So there I was, 30 years old, at the peak of my powers and with the world at my feet, thinking I had it all sussed out. I had a good job, great friends, and wonderful wife and an active social life. And then my wife casually says to me one day “I think I might be pregnant”, like she was considering getting her hair cut in a new style. My heart skipped a beat and my brain turned to jelly as I struggled to resolve the flood of emotions that had so unexpectedly engulfed me. Confused thoughts raced around my mind: “I’m going to be a dad!” … “How can we afford this?” … “What will we call him or her?” … and “I’ll never be able to go to the pub again.” So what did I say in response to my wife’s bombshell? Well, for the sake of decorum, I won’t reproduce my exact words, but suffice to say that it was not perhaps the reply that my wife had been expecting.
So here we are, more than a decade on and now with two children. I still haven’t worked out how we can afford this, but we do have names for the kids and occasionally we get to go to the pub, which is something I suppose. Looking back at my younger self, I wonder if there is any useful advice that I could pass on from my years of experience to help him as he comes to terms with being a first time dad (that’s assuming he’d listen, of course, he was always a bit of a know-all). Well, the practical stuff is easy, and mostly common sense: Buy a decent pram, but think carefully about whether you need all of the add-ons - they’re expensive and will probably spend most of the time blocking your hallway anyway; the first nappy is pretty disgusting, but hold your nose and just do it and you’ll be an expert in no time; babies and hangovers do not mix; get to know where the local swing parks are, you’ll be spending a lot of time there.
But what else could I offer that would be of any use? Surely there’s something that I’ve learnt that I could pass on? After thinking long and hard, here is the fruit of my experience:
Spend time with your youngster. I’ll be honest, it can be a bit boring hanging round with a young baby or toddler at times, and the conversation isn’t exactly scintillating. But it’s worth the effort because that’s when the magic moments happen; the first smiles, the first complete circuit of the dining table without falling down, the spontaneous hugs. As a friend of mine once wisely said “When I’m old and grey and looking back, these are the moments that I’ll remember, not the endless repeats of Peppa Pig.”
Put the camera down. You know all those people at gigs who spend the whole time with their camera phones in the air instead of dancing? It’s easy to get carried away like that with your first baby, and you can end up missing out on the moment if you’re not careful. So take photos and videos, but don’t forget to put down the phone now and again! After all, it’s the pictures in your head that really matter.
Get some sleep. My wife seemed to do this instinctively. As soon as the baby was asleep she would just nod off, whereas I often saw it as an opportunity to watch a movie or read a book and would then end up cursing myself the next morning when our bundle of joy woke up at 5 am again, full of energy and ready for the new day. Moral? Grab sleep where you can, you’ll need it!
Ignore advice. Lots of people will tell you what to do and that what you are doing is wrong, and it is absolutely fine to completely ignore them. Not everything, of course, some of the advice will be useful, but just because an older relative swears that there’s only one way to soothe a crying baby, doesn’t mean they’re right. Not that I’m thinking about anyone in particular, you understand.
You know what? Perhaps all this advice is not really necessary any way. After all, you can only really learn to be a parent by doing it, a