North road. I was getting the Boy weighed and you know checked over, plugs and points, by the nurse.
I got in there, and thought, I’ll show them. I’ll exhibit some intensive parenting – a deft mix of caring and practical chops the like of which they’ve never seen. But the Boy was not co-operating. He was fast asleep.
So I got my book out and looked in-control. Oh yeah, just reading ma book while the Boy is sleeping. Mr Cool. But then I thought, they might be thinking why isn’t he checking on him. Typical man….
So I read a couple of pages and checked on him. Moving his blanket about pointlessly, sort of sniffing at him. This I kept up for ten minutes, shuttling back and forth every two pages looking like a neurotic eejit. Which in fairness I was a wee bit.
That’s when I looked around and realised that no one was looking really. And certainly not judging. Or if they were it was maybe to admire that a Dad was out and about with his boy.
And why not? Because nobody knows anything (as William Goldman said about making movies). Not when you are new anyway. And most of them seemed pretty new to the game, like me.
You see, as you know, when you are a New Parent (and maybe especially a New Dad) you are assailed with information about HowToBeAParent/Dad. But an awful lot of it is contradictory.
Get black out blinds for their rooms and don’t make a sound. Make sure there is plenty of noise and varying light lest they get too precious about sleeping. Strict bed times – you’ll get nowhere without that. Make bed time fun – don’t get hung up on exact times. Controlled crying – eminently sensible. Are you some kind of Victorian cur who is going to leave your child wailing through the night you utter utter…. But Gina said… TURMOIL.
And you think this is too much. I don’t know what I am doing. And you don’t. But that’s ok. None of us do, not really. Not even the ‘experts’ agree. And the parents who say they know only think they do, if you see what I mean. Some parents are just lucky – and then they attribute their child’s good behaviour to their parenting. But you what, Prefect Parent, you may not actually be the agent of change.
Look, if you get out the door, get to the swings, have a bit of fun and get him to eat something you can consider yourself a success. Bonus points if the food is green.
In truth, some may be better at some bits than others, but there’s innate ability in all of us and plenty of love to make up for any cack-handedness or lack of a knack with a push chair or a bottle steriliser.
This is what I got, as I waited for the Boy to tip the weighing scales. No one knows any of the practical stuff. And I realised that the Mum’s don’t have a monopoly on how to look after the babies. Don’t worry about that, they really don’t – and don’t use it as an excuse!
A great deal of parenting is beyond us. I don’t mean it’s out of reach – I mean it’s in the everyday intangibles. Its unknowable. The books are full of contradictions and none of them seem to say or acknowledge that there is almost certainly not a one-approach-fits-all method and that the best thing is to read widely and take from them what you think is sensible and appropriate for your baby. That’s my advice.
Keep trying different things. Watch them and see what they respond to. The best parenting is done through the eyes, the ears and the hands. Pay them attention and affection, if you do that they will pay the same back to you in spades. It’s that simple. They are far more interested in sharing their experience with you. This is enough. Be privileged, get your head down and get stuck in. Mum or Dad, as far as they are concerned, it’s all good.
Right. Time for a story and bed. For me that is, he’s had his already….