Parenting – A Lesson Lived

It has been a while since my last post on the topic of parenting and so I felt it was the right time to discuss a key lesson that I have learnt during my time as a father – Open mindedness.

Before becoming a parent and in the early days of the night time cries and daytime haze, I had ideas about what I did and didn’t want to do in my role. These were a mixture of preconceived ideas built by the mainstream press and parental literature, and my own unsubstantiated pre-judgements on how others did things.

Baby-led weaning? No way do I want my child to choke.

Look at that parent shouting at their child, I wouldn’t do that.

Prams are all you should have, there’s no need for a sling.

Co-sleeping will make your child clingy and they will never learn to sleep alone.

These were all thoughts that ran through my head at one point or another and I wanted to discuss these and how, or if, my judgements have changed.

Baby-led Weaning

According to BabyCentre, baby-led weaning (BLW) “… means forgetting purees and weaning spoons, and simply letting your baby feed himself.”

This is done by offering your baby a selection of nutritious finger foods suitable for his age.

Looking back, my fear of choking was born out of a lack of understanding about how BLW worked.

“Supporters of BLW argue that as long as babies can sit upright, they should be fine.

The fact that babies can handle and control the amount they eat, and move it to the back of their mouths when they’re ready, means the risk of choking is minimal.”

Despite our family not practising baby-led weaning and choosing purees, through further education on the subject, I learnt the benefits of BLW;

“BLW gives babies the chance to explore foods for themselves. It means they can cope with different food textures from the beginning of weaning.”

Many parents who I know that have tried BLW are passionate about the benefits. Their babies eat anything and everything, which helped to take the worry out of starting solids foods.

And there’s the first realisation, worry. Our early parental life was full of worry. Why is he so awkward with milk? When should we wean? Is he eating enough? Why doesn’t he want to eat? Is that soft enough?

You can read all the articles in the world and hear all the advice that people have to offer, but in the end your baby is an individual and will barely ever do as you expected. This leaves a massive sense of inadequacy, that you must be doing something wrong and calls your parenting into question.

Learning to treat your baby as the individual that they are, means you understand their own personal habits and not what a book says they should be. Although this can be a difficult task, once managed, the worry melts away.

Shouting and Discipline

I use the word ‘discipline’ to describe a method in which to help your child understand wrong from right.

Before becoming a dad, I saw other mums and dads out with their kids, yelling and pulling them to enforce order. I was shocked at how a parent could get so angry and lose that amount of control. That was, until I learned just how difficult and mentally and emotionally taxing that being a dad can be at times.

I have an incredibly headstrong and independent son, which is amazing until I need him to do something which he doesn’t want to do. Then, despite my best efforts to come down to his level and explain the reasons for my request, he occasionally fancies doing the exact opposite.

Now, I have never pulled or smacked Isaac in anger or otherwise, but I have lost my temper and snapped at him. When people say that ‘patience is a virtue’, it is one that takes a lot of practice. When you feel stressed or have had a horrendous day, it easy to forget and shout without thinking.

I am not advocating shouting and it is not something that I’m proud of. Isaac definitely responds a lot less to this, compared to rational conversation.

No parent is perfect and from the moment you have a child, you learn new lessons about them and about yourself. Through experience and time, I already have more patience than ever before and I will eventually fine-tune how I handle difficult situations. Until then, life is a lesson.

Sling When You’re Winning

Before Isaac was born, I had never thought about carrying him. Prams were all I had seen and all I knew about. So when he was born I had no inclination or want to carry him around.

My wife found slings before me and at the beginning, I wasn’t interested. It wasn’t until a local market that I opted to try it out for practical reasons and from there I was hooked.

It increased my confidence in myself as a parent and helped me realise that my child wasn’t a daunting part of my life that I should worry about. Wearing Isaac and having him close, allowed me to chat with him as we went about our business, and gave the added benefit of slingy cuddles, which helped build our connection.

This was massively important to me because, I’ll be honest, being a dad didn’t have the easiest of starts. No one tells you how difficult it will be and how massive the responsibility is to look after the tiny life that is passed to you. I found it difficult and got frustrated very easily. This frustration was born out of disappointment with myself for not living up to the idea of how fatherhood would suit me. When Isaac arrived it seemed a million miles away from what I’d imagined.

The first few weeks were the hardest and when I felt at my lowest. It was an emotional time generally, but there were points that I would just sit and cry. I felt like a rubbish father and incredibly alone, like I was the only person struggling and that people would think bad of me for showing it.

That was until I found slings. Babywearing for me, isn’t just about carrying my son, but also about the support and friendship within the community. Through online groups, I have met some amazing mums and dads and shared experiences.

To pay forward what the community had given to me, I completed my baby-wearing peer supporter training. This made me feel like I could use all my experiences and knowledge to help provide advice and support to other parents.

Using a sling, for me, ended up being more than a practicality. It stemmed from a deep seated part of me that craved closeness with my son and to aid me in truly feeling like a father. If I’d known then what I do now, I would have carried Isaac from the beginning. Who knows, things could’ve been very different.

Co-sleep = No Sleep?

I have left co-sleeping until last, because this has been a much more recent epiphany for me.

Co-sleeping for me was a concept filled with risk and fear.

BabyCentre was our main source during pregnancy and I trusted their views. “If your baby is six months or younger, it’s safest for him to sleep in a cot next to your bed, rather than in your bed. This will reduce the chances of your baby getting too hot under your bedding. Overheating increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).”

That was it, I didn’t need to know any more. If I slept with Isaac in the same bed, he might die. We had worked so hard getting him into the world, fought through heart conditions and IVF, and I wasn’t about to risk all that to have him in our bed.

As Isaac progressed to toddler-hood and began coming into our room in the night, this fear turned into annoyance. Annoyance at getting less sleep, the numerous kicks in the back, feet in my face, being pushed to the edge of the bed and that he may never want to sleep in his room again.

This went on for a while due to laziness on our part in putting him back to bed when he visited. Even when we tried and he stayed in his bed, eventually he would come in when we were more deeply asleep and sneak in beside us.

Then came the epiphany.

My wife told me about an interesting blog post, that I had to read. This blog was by hecticandclueless and it really opened my eyes, one line in particular;

“Do YOU sleep alone? No? Sleep with someone else, do you? LIKE it, do you? ENJOY having someone to cuddle?”

As my earlier blog post, Night of the Nyctophobe explained, I genuinely hate sleeping alone. So, it made me realise how hypocritical it was of me to get annoyed that Isaac wanted to be with us, if I can’t do it myself.

Not just looking at my own situation, but more generally, co-sleeping started to make more sense to me. If a fully grown adult, who understands the world through experience, wouldn’t choose to sleep alone – why would a child want to?

Of course, co-sleeping doesn’t work with every family and suit every situation. Each child is also very individual and have their own choices about where they want to sleep. My point is not that everyone should sleep in the same bed as their child, but that pre-judgements and fears shouldn’t make that decision for you.

Everyday’s a School Day

Open mindedness is a lesson learnt over time. It is one that I have attended everyday at the School of Parenthood.

Before being accepted into this school, I was a closed minded fool, truanting from class and riding around on his bike outside the gates.

Now, through experience and relationships with other parents who have differing styles of child raising, my acceptance knows no end.

We all judge in one way or another, because we all have our own ideas about what is best, but doing so without looking deeper will leave those ideas unsubstantiated.

In the end open mindedness will make a better parent, because things rarely work out as planned.