The parenting site for the rest of us…

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Mistakes. Advice. Tantrums. True stories. Nursery rhymes. Whether you’re a tired new parent or a perplexed soon-to-be mum or dad, Father-hood.co.uk is here to help (or at least make you laugh).

This exciting new blog is put together by award-winning writer and dad-of-one, Stuart Hood. It’s based around the mistakes he’s made as a parent, the questions he’s Googled since becoming a father, the things he’s doing to try and bond with his son, and the songs he’s made up while trying to rock his baby to sleep, and is designed to help put a smile back on your face whenever you’re feeling low, knackered or clueless.

If you want to get in touch with Stuart, email fatherhood.co.uk@gmail.com or send him a message on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

6 reasons dads need to find their voices

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Fasten your seatbelts, because things are about to get all serious up in here. That’s right, folks. This week, instead of writing some pithy one-liners about dirty nappies or Calpol, I’m going to dust off what remains of my intellect and attempt to intelligently discuss a subject that I am becoming increasingly passionate about.
Which is… the precise formula for working out the speed of collision that needs to take place in order for an incident involving a bare foot and some upturned Lego to turn from an “ouchy, ouchy” into a “we got a bleeder”.
Only joking. I’m really going to talk about the exact percentage of a sleepsuit that needs to be covered in baby vomit in order to tip the scales in favour of an outfit change.
Got you again. I’m actually going to present six reasons why dads need to find their voices. Seriously? Yes, seriously. Read on, clear your throat and prepare to join the revolution.

1. Mums are leaving us behind
I recently attended a Q&A session with The Unmumsy Mum. It was organised by a local bookshop and packed to the rafters with mums. There were hundreds of them and every single one spent the entire evening listening, laughing, chatting, clapping, smiling and nodding. The free glass of wine might have prompted some of this, but most of it was down to two things. 1. The Unmumsy Mum is very smart and very funny. 2. Along with a number of similarly honest bloggers, she has given these mums the confidence to find their voice. And it’s not just any old voice either. It’s a liberated bellow that says: “We are mums, hear us roar. (About anything and everything, from weaning successes to Legoland meltdowns via potty training mega fails).”
The whole evening was fascinating and uplifting to witness, but as the only man in the room it was also slightly depressing. Why? Simple. Because dads currently have nowhere near this level of camaraderie. Sure, sites like The Dad Network are great at connecting dads and promoting dad issues, but if you asked me whether there is a dad blogger who consistently nails what it’s like to be a modern dad in the way that The Unmumsy Mum consistently nails what it’s like to be a modern mum, the only truthful answer would be no. Why is this? Maybe it’s because fatherhood prompts less shared experiences than motherhood? Perhaps it’s because there are a lot less stay at home dads than there are stay at home mums? Or possibly it’s just that not enough people have discovered my blog yet? I don’t know. All I know is that until a bunch of dads find a way to inspire a generation, we fathers will never experience the solidarity enjoyed by our partners.

2. We can help each other
Earlier this week; I received an email from a dad who was having some issues at home. It was a cry for help that prompted mixed emotions. I was sad and worried for him, his partner and their child. But I was delighted that, instead of suffering in silence, he had given me the opportunity to discuss his problem, suggest some solutions and reassure him that a lot of my friends had made it through similar situations. “It’s nice to know that I’m not alone and you have some wonderful ideas,” he replied, after I’d sent him my response.
Why am I telling you this? To inflate my ego, duh. Not really. I’m sharing this story, because it features a man who found his voice and reaped the benefits.

3. We’re lonely
How many dad friends do you have? If you count the thoroughly nice chap my wife and I have met in the park twice, I have one. Really? Yes, really. While my wife is fielding Whatsapps from Mummies A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J and K, I’m just a dad, sitting in a baby class, asking a cuddly toy if they’ve seen any men who I might be able to befriend. It’s an isolated existence that can lead to frustration and negativity. Thankfully, I have some old friends within half an hour’s drive and plenty of family around, but some dads are less fortunate and slip into post-natal depression. I know. I thought this was just a mum thing too, but in actual fact studies have shown that up to one in 10 dads experiences this mental health issue. Would things improve if we all agreed to open our mouths and speak to one another? You bet they would.

4. We’re still not taken seriously
If the nursery has an issue with my kid, they ask to speak to my wife. If Peppa Pig wants to make a cheap joke, she picks on Daddy Pig. If a large multinational brand wants to sell more children’s products, it targets mums. Why is this? It’s partly due to our forefathers’ ambivalence to all things baby. And partly because most dads figure it’s less stressful to accept this situation than kick up a fuss. This indifference ends here and now, men. Why? I’ll tell you why. It ends because it’s not fair that our wives have to field every child-related call. It ends because it’s not right that our kids are being taught that daddies are blundering buffoons. And it ends because some kids don’t have mums. And if we can use our voices to make things a bit easier for these kids and their dads, then that is exactly what we should do.

5. We’re important to our kids
Like most men, I take the easy option whenever I possibly can. And when baby is crying for mummy, the easy option is to quietly retreat into the corner and watch Love Island. The good news is this show’s scandal and gossip will undoubtedly benefit my life in the short-term. The bad news is my addiction to it could handicap my son’s life in the long-term. I say this because a study by the US Department of Education found that kids with highly involved fathers are 43% more likely to get mostly A grades than kids without highly involved fathers. 43%?! If that’s not a reason to roll up your sleeves and find your voice around the house, I’m not sure what is.

6. We could be Christmas No.1
I’m no television executive, but surely turning a disparate group of stay at home dads into a well-oiled singing machine would be the perfect next instalment of a series that’s seen bespectacled choirmaster Gareth Malone transform military wives, postmen, airport employees, NHS workers, celebrities, wounded ex-service personnel and the residents of a housing estate just outside Watford into note-perfect choirs. Think about it. We could arrive with Baby Bjorns and crying toddlers, and leave with designer shades and record contracts. Now that’s what I call great television.

Dear Father Hood: have any parents ever planned a car journey correctly?

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Of course they have. They have planned. They have re-planned. They have done trial runs. They have used spreadsheets, walkie-talkies and cool-sounding code names. And do you know what? Sometimes it’s worked and the journey has passed like a warm summer breeze. And sometimes it hasn’t and they’ve been forced to deal with anything from a slight hitch to a minor natural disaster involving cheese and leek crunchies, projectile vomit and the hard shoulder of a busy motorway.

All of which brings me to yesterday. The good news is that none of the above happened. The bad news is that I was forced to ponder the question: would it be better to pee in an empty water bottle or attempt to wee into one of my son’s disposable nappies? Ooh, intriguing. It is, but you’re going to have to wait a few hundred words for the answer, because that happened on the way home and I need to get the outward journey out of my system first.

The theory behind the opening trip of the day was simple. We’d leave just after the little man’s lunch, as this would ensure he’d fall asleep swiftly and remain in that state until we arrived at our destination. For the first 45 minutes everything went swimmingly. We set off, he smiled. We sang, he snoozed. We drove on, he snored. Life was good. And then… the bubster opened his eyes just as we were passing a bus in central London. Usually we can get him back to sleep pretty quickly when he wakes up 45 minutes into his two-hour nap, but when his favourite vehicle is around we have no chance. Thus it was “hiya, hiya, hiya”, wave, wave, wave all the way to Balham. And then? Well then, he got cranky and wanted to go back to sleep. Which would have been fine if… we hadn’t just arrived for our first baby rave.

I’ve seen some clubbers in some pretty bad states in my time, but the bubster took the biscuit when he entered the dance floor yawning, screaming and crying waterfalls. Not the greatest of starts to our fun Mother’s Day adventure. Happily, he soon perked up and by the time we headed for the exit he had posed with the DJ, sat on the bar, thrown a variety of shapes, drawn on the wall, owned the chill out zone, eaten his snacks, chewed a glow stick, climbed up and down (and up and down and up and down) several flights of stairs and generally burnt off enough energy to ensure that he’d sleep on the way home. And he did. He slept for the full one hour and 15 minutes we’d scheduled it would take us to get home. Unfortunately, the M25 is no respecter of parental schedules.

After 75 minutes of our journey we were still in the queue to get past Heathrow. On the upside, I was able to spend 15 minutes pointing out the window and saying “plane”. On the downside, I really needed the toilet. I’ve become far more adept at pushing my bladder to the limits since the little man was born, but this was getting critical. I crossed my legs. Then uncrossed them. Then crossed them again. “What are you doing?” asked my wife, prompting me to air the aforementioned question about whether a nappy or bottle would be the best option. Bubby listened intently, leaned forward and pushed me in the nose. I took this as a vote for the bottle. I also reckoned that would be the best option (I’ve been in these situations before), but my wife thought the nappy deserved a little more consideration. “Surely, it’s perfect,” she argued. “After all, gathering urine’s what it’s designed to do.”

All of which led me to Google the phrase “amount of urine produced by a baby versus amount of urine produced by an adult”. The results were confusing, but from what I could gather fully-grown humans produce quite a bit more. Thus the nappy was returned to the baby bag. I was about to reach for the bottle when bubby started hitting his head off the back of his seat and laughing hysterically. “Stop him,” stated by wife. So I tried. I distracted. I sang. I read. I pointed at imaginary animals. I played “Where’s daddy’s hand?” (nowhere near as sinister a game as it sounds). I fed him some cheesy crackers. I played peek-a-boo. And I pretended to be asleep. Did any of these things stop him smacking his head off his chair? Absolutely not. But they did take my mind off my bladder and by the time the wee man gave in to tiredness we were one junction from home.

Would I be able to make it home without wetting myself and was it a good idea to let the baby snooze so close to his bedtime? Yes and no. I burst through the bathroom door and let out a loud exclamation of glee seconds after we got home. And bubby burst into tears on the first four occasions my wife tried to put him down. Happy Mother’s Day, darling. Let’s agree to stay out the car next year.

 

Dear Father Hood: it’s Mother’s Day on Sunday and I’ve not organised anything. Help!

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Don’t worry about it. I’m sure your husband will forgive you eventually (although maybe make sure he’s able to watch all the televised sport he wants in the meantime). Whoa, whoa, whoa. Before you all you lovely ladies turn an even darker shade of purple, I should inform you that I am only joking. I know this plea comes from a stereotypically disorganised man in a stereotypically seasonal pickle. I also know how to fix his problem. Mate, just get yourself on Amazon, sign up to the free trial of Prime and order the latest Geordie Shore boxset. Women love that show’s potent mix and incomprehensible accents, impressive abs and insatiable sexual appetites.

Again, I am only joking. Men, even if you’re running around at the last minute, the word you need to remember when sorting all things Mother’s Day is thought. If your baby’s mummy believes you’ve put a lot of thought into planning the day, then she’ll be delighted with a herbal tea bag in a novelty mug. And if she thinks you’ve simply thrown cash at a gift after some guy in the office reminded you’d get your balls chopped off if you woke up empty-handed on Sunday morning, then the thing she’s been harping on about for ages will be forever tainted by your heartlessness.

So, how do you ensure that you deliver delight when you have less than 48 hours to make things happen? The answer is by putting a four-part plan in place. Part one sees you fill a tasteful card with tear-jerking words about how great a mummy she is. Part two sees you source a present that makes her feel loved and appreciated. Part three sees you sign up to nappy duty for the full 24 hours. And part four sees you organise a memorable activity that she can photograph and boast about on social media.

I imagine a lot of you are currently staring at your screen and going: “An activity – what the hell’s he going on about?!” I’m going on about something like…

…A day out without the kid or kids
Is your wife having one of those weeks where she has had it up to her top forehead frown with your house-destroying, instruction-ignoring, poop throwing, constantly crying kid or kids? She is? In that case it’s your duty to make Mother’s Day all about her. And how do you do this? You do this by booking a babysitter or the grandparents and planning an adventure* that makes her smile and reminds her that she’s an extremely special human being who is anything but ‘just a mummy’.

*Could be anything from a boozy pub lunch to an impromptu road trip to the beach via a life drawing class or trip to the theatre.

…A day out with the kid or kids
On the other side of the coin, work commitments mean my wife is not currently getting to spend much time with our son. This means she wants to see as much of him as she can at the weekends, and this means it’s my fatherly duty to plan a treat that works for both of them. Last year, this was easy because everything worked for our kid as he was two months old and couldn’t move (thus I simply booked us into a restaurant my wife had wanted to go to for ages). This year, he’s almost 14 months old and moves a lot, so restaurants are out and interactive experiences are in. I’ve plumped for a baby rave because it’s different, it looks awesome and my wife and baby love to dance, but other good last minute options would be the zoo or the science museum. Not soft play? No, not soft play. It’s fun, but it doesn’t exactly give off that special occasion vibe.

…A day out with the in-laws
Obviously, you should only go down this route if your wife is currently getting on with her parents and you think that she’d like to have another couple of potential child soothers on site. If both of these answers are affirmative, then getting the in-laws involved could be a winner as it’ll both lighten your partner’s parenting load and give her the chance to celebrate her mummy. Two birds with one stone and all that, you sensitive, thoughtful Dad of the Year candidate.

…A day in the house
I know this sounds boring. But I also know that restaurants, baby raves and babysitters can be tough to book at the last minute, especially when it’s Mother’s Day. Subsequently, you may find yourself in a corner with your options dwindling and the clock ticking. If this happens, you can have a little sleep and hope it all goes away, or you can unleash your inner nursery manager and come up with a series of special Mother’s Day activities. Like? I don’t know. Off the top of my head, you could…

  • Fill some plastic bottles with lentils, pasta and a bunch of other stuff and get baby and mummy to dance about shaking them
  • Set up a ‘paint a picture of mummy’ zone
  • Make a Mother’s Day card together
  • Glue some sparkly stuff to your thumbs, clothes and various bits of paper
  • Hide pictures of mummy around the house that baby has got to find

On the downside, these activities could ruin your house and take ages to clean up. On the upside, they are easy to organise, they will spark some brilliant family time and they won’t cost an arm or a leg (you should be able to get all the stuff from Poundland or Hobbycraft).

So there you have it. This is my smash glass emergency, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat Mother’s Day guide. If you like one of the options I’ve come up with, give it a try and let me know how it goes. If you don’t, start a blog and come up with some suggestions of your own.

 

6 times Catastrophe nailed the reality of modern parenting

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It has taken a while, but my wife and I have now finally got to the stage where we are able to put our son to bed and then head downstairs to wolf down dinner, collapse on the sofa and catch up on the TV series that everyone without kids was talking about 18-36 months ago. We’ve been through Veep, Breaking Bad, the last three series of Take Me Out (don’t even think about judging us) and Narcos, and now we’re tucking into Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan’s excellent sitcom Catastrophe.

If you’ve yet to get with this Channel 4 programme, start downloading it the second you finish this article. If you’re already all over it, then you’ll know why it has won so many awards. It’s because it’s funny. It’s well written. It’s well acted. And, although it has the odd random sub-plot, for the most part it’s very, very realistic, especially when it comes to the pressures of trying to maintain a good job and happy marriage while bringing up a family in 21st Century Britain.

What’s that? You want examples. Fine, I’ll give you examples. No, seriously, I will. Here are half a dozen occasions when Catastrophe nailed the reality of modern parenting.

1. The labour scene
I’m not saying that a lot of films and TV programmes portray a diluted and overly romanticised view of the birthing process. But if any soon-to-be mums or dads want a real insight into the panting, sweating, swearing, pleading, puking and pooing that goes on during labour they should check out the opening episode of Catastrophe’s second series.

2. The bum in the air
If you think all babies sleep on their sides or backs, think again. Each night, our little man runs through a variety of weird and wonderful positions, including ‘the bum in the air’, where he plants his head at the top of the cot and burrows his knees up until his backside is a significant distance from the mattress. Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this because, early in series two, Sharon and Rob have the following exchange.

“Did you check in on Frankie, is his little bum still up in the air?” asks Sharon.
“Way up there, I gave it a little polish,” replies Rob.
“God, his little bum is too much,” responds Sharon. “Even his penis is cute. Oh, his little penis.”

Take away the penis chat and the polish joke and my wife and I have this conversation about 10 times a month. Freaky, huh?

3. The ‘romantic’ trip to Paris
Midway through series two, Rob and Sharon attempt to recharge their love batteries with a trip to Paris. In theory, it’s a one-way ticket to some baby-free, bedroom-based debauchery. In reality, the getaway quickly turns into a car crash of tiredness, frustration, lactation and long-held bitterness about something or other. But wait. Could there be some light at the end of the tunnel? Yes, there is. On the final afternoon, the storm clouds are replaced by a sunny cocktail of smiles, “remember when we did this” stories and ‘you’re actually alright, you are’ hugs. All of which leaves them just enough time to have a quickie before picking up the kids. Now, I’m far too much of a gentleman to tell you whether or not this emotional arc is reminiscent of the date nights and weekend breaks my wife and I have been on since the bubster entered the building. So all I’ll say is: What the? It’s like someone scripted my life and put it on the telly.

4. The jealousy of other people’s lives
I’ve already written about being envious of my single mates, but in truth my jealousy extends to anyone with the freedom to wake up in the morning and do something other than follow the baby’s ‘routine’. Catastrophe‘s writers capture this feeling perfectly when, early in season three, Sharon reveals she’s “a little bit jealous” of her brother’s proposed move to Spain. Does she want to live there? Not really. Can she speak Spanish? Not at all. Could she get a job there? No way. But that’s not the point. The point is that, like a lot of new parents, she feels trapped and can’t help but dream of a way out.

5. The nicknames
How do you tell one pleasant and smiley Bugaboo-wielding parent from another? You could attempt to learn everyone’s names, but what’s the point in doing that when you can come up with a memorable moniker like “stern blonde in the Range Rover”, “big glasses, yellow jacket”, “Ugg boots and an ugly dog” or, in Sharon’s case, “cross-eyed Christian mum”?

 6. The pram smile
Boy the first few weeks of parenting were an unrelenting slog of giving a lot and getting nothing in return. Combine this with the sleepless nights and regular milk regurgitation and I began to wonder what we’d got ourselves into. Then, about three months in, our son grinned and made a kind of contented sound while we were pushing him around in his pram. In retrospect, this might have been due to wind, but at the time we didn’t care. We were so happy with this interactive breakthrough that we came home and cracked open a celebratory bottle of Pinot Grigio. In Catastrophe, Sharon does almost exactly the same when she bonds with her daughter for the first time. Why only almost exactly the same? Because in the show she pops open some Champagne. Show off.

Dear Father Hood: is it natural to be jealous of your single friends?

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Jealous? Of your single friends? Why would you be envious of their Saturday lie-ins, their spontaneous social lives, their vomit-free car journeys, their sofa sessions, their regular gym routines, their off the beaten track holidays, their stain-free clothes, their ability to get their haircut when it needs to be cut, their knowledge of the latest fashion, restaurant and entertainment trends, their clean finger nails, their dinners that haven’t been planned a week in advance, their laptops without teeth marks on the keypad… I could go on, but you get the picture. Of course it’s natural for a new parent to be jealous of their single friends.

But here’s the weird thing. Whenever I tell one of my single friends that I covet their life, they look at me as if I am about to be carted off by a group of muscular health professionals sporting white coats. “You’re jealous of me?” they laugh. “That’s ridiculous. Why on earth would you be jealous of me?”

So I tell them all of the above, plus some stuff about how I haven’t slept properly for over a year, am constantly worried about cash, have endless conversations about Dulux paint colours, spend at least five minutes a day picking wet wipes off the floor and get drunk after two beers so have no idea what I am going to do on my best mate’s upcoming stag do. “That’s why I am jealous of you,” I state in the triumphant manner of someone who has just categorically proved that their life stinks in comparison with everyone else’s. And do you know what happens next? Laughter. Lots and lots of laughter. And then they hit me.

Not with their fists, silly. With a list of their own that says stuff like: my incredible wife, my wonderful son, the fact that they’re still renting a single bedroom, the fear they may never find someone and/or have kids, the self-loathing you feel when you wake up hungover next to a half-eaten pizza, the number of time wasters on Tinder and Happn, the pressure from their parents, the late nights at work, the text games, the nightclub queues, the need to always look pristine, the rejection, the meals for one etc. etc. etc. And that’s when the lightbulb comes on.

Not in the hall, silly. In my head. It shines brightly and reveals all the positive parts of parenting life that we tend to ignore in favour of moaning about nappies. And colds. And coughs. And vomit. And urine. And tantrums. Like? Like the developments, the smiles, the breakthroughs, the interactions, the family hugs, the sing songs, the attempts to communicate, the dimply cheeks, the laughing fits, the team work, the naps on your shoulder, the nursery rhymes, the new friends… I could go on, but hopefully you get the picture. When push comes to shove, being a new parent is awesome. So even though there are occasions when I get really jealous of my single friends, I wouldn’t want to swap my life with any of them. Got that? Good, because my wife’s due home in five minutes and I’ve still not finished the tasks I said I’d do this morning. Wish me luck…

8 Alternative Baby Milestones

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Do you know what I am tired of? Actually, that’s an unfair question, because I’m tired of quite a lot right now. I’m tired of sitting around on my backside waiting for my ankle to heal. I’m tired of calling the builder who has promised to come and fix the mirror that’s half hanging off the wall. I’m tired of nursery politics. And I’m tired of my son poking me really hard in the nose.

I could go on, but you get the picture. I’m tired. And when I get tired my dreams get darker. See Saturday’s horrifically vivid armed kidnap (FYI, I was the victim rather than the perp), Sunday’s terror situation and last night’s locked house slowly filling with water. What’s that? Oh yeah, you’re right. I did miss out Monday. What on earth did I dream about on Monday?

I honestly can’t remember. But since I’m really struggling to link this rambling intro into this week’s midweek list, I’m going to go ahead and say it involved a spirit guide visiting me in the early hours and unveiling a plan that would lead me to much glory and great riches. “Make new baby milestone cards,” the spirit advised. “But make them much funnier and more realistic than the ‘I am four months old’ and ‘I sat up for the first time’ ones you see parents posting on social media.”

Your wish is my command, spirit guide. Here are eight alternative baby milestones parents don’t celebrate, but possibly should.

1. Today, I did my first nappy blowout
Right from the off, it’s been clear that my son’s bowels possess the type of power that would petrify a Pampers executive. I say this not just because his backdrafts and side escapes have forced my wife and I to discard numerous outfits in numerous places on numerous continents, but also because it took less than 48 hours for him to achieve his first nappy blowout. And what a family picture it would have been. In the background, my wife would have been half conscious and attached to a drip. To the right, I would have been rocking back and forth in my chair muttering “poop, just so much poop”. And in the centre, my son would have been bright red and screaming and the health care assistant would have been cleaning him up, dealing with his dirty clothes, fitting a new nappy and wondering what on earth she’d done to deserve this fresh, smelly hell.

2. Today, I took my first trip to the doctors
“He’s got a rash. Honey, he’s got a rash. It must be measles. Or meningitis. He’s burning up. Must call the doctor. Why won’t they pick up? He’s getting hotter. This can’t wait. He’s not himself. Let’s just go. It’s okay, baby. We love you, we love you, we love you. Oh my God, we’re terrible parents. How did we not notice he had meningitis? I think he’s fitting. What if he’s fitting? How can I tell if he’s fitting? Kissy, kissy, kissy. Everything’s going to be fine, bubby. You’re so brave. Let us through, dying child. Meningitis. Must see doctor now. NOW! Yes, you can examine him. No, he’s not had a banana before this morning. Yes, it’s probably an allergic reaction. Of course, we’ll show ourselves out.”

3. Today, I had my first taste of sugar
Our son couldn’t talk the first time a family member shoved some cake down his gullet. But judging by his eyes, he was thinking: ‘Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. What is this crack and where have you been hiding it all my life? I need more RIGHT NOW. No, actually. Stairs. Wait. Radiator. A locked door. Raaaahhhhh. Run in circles. Run in circles. An empty plastic bottle. Toys. Freedom. Stairs.’
This went on for approximately 15 minutes. Then he ran out of fuel, groaned a little and lay down for a little sleep.

4. Today, I projectile vomited for the first time
Oh how proud we were when our son achieved this notable rite of passage. And when I say proud, I mean stressed, covered in milk and half-digested biscuits and shouting stuff like, “Why won’t he stop?” and, “Oh my God, it’s all over the car seat.”

5. Today, I had my first meltdown in a public place
If this award were being given to mummy, it would focus on the evening she lost her rag at the midwife and attempted to break out of hospital. And if it were being given to daddy, it would mention the trip to John Lewis that ended with him crying on an assistant’s shoulder (still too embarrassed to go back to Westfield Stratford). But since it’s being given to bubby, it has to go to his: “this pool is cold and I am not going to breathe or stop flapping my arms and legs until you take me out and wrap me up in a towel” first swimming lesson hissy fit.

6. Today, I was sick on a family friend
I remember this like it was yesterday. The day was Sunday, the sun was shining, the clock had just struck 2.30pm and one of my wife’s uncles was boasting about how he was the ‘winding king’. “Instead of putting them over my shoulder, I sit them up and then gently tap the back,” he explained, before endeavouring to use our son to demonstrate his prowess. The wee man looked uncomfortable from the start, but the uncle would not be denied. “Tap, tap, tap…” Boom! Our son regurgitated his latest meal all over his cream trousers. LOL.

7. Today, I bit a giant chunk out of daddy’s finger
What a brave and surprisingly bloodthirsty little soldier we’re developing. Today, just like yesterday and the day before, our son waited until I was putting teething gel right at the back of his gums and then used his front teeth to clamp down on my defenceless digit. That hurt, but it didn’t annoy me. What annoyed me was the bit when he started shaking his head and trying to drag me across the kitchen. Well that, and the fact both he and my wife laughed about it afterwards.

8. Today, I smashed up one of mummy and daddy’s friend’s houses
If you think peeing all over a wooden floor and seat cushion counts as smashing up a house, then our bubster achieved this milestone pretty early on in life (sorry Raj and Bhavika). And if you reckon smashing up involves chucking soil all over a white kitchen floor, overturning bins and breaking a ceramic tissue box holder, then he clocked it up two weeks ago (sorry Martin and Hilary). Either way, he’s got it.

Dear Father Hood: when did you start reading to your child?

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I’m a writer, darling. So, obviously, I began sharing the written word with my little one from the moment the urine dried on my wife’s pregnancy test. I’d lie around at home in my smoking jacket and read ‘the Hood bump’ page after page of literary classics – from Jane Eyre to Bleak House – while stroking my wife’s hair and asking if she’d like another homemade lemonade. And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

Now, back to your question and… hold on, I have a question. Do you want me to tell you: A) when I began orating the contents of a book at my completely oblivious child, or B) when I began sitting down and reading stories while my son giggled, made some noises and pointed at the words and characters?

In response to query ‘A’, we’ve been ramming ‘content’ into his lugholes pretty much from day one (partly because that’s what experts on the internet told us to do, and partly because he barely slept during his first couple of months and we needed to do something to pass the time). And in answer to query ‘B’, it’s only really been since he turned 13 months, which was just over a fortnight ago.

Ooh, isn’t that a bit late? Maybe in comparison with some little prose protégés, but here’s the thing. Every baby is different. And for most of his life our little individual has been more interested in scaling staircases than scanning sentences. This gave us three options. We could attempt to read Goldilocks and the Three Bears, while chasing him around the house. We could strap him down and force-feed him The Gruffalo. Or we could keep showing an interest in the books in his toy box in the hope that he would eventually work out that they must be good for something other than slipping on, ripping up or chewing.

After a brief chat, we decided that we don’t like running into walls and would prefer our child not to grow up as a book-hating sociopath, so should probably go for option three. This approach took a few months to make any impact, but it’s now paying off wonderfully, with our son pointing at his ‘Wilson the train’ book and shouting “here” (it’s the only word he can say) every time he gets out of his morning or evening bath. It’s really cute how much he enjoys it, even cuter hard he concentrates on it and, best of all, it’s only four or five pages long, so we’ve always got time for a second story. Which is… well, it depends who’s reading. If it’s mummy turn, it’ll probably be Colin West’s “Pardon? Said the Giraffe” and if it’s daddy’s session, it’ll either be Julia Donaldson’s Toddle Waddle or Father Hood’s Tidy Boys.

Never heard of Tidy Boys? That’s because my manuscripts have been rejected by just about every children’s book publisher in the land. But don’t let that put you off. This must-read, six book series, which will no doubt be huge in five years’ time, includes loads of tactile elements and peek-a-book style flaps, revolves around a kick-ass cleaning crew (Vinny Vacuum, Wesley Wipes, Danny Duster, Mick Mop, Chris Cloth and twin brothers Pan & Brush) who help people clear up domestic mishaps and even has its own theme tune.

“Tidy Boys, Tidy Boys, if they can’t clean it no-one can. Tidy Boys, Tidy Boys, just give them a call and they’ll come in their van.”

I know. I can’t comprehend why no-one is knocking down my door to sign me up either. I can, however, understand why a parent might be anxious about their child’s apparent disinterest in books. It’s because you want the best for them and, even at this early stage, are worried about them falling behind. But having been in this position myself, I can exclusively that getting stressed did not solve anything. So stop biting your nails, quit scouring Mumsnet debates and do what my wife and I did. Namely: sprinkle books around the house and wait for that magical moment when your child is ready to sit down and interact with one of them. When will that happen? Who knows? It might be next week, it might be next month or it might be next year. But it will happen. And when it does it will be well worth the wait.

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Father Hood: what’s the hardest thing about being a parent?

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Ooh, that’s an excellent question. And one that’s surely going to induce a straightforward response, right? Wrong. This is an almost impossible query to field for a couple of reasons. First, if you posed this brain teaser to 100 different parents, I’m pretty sure you would get 90-100 different answers. Second, when you’re firmly implanted on the front line of parenting, new hardships seem to pop up every other hour.

Take my experience. For the first couple of weeks after our bubster entered the world, the hardest thing was, without a doubt, the lack of sleep. During months three and four, this was usurped by the twin terrors of colic and nappy blowouts. From month six on, the teething process has been a constant source of vexation. And then there have been other random low points like: bad weaning sessions, early walking tumbles, separation anxiety, failure to get into a routine, projectile vomit in the back of the car, allergic reactions, illnesses, the baby blues, not settling at nursery, parental guilt, sleep training, the scar on his leg, meltdowns in public places, missing friends’ birthdays, refusing to eat, four month sleep regression and the Great Car Seat Conflict of August 2016.

The bad news is this is just the stuff I can think of off the top of my head. The good news is my wife and I are still alive, still together and still getting up every morning to kiss the little man on the forehead and discover the identity of the next challenge we’re going to face. Which is? Well, I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but last week it was getting him to drink his milk (he was refusing due to teething), yesterday it was trying to make him comprehend that horses say “neigh” rather than “yay” and this morning I threw a diva-tastic hissy fit over the fact he seems to cry for everyone but me.

Okay, okay. So everyone might be a slight exaggeration. What isn’t an exaggeration, however, is how much he screamed when he was left with me after my wife went to the bathroom last night, how much he cried when he was left with me after his grandpa went to put his buggy in the car this morning and how much he protests whenever his grandmother drops him off at our house.

I can just about cope with his reaction to my wife leaving the room, but do you know how much it hurts when your child’s grandparents have to instruct him to “go to Daddy”? The answer is a lot and do you know what’s even more upsetting? I have a rupture in my Achilles, which means this situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. I mean, if you were a 13-month-old who could toddle proficiently and had more energy than a solar powered house in the Sahara, would you want to hang out with people who can throw you about, chase you up the stairs, run around the garden and take you to the park, or a person who can lie on the ground reading books? Case closed. Verdict returned. Bye-bye, Daddy. It’s a unanimous victory to the humans with two fully functioning lower limbs.

Now, as mentioned above, I threw a fairly major tantrum about this a few hours ago, but I’ve now journeyed back from the doldrums because, as my wife always, says: “PMA”. It means premenstrual army and… I’m sorry, I don’t even have the faintest idea where I am going with this. It actually means positive mental attitude, it’s a concept that has got me through most of my hardest parenting moments and it works like so. Whenever you find yourself being reduced to a quivering wreck, doubting your ability as a parent or stomping on some cuddly toys and screaming: “Why doesn’t he like me?” (I can neither confirm or deny whether this happened in our house this morning), simply take a step back and think about something special you and your baby have shared over the last few days.

Well, go on then. Do it. In my case, it was the I Love Milk song (I sang it yesterday evening and he drank half the bottle, which is way more than he’s been drinking with anyone else), but it could just as easily be that smile when you got home from work, a leg hug, a game of peek-a-boo or a nose ‘honk’. The moment itself doesn’t matter, what matters is that you are finding a way to escape from the darkness and show yourself: a) that your child does not hate you, b) that you are not a useless carer and c) that parenting is extremely rewarding and, at times, actually quite fun.

Got that and feeling a little bit better about your most recent minor mishap? Great, now let’s finish up by forming a circle, joining hands, raising our arms in the air and shouting: “P.A.R.E.N.T.S. Goooooooooo, parents!” Or, you know, mainlining some alcohol in preparation for the big bedtime battle.

P.S. If I had to answer this question in one deep and meaningful sentence, it would read. The hardest thing about being a parent is learning to accept that you won’t always have the answer, and that this is completely okay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 inventions that would make life easier for parents

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We’ve all been there. Maybe, it’s 2am. Maybe, it’s half past four. The time doesn’t really matter. What matters is that somehow, despite being subjected to the ongoing torture of a child who just will not sleep, you have reached inside your barely functioning brain and plucked out an idea that it going to make you billions. ‘That’s absolute genius,’ you think, before perking up, rocking the baby into a snooze, heading back to your bedroom and excitedly tapping your partner. “I’ve done it,” you exclaim. “Quit your job and go on a spending spree, because I’ve come up with the next big parenting must-have.”

At this point my better half will either punch me for waking her up or roll her eyes and disinterestedly listen to what I have to say. If she goes down the former route, then the dream dies there and then. But if she chooses the latter option, then it remains a thing for at least two or three minutes. And what a glorious 120 or 180 seconds they are. I see the R&D, the early prototypes, the logo and the packaging. I see 5-star reviews, awards, business leaders fist-fighting to invest in my brand and happy parents discussing how I’ve made their lives 562,000,000 times better. But most of all I see a big house, piles of cash and… …then comes the reality check.

“Do you have the £100k you’d need to get this device off the ground?” yawns my wife. “Well, no. But…”

“…And how would you keep the weight low enough to make it portable?” ‘I haven’t thought that far, but obviously…’

“…And you do know that Tommy Tippee launched this exact thing six years ago and sells 60,000 units per year.” “Um, um, um. I don’t know. Okay. It was just an idea. Now, let’s go to sleep. Baby’ll no doubt be up in 20 minutes.”

“Are you in a huff, Stuart?”

“No.”

“Really? REALLY?”

“No, I’m asleep.”

“How can you talk when you’re asleep?”

Fake snore.

“Fine, if you’re going to be like that. Why don’t you publish your ideas in one of your precious blogs?”

“Maybe I will.”

“I thought you were asleep.”

Fake snore.

Boy, do we have some fun in this house. But when the partying stops the hard work begins, with my wife rolling up her sleeves and saving the world as a doctor, and me opening up my laptop and spamming the world as a blogger. Today, she’s supervising the final medical exams at one of the UK’s top universities (good luck, students) and I’m overseeing my latest midweek list. And just to prove that I do listen to the love of my life, this one focuses on 5 inventions that would make life easier for parents.

1. The Mini Burper
For years, I was the undisputed trapped wind champion of the house. Then the little man came along and put me in my place with his stomach-tightening bouts of colic. During months two and three, things got so bad it would take my wife and I more than 30 minutes to get a burp out of him. These tear-filled sessions, which were usually spent slogging up and down the stairs, both improved my leg muscles and got me thinking. ‘Why hasn’t anyone marketed a tiny wind-up or battery-powered mini-hand that parents could use to rhythmically tap, tap, tap a burp out of their baby?’ According to my wife, it’s because “it’s just as easy using your actual hand”. According to my arthritis and RSI, it’s a guaranteed money-spinner.

2. The Headband Mirror
You’ve pumped up the white noise, dimmed the lights, shut the nursery door and sung 73 renditions of Twinkle, Twinkle in the most soothing key you can muster. Now baby is nestled snugly of your shoulder and seems ready to be put down. But are his or her eyes still open? If you’re the type of parent who has the foresight to put a mirror on baby’s bedroom wall, then you’ll know the answer to this question. If you’re like me, then you have three options. You can put baby down and hope for the best, you can step out of the calming oasis in search of a mirror or your partner, or you can invest in my patented headband mirror.
This gloriously practical gadget takes its inspiration from well-respected products like the head umbrella and the happy birthday candle headband and sees a parent don a headband that has small mirrors dangling off its front and back during the sleepytime routine. What happens next? Next, you get baby to chill out on your shoulder, use the mirrors on the headband to judge when he or she has reached a deep sleep, lay them down safely and strut out of the room like you are the Saturday Night Fever John Travolta of parenting.

3. The Tooth Detector
If someone can invent a metal detector that can pinpoint Roman coins buried deep beneath a Shropshire cow pasture. Then I find it difficult to believe that no-one can design a tooth detector that tells parents where the next sleep-killing gum breakthrough is going to take place. Sure, in the grand scheme of things this would be an expensive luxury that does diddly-squat to make your or your kid’s life better. But it also sounds pretty cool, right?

4. The Robo Cry Descrambler
We all know that kids have a wide selection of cries that they are able to pull out at will, but how on earth do you tell the difference between an attention seeking wail and a bona fide I tried to get up and banged my head on the side of the cot blubber when it’s 2am and the last time you had more than two hours of uninterrupted sleep was during the Obama administration? With The Robo Cry Descrambler, of course.
Initially, you use this sleek, two-piece gizmo to record each of your baby’s cries (e.g. “2.13pm, Friday March 3, needed milk”; “3.47am, Saturday March 2, wet nappy leak”). Then, once every scream is documented, you place one part in baby’s nursery and the other in your bedroom. Done this? Great. Now, lie back, relax and wait for your pride and joy to begin making a racket in the middle of the night. What happens then? Then, the device in the nursery deciphers the type of noise your little one is making and the device in your bedroom issues a short verbal report like: “Poop cry: nappy change required,” or “Fighting sleep because I am a stubborn rebel without a cause cry: stay in bed.”
“That’s actually quite a good idea,” says my wife. I know. I KNOW!

5. The Pop-up Bassinet
I have a dream that one day I will be able to leave the house without planning for every potential eventuality and packing more kit than I would need to summit Everest. And I believe this dream would be far closer to becoming reality if someone did the right thing and invented a pop-up bassinet. This parental godsend is essentially a simple, mini-version of the pop-up tents lazy people like myself find so helpful. Just open the bag, chuck the contents up in the air and, hey presto, you have a lightweight mobile sleeping chamber for your child. In my head, this product would truly come into its own on planes, but it would also save you lugging travel cots to festivals, friends’ houses, family events, weddings, Next Boxing Day Sale queues etc. etc.

And that’s it. End of list. End of article. End of sales pitch. If you like what you’ve read and want to play a part in helping these gadgets see the light of day send cash pledges to fatherhood.co.uk@gmail.com or steal the ideas and make them yourselves.