,

Tips for sleep-deprived parents

I’ll bet you $100 that, at some point in the nine months of your pregnancy, someone said: “Make the most of your sleep now, you won’t get any more for 18 years LOL LOL LOL!” (or some variation on that theme)

Somehow the experience of sleep deprivation – something that is actually used as torture in other circumstances – is seen as a rite of parental passage. Like you aren’t actually a parent until you’ve existed on two hours sleep for a week and laughed about it at a wine bar with your perfectly make-upped coffee group.

I’ve now been a member of the up-all-night crowd for four years. Here are a few tips I’ve gleaned that might help you through.

Hide your clocks

Ignorance isn’t exactly bliss but it definitely does help in the middle of the night.

If you open your eyes to the latest baby cry only to see a bedside clock chirpily telling you it’s 13 minutes since you last got out of bed, it’s *not great* for your state of mind. But when you don’t actually know how much sleep you’re missing out on, it’s harder to get as stressed and upset.

That should, in turn, make it less likely that you’ll get stuck in that awful sleep-killing anxious cycle of desperately trying to get back to sleep as soon as possible after each wake-up.

Try not to think about how tired you are

When you’ve had little sleep, it’s tempting to mope around all day feeling sorry for yourself. But the more you think about it, the worse you’ll feel.

If you focus on when you can get back to bed for a nap or how you can get the kids occupied so you can lie on the floor,what little energy you have will evaporate. Kids also tend to sense a bad mood and become much more difficult to manage.

Focus on as many little positive things as you can through the day (sorry! this is the only rah rah suggestion I’ll make).

Book a sleep-in

I found it so helpful to know that a little more sleep was coming at some stage. We used to take turns at the weekend so one of us would get a sleep-in on Saturday and the other on Sunday. When I was feeling revolting mid-week, that sleep-in would shimmer on the horizon. Can you book in a time when you can sleep-in or nap? Ask a friend or family member to take your kid/s for a loooooong walk, or get your partner to play with the baby for a couple of hours last thing at night or first thing in the morning.

Eat well and drink lots of water

When you’re super tired it’s easy to lose your appetite but good meals – preferably cooked by someone else – help. Supposedly you’re not meant to rely on sugar because it creates energy peaks and crashes. I ignored this advice.

Supplements

Whether it’s Juice Plus or 1Above or Powerade or basic multivitamins, try out a few options to work out what seems to fill the nutrition gaps. I found one I thought was magic, until I discovered it was probably its stealthy caffeine component that was making me feel better, not the vitamin hit.

Coffee

Self-explanatory. Bonus points if you buy a machine that keeps it warm.

Co-sleeping

Giving up on the idea of kids sleeping alone in their own beds has been the one thing that has given us a lot more sleep.

Instead of going through the rigmarole of carting our son back to bed and staying til he sleeps, then sneaking out, my husband just climbs in and goes to sleep with him if he wakes in the night. My daughter usually spends half the night tucked up under my arm. It means I only half wake when she stirs – much less painful than trudging around in the dark to her room.  If you’re thinking about doing this, there are ways to do it safely. 

Find a friend

Some of your friends will have annoying kids who allegedly magically and spontaneously started to sleep through from six weeks. Others will actually be honest and tell you that they are struggling through, too. Stay close to them and complain away. Knowing you’re not the only one up at 2.30am with a grumpy child can make a big difference.

Know it won’t last forever

I’m reliably informed that at some stage all kids will sleep by themselves. They’ll hop into bed by themselves, nod off to sleep by themselves, stay there all night by themselves and you’ll have trouble getting them out in the morning. All we have to do to get there is wait. It’s as easy (and hard!) as that.

,

How to tackle whinging

  • The lid on the sistema container not being perfectly straight.
  • Me throwing out an empty fruit sachet that everyone assured me they did not need.
  • Only being able to keep one hat on at a time.

These are just three of the things that have sparked a full-scale, my-world-is-about-to-end meltdown in recent days, or worse – hours-long whinging sessions.

I was warned about the “terrible twos” and the “threenager” stage but it seems that almost-four has its own challenges. And we’re now past the stage where a cuddle immediately makes everything right again.

I’ve had to come up with some new strategies to cope.

Try to remember that they’re all actually a bit mad.

Part of the problem is that my son is articulate, intelligent and usually really good company. I have to remind myself that the part of his brain that’s responsible for rational thought and self-awareness isn’t even really starting to develop yet, so of course it’s a world-ending disaster when I won’t allow him to take my work laptop in the bath.  Another thing that helps is treating him like a slightly nutty dignitary from another planet, struggling to learn mysterious ways of society on Earth.

Catch them being good

Sometimes it feels like I’ve spent the whole day asking, reminding, pleading “please don’t sit on your sister’. “Please don’t hide in the toilet.”  “Please don’t rub that in your hair.” It’s boring for everyone. If I can seize on the slightest indication of desirable behaviour and perform an all-singing, all-dancing celebration of it, it puts us all in a better mood. You’ll be surprised what you can praise if you really try.

Try giving in

I know! But stay with me here. If the whinging is driving you up the wall, it’s easy to just refuse to listen to any of it. But sometimes, if you can make out what it is being said amid the long vowel sounds and shouting, it’s not an entirely unreasonable request. If it’s “play with meeeee” or “IIIII’m thirstyyyyyy” I try to find a way to accommodate, sometimes with boundaries. If that doesn’t change the behaviour then it usually means it’s just a symptom of something else, like tiredness or hunger.  Then I can resort to my super stash of potato sticks.

Choices

Experts reckon a lot of the whinging and complaining is because kids feel that they’re not in control. If you offer them choices, it removes some of the feeling of powerlessness. This should be things that still get you to your parental goal, regardless, like “do you want porridge or fruit for breakfast” not “do you want to go out or stay here and watch PJ Masks”.

Set up contests

I know we’re all meant to encourage inquisitiveness and creativity in our children but sometimes it’s way too time consuming (“Mummy what is that bird”, “why can’t I wear my undies on my head”) and I need a tactic to keep things moving. It turns out that my son has a bit of a competitive streak. Challenges such as “can you get dressed/brush your teeth/read that book with your sister in the time it takes me to drink my coffee/put the dishwasher on/find my bag” are great motivation and have got us out the door in record time.

I’m no expert and what works for me today may well prove completely ineffectual tomorrow. But it’s wroth a shot, right?

 

 

 

 

 

How to have a birthday party

All of my son’s friends seem to have their birthdays within about four months of each other. As we approach the next round, anxiety seems to be growing. Do we do it at our homes? Would they behave if we went out in public? How much do we need to set up to entertain them? How much orange-dusted processed carbohydrate can one small person eat?

I turned to a writing group I’m in – a reliable source of knowledge about almost everything– and have gleaned these birthday party tips from those who’ve gone before.

Try for outside

It’s much less stressful if you don’t have to worry about what’s being ground into your carpet. If you can have a party in the garden, you can just leave much of the mess there for the rain to deal with. Bonus points if you have access to a dog who can do a good impression of a vacuum cleaner.

Not doing it at home is sometimes good…

If you want to make sure the party ends at a set time, you might want to do it somewhere else. That way, when the kids start doing their best interpretative-dance-style tantrums, you can pack up and leave. Local parks get an honourable mention. However, it should be noted that this works best for parties where parents remain present. If people are ditching – sorry, dropping – their kids with you, you’ll have to stay there til the last one is picked up.

Set up activity stations

A finger painting spot, a water balloon fight arena, a dance-off zone… set up spaces for the kids to move between so they can do what they feel like and you don’t have to corral them into any sort of formal game. There’s nothing like a forced game of Pass the Parcel to dampen the mood.

Hire entertainers

Yes, you could dress up in a superhero costume and prance around with the kids. But do you really want to?

You can find entertainers who haven’t been up all night looking after children, and will sail in for an hour of energy-busting running around – whether that’s something sporty, Lego, arty, creative or superhero-ish. Meanwhile, you smile beatifically and do nothing. Bliss. If you don’t have access to professionals, you could rope in some willing teenagers to oversee craft or games in return for a bit of cash.  A hired bouncy castle or a couple of cars for them to zip around in can also do the job.

Get them to DIY

Can you trick them into doing the work for you? Set up a sundae bar and get the kids to make their own icecreams. Have a pizza party where they create their own toppings.

Book a venue where they’re ready for you

Local pools and such places as McDonalds deal with more kids’ parties every week than many of us would wish to imagine. If you hold yours there, they’ll usually have a member of staff who’ll help keep things running smoothly – and handle the clean-up afterwards.

Don’t worry too much about presents

Lots of parents look askance at the growing pile of plastic that seems to accumulate each birthday and vow that next year, there’ll be no parents. Relax. Say no presents if you want, but know that most people will ignore it. Focusing on cutting down on junk purchases through the rest of the year is likely to be more effective.

Rent a kid-proof room

Local parents’ centres and kindergartens sometimes offer themselves up as venues for kids parties. This is often useful because they’re already set up for small people, there’s a supply of “new” toys to captivate your kids’ attention, you don’t have to worry about stuff getting broken and the gates usually lock so you won’t accidentally lose one.

Have fun

You might focus on the mismatched decorations or the terrible weather forecast but for your kids, it’ll barely register.  Focus on the good stuff and worry about the rest later. Nine months later, my son still talks about the dinosaur cake at his third birthday, which we ate crammed into the lounge because of a sudden shower.  He assures me his birthday was a perfectly sunny day.

How clueless were we…

As part of getting sorted for the new year, I’ve been setting some goals. There’s all the stuff you might expect – stop substituting sugar for sleep, exercise more, finish the novel that’s on draft number five, apologise to those who read draft one and two…

To help the process, I set up a spreadsheet to put in a Dropbox folder that I share with my husband. (I just had to read that sentence again to confirm to myself that yes, I am actually a complete nerd.) In that folder, I found a little piece of history – the plan we wrote for the arrival of our son in July 2014.

We were so cute! We were going to get the room ready by February, make sure the carseat was booked by March, my husband was going to block out all of June to be away from the office and we were going to get a cleaner to help us at home. All highly recommended things. Well done us.

But then I discovered a little gem – we had noted that by mid July 2014, we should be getting more sleep again. That’s about the time our son was a month old. I wonder what we would have said had we known that a full three-and-a-half-years later he still wouldn’t reliably sleep right through the night.

Here’s some other things I would like to tell us as we wrote that plan:

Enjoy the baby phase
I went into having my son thinking that the first 12 months would be a trial that we just had to get through. Everything I had read and everyone I talked to warned me about how arduous and gruelling it would be and how my ability to ever do anything fun ever again would be completely gone. In fact, I was one of the lucky ones, who didn’t get PND, managed to get quite a bit of sleep due to “naughty” habits such as feeding to sleep and co-sleeping and generally had a pretty good time hanging out with my coffee group, trekking through forests with our kids in front packs (I know! Where’s the resolution to get back to that?) and taking him out for breakfast before he got old enough to run away. I wish I had been able to relax a bit earlier and enjoy it a bit more – because the baby phase with number two was nowhere near as peaceful.

Don’t worry about sleep consultants
I have mentioned before that I talked to two sleep consultants about my son’s sleep. They each tried to get us out of our “bad” habits but in reality achieved nothing but making me feel guilty for not being able to get him to fall asleep on his own. I wasn’t willing to leave my dog to sleep in her own room when she was a puppy, I don’t know why I thought I had some hidden vein of staunchness for my son. At 3.5 he still likes to have me with him when he falls asleep and I (usually) love it. It’s when he asks me questions he’s been pondering and makes up bedtime stories to tell me. I wish I had just relaxed and enjoyed it for the first year, instead of worrying I wasn’t doing it “right”.

Don’t worry about sleep
In the beginning, I had an app that measured how long he fed and slept for. I wish I could go back and tell myself that this level of micromanagement was totally unnecessary. He fed and slept for as long as he needed to and worrying about it did nothing but cut down my own sleep.

Don’t compare
It’s great when you have a group of friends with kids all the same age. There’s a readymade play date every time you get together. But there’s also the added interest of comparisons. Someone’s walking at eight months. Someone’s talking at three weeks. What I needed to hear was that when we catch up now, at 3.5, they’re all walking, talking and interacting brilliantly. And all toilet trained.

Don’t worry about stimulation
How many hours did I spend worrying about whether my son was getting enough stimulation – were we giving him the right toys to play with, were we talking to him enough, was he getting out… I didn’t stop to consider that for a child who’s new to the world, everything is stimulation. If you’re spending time with them and enjoying their company, that will be stimulation enough. No baby classes required.

Don’t worry about using (good) daycare
Paid care has an extra layer of guilt for me because I work from home. I’m often asked: Why don’t you have them with you all the time, while you work? Clearly, no one who asks has ever tried to work with a small boy and almost-toddler around. Both times I’ve twisted myself in knots before committing to any regular care (even though we only do it part-time), but each time it’s worked out beautifully. My son thrived – and loved one of his teachers so much that we still have her over to our house twice a week, even though he’s no longer under her care. My daughter seems to pick up a new word every time she goes for her morning sessions.

I wonder what I’ll look back on in another three years and roll my eyes at. Hopefully by then, at least one of them will be sleeping through the night.

Things you realise when you have a ‘big-boned’ baby

Both of my babies missed the memo about being meant to lose weight in the first few days after birth.

Each put on 300g in the first week of their lives. It turned out they started as they meant to go on – they kept gaining weight apace through their first years.

Although they were both born small, I’ve had two babies of the sort of size that prompts strangers to stop in the supermarket and exclaim over how “bonny”, “extremely healthy” or “chubby-legged” they are.

This is all good news on the surface. A good coating of padding helps keep them warm and means I don’t have to fret too much if they get sick and start dropping a feed or two. The experience of the first tells me that by the time my daughter is a rampaging two-year-old, she too will be as lean as the next child.

But there are a few significant drawbacks to having an infant who goes through a Rubenesque stage.

My back

Imaging how your body might feel if you had to lug around a very large sack of potatoes for a day. Then do that every day for the next six months. Babies don’t really start to cling on and take any of their own weight as they are carried until they are into their second year. So if you have a big baby, you get strong fast. I’m currently carrying 12-ish kilograms of child much of the day – doing squats with my sack of potatoes as I try to get on to the floor to play with my son and lunges as I try to get back up again. My knees are in the worst shape they’ve been since I played netball as a teenager. But I’m destined to carry my child for longer than normal, even though it’s harder, because…

The later milestones

Bigger babies have too much body weight for their limbs to handle, so they tend to be later crawlers (or so I am told). That’s good news since my house is entirely un-childproofed at present and not really ready for a crawler but not so good for my tired arms.

Feeding

I read something that proclaimed that every bit of fat on a breastfed child had come straight from its mother. This doesn’t bear scientific scrutiny but it does sometimes feel as though every nutrient is being sucked out of each cell of my body. It takes work for those kids to get their gorgeous bodies – and it’s mostly mine.

The clothing

My baby has been in a size one since she was about six months old and I’m resisting moving to the next size up. There’s always an “is this going to fit” moment when I get a onesie out and try to clip it for the first time in a while.  I cover up increasingly gaping necklines with jumpers. But she’s still not really size one in length, yet. Any pants that fit around the middle tend to dangle off the bottom of her legs.

The comments

I’ve run out of ways to respond to the “she’s a big girl, isn’t she?” statements. Yep, yes, she is.

The well-meaning comments are fine. We can agree she’s super cute. But when people ask me if I’m worried that she’s bigger than her peers, it’s not that helpful. For the record, no, I am not. But my knees wouldn’t mind a break sometime.

 

Your 20-step guide to bedtime, by my three-year-old

Step one: Begin early. About 4pm, focus on appearing very tired. Give one-word answers to questions and gaze off into space at regular intervals.

Step two: About 5pm, start complaining. If your parents ask you to do anything – at all – there’s no need to comply. Simply say “I’m tired”. Or whine. That’s fine, too.

Step three: When your flustered parents give you dinner, stare at it forlornly. When one suggests you might be too tired to eat, nod imperceptibly. If someone asks if you think you could manage anything… at all… look up dolefully from under your eyebrows: “Maybe four crackers.”

Step four: Once you’ve got what you want, you can experience a dramatic surge in energy. Suggest your parents take you on in a running race.

Step five: When it’s bath time, propose a game of hide and seek. Before anyone has a chance to disagree, run away and hide. Alternatively, if anyone is trying to put a sibling to sleep, use the opportunity to share your singing or kapa haka skills with the rest of the family.

Step six: Practice your kickboxing on your parent/s as they carry you to the bath.

Step seven: Refuse to get out.

Step eight: Only brush your teeth if they let you stand on the bathroom vanity and eat the toothpaste.

Step nine: Negotiate three stories in bed.

Step 10: Remember that you didn’t have any water with your dinner. Shout “I’ll get it” and run out of the room before anyone can stop you.

Step 11: Return. By now your parents are so close to getting you into bed that there’s an extra sense of desperation in the air. Request a minute to look out the window at the planets.

Step 12: Even if it’s pouring, insist that you can see Venus.

Step 13: Ensure that everyone else in the house has also seen it.

Step 14: Finally lie down but commence a series of rolls back and forth across the bed so you get tangled in the sheet.

Step 15: Request your mother’s company once she’s helped you free.

Step 15: Ask her to make up a story in which you and your friend go on a long, convoluted bike ride that involves monsters, a river, the sun and jelly.

Step 17: Ask for a second glass of water.

Step 18: Then the toilet.

Step 19: Change your mind and request your father’s company. Extra points if you shout: “I don’t want you!!!” At your mother.

Step 20: Lie across your dad’s face for 32 minutes until he falls asleep through lack of oxygen. Go to sleep yourself.

What not to say to a new mother

Here’s a public service announcement. If you’re about to go and visit a friend with a new baby, there are a few things that you just should not say. Under no circumstances. Ever.
All of these were said to me in the few weeks after my daughter was born almost nine months ago.

Will you have any more?
I’ve just spent almost ten months growing a small person inside me, dealing with kicks to the ribs, bladder and pelvis, unable to sleep, struggling to breathe … and then I had to get that baby out into the world. If you’re asking me before my stitches have even healed, the answer is no.

My cousin’s sister-in-law’s daughter is six and still not sleeping through the night.
When you’re waking up every 90 minutes, sometimes the only thing that keeps you going is the knwoledge that every child must sleep through the night eventually. Hopefully soon. I don’t want to hear that could be years away.

I wouldn’t say no to a glass of wine
I’m a fan of wine, too. But if I’ve just had a baby you can get it yourself.

It’s my birthday next week…
Great. Best wishes. If you’re expecting me to turn up to your celebratory dinner, you’ll be disappointed. Book me in for the next one.

When do I get to babysit?
First up, most of the people making this offer are 100% expecting never to have it taken up. Second, she’s a week old. The idea of leaving her with anyone makes me feel a bit faint.

I think she’s hungry
If you offer to hold her so I can have a minute to myself, I won’t be impressed if, two minutes later she’s back because you think she needs a feed. Especially if she’s only just finished one.

Remember to sleep when she sleeps
Thanks, hadn’t thought of that. Except if I sleep when she sleeps, it means every single minute of my waking hours is full of baby.

Make sure you get out
Yes I know getting out of the house helps avoid pnd or whatever. But I don’t need to hear this when I’m still trying to work out how to install both seats in the car. And when the one time I have attempted an outing I’ve ended up covered in milky vomit, carrying both a baby and a two-year-old.

I’d like a baby but I couldn’t bear what it does to your body
When my mid-section still looks like a deflated beach ball with weirdly crepey skin and one breast is twice the size of the other, the least you could do is pretend not to notice.

I’m not really a kid person
If you’ve come round to visit me and my newborn, try to pretend you think she’s cute. Related to this: oh dogs are so much easier.

You look tired
How odd. I’ve been sleeping like a baby.

Oh, (son) looks a bit left out
For me, the worst bit about having two has been the worry about not being able to give my son the same attention. 0/10 to those who made this observation. 10/10 to those who brought a little present for both of them or attempted to engage him in conversation about something other than his sister.

, , ,

One less thing to worry about

This afternoon, the small children I was holding, one on each hip, vomited on me at precisely the same time – like nauseous synchronised swimmers. Four years ago I would have run straight to the shower. Today I thought for a couple of minutes about whether I really needed to change my top.

Being literally covered in sick is one of the things that no longer bothers me at all. (It should be noted I haven’t checked this theory with vomit from anyone other than the children.)

Here are some other things I’ve decided to stop worrying about.

Screen time
When my son was little, he wasn’t going to have any screen time, ever. I had read all the articles about how bad it is for little brains and how no kids should watch any TV until they are 2 and basically not use an iPad until they are 30. But then we were stuck on a bus one day, he was bored and complaining and someone showed him The Wiggles. He was captivated and stopped grumbling for a full five minutes. Six months later we were at The Wiggles’ live show, singing along to allll the words.  Now he has a sister, Robocar Poli is about the only thing that enables me to get her down for a nap without him racing in. I’m choosing not to worry about screen time within reason. As long as it isn’t those egg-opening videos on YouTube, or another precocious American child “reviewing” toys. My iPad swiftly “runs out of battery” if those come up.

Sleep
I’ve tried to follow routines and I’ve looked for tired signs. I’ve tried baby wearing, car-soothing, white noise and blackout curtains. But my baby seems to have missed the memo that she’s meant to have at least an hour’s nap twice a day, and then to sleep 13 hours at night (or something like that). I could tie myself up in knots worrying about whether she’s getting enough sleep and reading all the research about how unhealthy it is for small people to be awake too long. But all that seems to do is keep me awake at night in those small snatches of time when she actually is asleep. For now I’m following her lead. I figure by the time she’s a teenager I’ll probably have to coax her out of bed.

Food
I’d love it if my kids would eat only vegetables and lean protein and look at everything we serve them with pure delight. But actually they’re more likely to want to snack on custard, Nutella and crackers (preferably all at once) and to turn their nose up at our culinary creations. I could spend all day worrying about whether the good in the courgette cancels out the bad in hiding it in a chocolate cake, or I can just try to get the best food possible into them as often as I can. I’m convinced all those Pinterest mothers sharing photos of their kids with plates of artfully arranged, creatively cut “just whipped this up for a lazy night off cooking” vegetables are sneaking them packets of chips when no one is looking.

Clothes
I recently went to H&M and bought my kids some super cute matchy-matchy outfits – tops and trackpants, leggings and tshirts etc. They looked so sweet in them (almost like all the other kids on my Facebook feed). Then the clothes had to be washed and the pieces came through different loads and I’ve never been able to put the outfits together again. My son went out in a pyjama top and a pair of Hawaiian shorts the other day. I’m okay with that.

Keeping up with friends
I’m sure some of my friends must think they’ve mortally offended me because they haven’t heard from me since 2013. They haven’t. But by the time I’ve got everyone sorted, packed my mountaineering kit with the supplies I might need for the three hours we’re out, and organised us all into the car, any event we were going to is pretty much already over. I’m fortunate that one of my best friends is in Bhutan so I can at least pretend that the fact we haven’t caught up lately isn’t entirely my fault.

Sleeping in same bed as husband
I used to be shocked when people told me they slept in separate beds, but we seem to have become that couple. Our daughter (as mentioned) isn’t a great fan of sleeping but will put up with it if she has a milk supply on tap all night. It’s quite cute having three of us squished into the bed but the smallest one tends to take up the most room and the adults end up lying precariously balanced on the sides. Sometimes I actually have one foot on the ground. So when my son turns up demanding his father come and help him back to sleep after a nightmare (or whatever drives the demonic wailing down the hallway) we are both more than a little relieved. I’m assuming we’ll get back to the same bed within a couple of years… right?

Feeding to sleep
How many times have I heard that feeding to sleep is an awful habit that creates bad sleep associations that I’ll never be able to break? I think I lost count at about 1432. But when the alternative is pacing up and down the hallway for four-and-a-half hours, I’ll take the option of feeding for 20 minutes. I figure there aren’t any 12-year-olds still feeding to sleep so we’ll break the habit at some point.

8 things to look for in your co-parent

I now have just over three years’ experience as one half of the parents of a small person.

One of the things I discovered early on is that it is quite important that the person you create a new human with is pretty decent. Of course, sometimes you pick a dud and the sooner you identify that failing, the better. But if you get a good one, everything is so much easier.

Here’s a list of things I think you should look for in a co-parent.

Ability to function on no sleep

When I first met the children’s father I despaired at how he could stay up until 2am and then want to get up at 8am the next day. He actually said to me once: “Sleep is a waste of time.”  I, on the other hand, preferred to stay in bed as long as possible. Now I see what a blessing it is that he can function  when sleep-deprived to levels that are banned by the Geneva Conventions.  When you first get together, see if you can pull a few all-nighters, then spend the next day indulging in some sort of endurance event. Perhaps run a marathon or shift house. This should give you a good insight into what it will be like when your baby arrives, and whether your partner will turn into an unhelpful, grumpy mess at the first sight of a sleepless night.

Ability to improvise

No matter how well you plan and how organised you think you are, things will go wrong when you are wrangling children.  Most of the time when you leave the house, you will forget something important. You might be out and realise you are short by one nappy. Or you will be on a long car ride and realise you have no toys and not enough mobile data to play kids’ songs on Spotify. It is going to help enormously to be with someone who can fashion a nappy out of a box of tissues or toys out of the detritus left on the floor of the car, all while making up silly songs, pulling faces at the children – and focusing on driving.

Similar taste in TV

Since number one child was born, I have watched more TV than I did through the rest of my life combined. I’m not sure if it’s because we can’t go out as much, or just because we are awake a lot more hours in the day now, but we seem to spend a lot of time binge-watching Netflix, hoping the noises we can hear aren’t our kids waking up. It has turned out to be important that we share similar TV interests, and that he’s decent company to hang out on the couch with. Imagine if I had discovered too late that he was a TV commentator, an open-mouth eater, or a remote-control obsessive. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Ability to eat quickly

This has turned out to be much more important than I expected. Going out for breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffees, snacks or whatever becomes quite a different proposition when you have a small person along for the ride. Usually, this involves one person eating quickly while the other holds the child, then switching. Extra points, then, to a parent who lets me get to my lunch before it goes completely cold. By the time the children are teenagers we’ll be eating so speedily that no one will even notice the food was ever there.

Willingness to carry a bag

You can’t have any of this nonsense about men not carrying bags. There is no sense in only one half of the parenting couple being a packhorse when you venture out of the house. You need nappies, wipes, changes of clothes for all of you, toys, food… then all the stuff you’d normally carry, too.  It’s only fair that the load is shared – and everyone looks equally tragic carrying a nappy bag, anyway.

Strong stomach

You can’t faint at the sight of blood or vomit at the smell of vomit if you are going to be any use to me. My husband has had to put up with increasing levels of rottenness since our first one arrived on the scene. I’ve had him checking stitches, he’s inspected nappies for foreign substances, held our little one while he had a tummy bug that had both ends going constantly, and done the sniff test to work out whether a stain is peanut butter or… you can guess.

Willingness to be interested in anything

Related to the above, I never thought bowel movements would be a subject of conversation in my life but now I send text messages about them. Or phone to tell him about the contents of our daughter’s nose. He has to at least pretend to care.

Sense of humour

Sometimes, both kids will be shrieking at us, we will be covered in bodily fluids of unclear origin, we’ll realise we haven’t had a shower in 24 hours and we both have bags under our eyes that would take all our belongings if we could ever have a holiday again.  But I’m never quite as sure that I picked the right person to raise these gorgeous nutbars with as when he points out that something that seems awful is actually a little bit hilarious.

One day we’ll get our bed to ourselves again, a clean change of clothes and the chance to shower in peace. Until then, here’s to the wonderful dads in the world (or mums, step-parents, co-parents of any description).

 

 

Stop complaining about ‘slacking’ working parents

There’s an article doing the rounds of social media at the moment about parents skiving off work and leaving their childfree colleagues to pick up the slack. I paraphrase, but you get the gist.

A few of my friends have shared this piece of what feels like parent-bashing propaganda. But the assertions seem to me to be flimsy at best.

Parents are at a disadvantage when it comes to workplace slacking. Generally, we are slacking for a specific, child-related purpose. We have to leave to pick someone up, watch someone do something or tend to someone who is ill.

All of these are very hard to conceal. You notice when a parent is out of the office looking after their child, or has a set time to leave. They might even have had to have these conversations with their employer when they were first hired.

Compare that to the slacking of non-parents. I have worked with countless people who have arrived at work half-asleep, sometimes not even in their work clothes. They have a coffee at their desk, maybe get through a bowl of cereal, and quietly surf Facebook in that mid-afternoon time when motivation wanes.  I’ve worked with younger guys who have openly complained about being sub-par because of a hangover, and one who even tried to tempt young women in the office down to a couch on an abandoned floor of the building for regular “breaks”.

But then, because they are still at their desks at 5pm when the parent workers are having to get ready to leave, they feel virtuous about the long hours they are putting in – even if they are catching up on work they could have been doing during the day.

I know of one woman whose (predominantly male) colleagues rolled their eyes at her having to leave at 4pm each day – after starting at 8am. They all made it known that they stuck around until at least 5pm. But one day when she had to work late she discovered that between 4pm and 5pm they were not all diligently working but instead had their jackets on the back of their chairs, talking about sport.

I don’t know if you have tried it, but there is no incentive to get work done that is quite as effective as knowing you only have a limited number of hours until you’re back into child-wrangling. I would suggest there are few people more productive than a working mother who knows that anything she does not get done in the office is going to have to be done with small people around – or she’ll have to work until late, after they have gone to bed.

If I am going to listen to you talk about your big nights out, or cover you when you go on holiday or sit through meetings where we talk about literally nothing while I watch my to-do list get bigger by the minute, you can keep your complaints to yourself if sometimes I am not in the office at the time you would expect.

Quite apart from all this, there’s the social good of flexible working and understanding colleagues and employers. If we want to close the gender pay gap and get more women into management positions, we need to be more understanding of people’s lives outside work. Too often caring is written off as something to be embarrassed about having to do, whether that’s care of someone who’s sick, a child or an elderly relative.

Making parents feel bad about balancing the juggle serves no purpose except to add to the burden of someone’s (already significant) mum guilt. Parents already worry constantly about who they are letting down when they are trying to be everything to everyone.  You can bet the people who haven’t been productive today because of one too many Coronas last night aren’t sitting around fretting about it.