TRUE OPINION: This Father’s Day our columnist, Miles Hunt, gives real advice to all the dads out there with his tips on parenting a baby or small child. Trust him. He knows what he’s talking about. He’s a fairly average stay-at-home dad with just over two years experience on the job.
After two years and two months on the job, and in the midst of preparations for round two, I thought I’d share my experiences as a part-time stay at home father – a dad who ought to be using this time to raise child (asleep) and write the great dystopian novel (hibernation).
1. Get them helping around the house. There is a theory that two-and-three-year-olds are programmed to want to help, and not play, but are forced to play by overly earnest parents desperate for their little tykes to have a good time. I say get them helping – they make great cleaners, sorters, clearers, even cooks – well maybe not cooks, unless they are restricted to green-beaning (the cutting of vegetables or use of knives or sharp implements is not recommended). In a city like Sydney, with rents skyrocketing and parents working longer hours to afford these rents, we cannot afford NOT to have our children contributing domestically and / or financially.
2. Get down to their level. I mean literally get down on the ground – sit, lie, bend – and then start playing / communicating. It is a different world from where they are viewing things. Best to get acquainted with it. Remember: things we can see up here, don’t even exist down there and vice versa.
3. Get on their mental level. Children see the world through undamaged eyes, untainted by the stressors of life. Why the hell would anyone want them to come to our world? A world which has been affected by dashed hopes, years of torment, break-ups, break-downs, expectations, friends, family, social pressures, the boredom of the office or back-breaking drudgery (take your choice), and the innumerable cruelties of life. Their world is more beautiful, magical and wondrous than ours ever can be – unless one has perhaps partaken in a particular varietal of mushroom.
4. Give them freedom. When a baby learns to crawl, it is comparable to a teenager getting their driver’s licence – an unfettered freedom of a kind never thought possible. This feeling is repeated with standing – and the access that standing provides to unseen realms above the head – and walking, then driving, travelling, and money … and then it all starts closing back in, until one cannot even crawl. Freedom is amazing – it is one of the great joys of humanity, best to encourage it.
5. Create boundaries. It may seem this tip is the exact opposite of the previous one, but it is purely a risk mitigating strategy, and placed in here as legal protection against any potential civil liability. An example of this was when my daughter was playing on our bed some months ago, enjoying herself, when suddenly she rolled over and off and onto her head. I screamed to the high heavens, sure she had permanently injured herself. This is when freedom is not so good – like riding a moto bike with the wind in your face and then coming off – nasty!! Fortunately she was fine – the doctor told me that children are good at falling and landing on their heads.
6. Parents should be like a pottery-maker on a wheel – using thumbs to push the bowl outwards from the middle, to make its shape in the world, but all the while holding it back from disaster with the two palms resting gently on the outside. I stole this idea from a picture on the wall of my philosophy class. It sounded nice. Although, all my attempts to make a clay pot, using the wheel, ended in a disastrous mess.
7. Don’t shake baby when it is crying. I know this one is pretty obvious, and may seem unnecessary to list here. However, babies do cry a lot and when you haven’t had much experience with the shrieking of a baby, nor how to deal with it or stop it, and are very very tired, then shaking, throwing, or yelling at the baby may seem like a valid option. IT IS NOT. Instead, try to consider the reasons why the baby may be crying. The big ones, I found, in some sort of order are: hunger, thirst, dirty nappy, tired, need to burp or fart, urinated through nappy and into clothes, hot, cold, in pain, anxious because anxiety of parents is rubbing off, emotionally drained from seeing, hearing, tasting this new, and not necessarily pleasing, world.
8. Babies have had the good life taken away. Once they were cocooned in a perfectly warm sack of 37 degree water with all food, water and oxygen brought in directly through a tube, with no need to even bother breathing. This world is much worse. It is polluted. The temperature is always changing, and getting more erratic. There is no constant heart beat to keep them company and provide a drum beat to their existence. There is no warm and watery sack, no feeding chord. It is a scary, ever-changing place; filled with other people, all competing for the same resources. It would make me cry to have to leave behind the paradise of my mother’s womb. As such, please treat new born baby like a co-worker just returned from a tropical island paradise.
9. Routine… Routine… What is that over there? I’ve been told many times about the importance of routine: bed time, meal time, bath time – sounds like prison. But if you don’t enforce routine, then you can expect nights when they don’t go to bed till 9pm, and wake-ups any time from 3am to 8pm. It’s up to you. Personally I can’t handle the routine of a workday, so can’t really expect it of my child. As such, I expect she will grow up to love routine. Hopefully she can get me into some sort of routine when I finally make it to the retirement home.
10. Do your best. This is my favourite. In life, work, passions and relationships, all anyone can do is their best. Why should parenting be any different? No one is perfect. No one knows how to be a parent before they become one. Like all endeavours, parents must learn on the job – try, fail, try again and mostly fail again. But if you do your best, then this is half the battle. On the days that I quit my selfish indulgence, and get in there and play with my child, care for her, love her, and do it all to the best of my ability… these are always our best days together.
Feature Image: ‘Sleepy Dad’ (Richard Leeming / Flickr)