Becoming a dad for the second time

Having become a dad for the second time a grand total of four hours after my last post, I would like to announce the arrival of Rosie Grace Drew into the world. Weighing in at 7lbs 13oz, she was born in a blisteringly quick six hours from start to finish, meaning I was finishing my blog while my wife was in labour – shh, don’t tell her! In my defence, I thought it was another false alarm, such as we’d had the day before, during which we’d spent eight hours in ‘labour’, including five in hospital. Also, I was timing the contractions while hiding on the landing to write, so…no. No excuse. My bad.

Anyway, becoming a dad for a second time, and in such a quick and easy fashion, has given rise to a number of observations.

Firstly, your understanding of birth clearly relates to the manner of birth you experience. After the traumatic arrival of our first daughter, my impression of birth was as an incredibly stressful, dramatic and terrifying ordeal, a medical process involving tubes and tools, a score of specialist personnel, massive aftercare, and the ever-present fear of death. Indeed, whenever I heard about people giving birth at home, I’d think: are you freaking nuts!?!

This second birth couldn’t have been more different. When we arrived at hospital, my wife was 3cm. Ninety minutes of sweating, shivering and grunting later, the midwife said, ‘You know what? I don’t think you’re in established labour yet. I think we should probably give you some pethidine, you go have a sleep, and then we’ll resume this – it’ll be hours yet.’

Here we go again, I thought. But she decided to check before administering the drug.

‘There’s your show, and there’s your waters, and you have no cervix so you can push anytime you want.’

And four pushes later, out plopped Rosie. These experiences don’t really give you confidence in NHS midwives, do they?

As a result of this birth, which was quick, easy, and entirely carried out under my wife’s own steam, I now see childbirth – the uncomplicated kind, at least – as a very natural, everyday process. An incredible process, to be sure, but a biological function rather than a medical intervention. Having a baby at home? Why wouldn’t you have a baby at home?

In fact, she arrived so quickly, we weren’t ready. We were waiting for something to go wrong – for my wife to be rushed off to theatre by people in blue scrubs, for our daughter to be put in a perspex box and dragged off to NICU, for weeks of eating petrol-station sandwiches and trying to sleep in hospital chairs – but we had none of that. Instead, we sat in a room with a baby that only a few minutes before had been inside my wife’s abdomen, and were left alone. We’d only been in hospital two hours. We could have gone home after another hour. It all seemed rather surreal.

After the first birth – at least, one the way we had it – you see childbirth as an awful thing. After the second, we saw it as a beautiful thing. As with everything, I imagine the truth is somewhere in between.

As we’re a high-risk family, we had to stay in for 48 hours for the baby to be monitored, lest she develop respiratory problems (she didn’t). It was on the postnatal ward that I realised that having a second child is completely different to having the first.

It’s amazing how chilled you are the second time round. You really notice it when you’re surrounded by first-time parents hovering over their babies, stressing about every little thing, treating them like porcelain dolls that’ll break whenever they touch them, constantly checking to make sure they’re still alive, struggling to feed them, agonising about whether breast truly is best or if they should switch to the bottle, and being thoroughly unprepared for being up half the night, every night. You know, all the stuff I did first time round.

I did none of that this time. Other than ensuring she’s neither too hot nor too cold, looking after a baby is mostly a case of putting stuff in one end and cleaning it up when it comes out the other. So while we were in hospital, I fed little Rosie, burped her, and put her back in her cot, waited three hours, changed her nappy, fed her, burped her, and repeated this for two days. In between I’d watch the other parents fussing around their kids, freaking out over every cry, and fretting through lack of sleep, and think: I’m so glad I’m a second-time dad!

Having experience makes the return home that much easier too. The first child, it’s like someone swings a wrecking ball through your life. Everything changes, and until you manage to adjust, you get caught in a baby bubble where the baby and your status as a parent are the only things that matter. No matter what you do – driving her in the car, bedding her down in the Moses basket, taking her out in the pram, giving her a bath – it’s the first time you’ve ever done it, so it seems like a massive obstacle you need to overcome.

Taking Rosie home was no big deal, because we’ve done all of that hundreds of times before. Nor do we worry so much. Having been a good feeder, she’s suddenly grazing every hour around the clock and is incredibly unsettled, but instead of panicking, we simply carry on, aware it’s just the day-ten growth spurt. It’ll settle down, as it always did with Izzie. (Note to first time parents: watch out for growth spurts, and try not to worry!)

In fact, coming home with a second baby is something of an anti-climax. Partly this is because instead of the mountain of cards, banners and balloons that greeted your first, your second is met with widespread indifference, but mostly it’s because you’re expecting hell, ready to march through a field of flames for the foreseeable future – but it isn’t anywhere near as bad as that. The only real hardship I’ve encountered is that the nights seem to take more out of me now than they did two years ago, probably because two years ago I was fresh, while this time I’m starting on the back of around 800 nights of broken sleep. But hey ho, I’ll adjust.

But there’s one thing that is exactly the same no matter how much you worried about it – the amount that you love them. You don’t love them the same way, because they’re not the same, but you love them just as much. It took me a couple of days to get there, I’ll admit – I didn’t feel as strongly for her the moment I set eyes on her – but your fatherly instincts kick in soon enough and you realise you’d die for the second just as you’d die for the first.

And like the first, she’s already a daddy’s girl, and beautiful to boot. What can I say? I make great babies.

Toddlers, on the other hand…but that’s another story.

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Number 2 – uh oh! (Part 3)

So why did somebody who professed in a series of posts that he didn’t want another child decide to have another child? It’s a reasonable question to ask and certainly requires an explanation – both for my readers and for the little sprog who will one day grow up and read it (who could be here in six hours or could arrive in six days – who the hell knows?).

For those of you who aren’t aware, I was averse to having a second child for a number of reasons – disruption to the first child’s life, not being sure I’d love it as much or be able to give it the same input, the intellectual approach to having the child (how much gap do you want between your kids?) rather than an emotional or spiritual one, and, most importantly, the fact I didn’t feel a pressing desire for one the way I did with the first.

That last one is the most important because it underpins all the others. If you do desire a second child, the clinical discussion of when you want it isn’t nearly so distasteful; you see the disruption to the first child’s life in terms of the positive effects it can bring; and despite a background dread that you’ll someone fail to bond with something new, you move forward with the faith that you will. Which goes to show that, while we see ourselves as rational beings, our arguments and the conclusions we reach are based as much on emotional factors as pure logic.

Why I desired a second child – that’s the real question.

It started at my wedding. Well, after my wedding, if we’re going to be technical, but it began in response to a conversation my mother had with a member of my wife’s family. See, my wife has always wanted a second child – even before the first – and nor is she averse to a fourth, sixth or eighth (however many we have, it apparently must be an even number, because reasons). She wanted more kids because it was unconscionable to her that Izzie should be an only child like she was.

I was always a little dismissive of that argument. Everybody wants what they didn’t have, and while the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, when you get there you find it still needs cutting. Having grown up with a brother, the presence or otherwise of siblings has never been an issue of much importance to me, and so I didn’t really understand where she was coming from.

Until a few weeks after the wedding, when my mother told me of this conversation that she’d had. My wife has always been rather coy about her childhood, and so I had never heard the stories of her growing up alone on her father’s farm after her mother left. I had never heard how she would wake up in a big empty farmhouse, her father already out with the cows; never heard how she was too far from the village to mix with the other kids; of how she’d sit alone as darkness fell, the only sounds the distant lowing of cattle or the wind breathing through the cornfields.

I certainly hadn’t heard that whenever people used to visit, she’d beg them to take her home with them, tell them she wouldn’t make a fuss, she’d sit in the corner and be quiet, if only she didn’t have to be quite so alone.

It was also a very confusing time. Growing up autistic, without being diagnosed, and with a father who, though doing his best, had no idea what to do about it, was clearly an emotionally crippling experience. And without someone to talk to, to share experiences, to discuss how she was feeling, my wife felt the lack of a sibling in a way few people probably ever do.

It was only then that I really understood my wife’s deep psychological need for a second child and her absolute terror of Izzie ever feeling anything like she had growing up. Of course, if we didn’t have a second child, Izzie’s childhood would be nothing like her mother’s, but even so, I started to wonder what she might miss out on.

I didn’t want to have a second child simply to benefit the first – I wanted to want one in its own right. But having a second child doesn’t simply benefit the first – it benefits both. They both get to share experiences, memories, good and bad; they have someone to moan to about their weird parents; and they have someone else who can teach them another aspect of what it is to be human.

And gradually, after having these thoughts, I started to feel a change in myself. I started seeing babies and becoming broody; started seeing families out and about with their little ones and wondering how big a gap there was between their ages; and ultimately started to feel as though I would like to go through the whole terrifying, exciting, exhilarating, life-affirming experience again.

And that is what it is – life. That’s about the best and only reason to have a second child.

I’ll close with the words of Kahlil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

Number 2 – uh oh! (Part 2)

The fact that pregnancy is one month too long might be the most convincing argument for intelligent design. Women seem to spend eight months dreading the labour and birth, and one month going, ‘Oh come on, hurry up and get this thing out of me already!’ If that’s an accident of nature, it’s a damned good one.

And it doesn’t just affect the women – most of my anxieties about the birth have been crushed beneath the elephant seal that’s taken up residence on my sofa, barking at me whenever it wants food or attention or a foot massage. It’s no fun being a heavily pregnant woman, but nor is it fun being a heavily pregnant woman’s spouse. Seriously, she snores so bad at night it’s like sharing a bed with an obese eighty-year-old asthmatic. Give me back my wife, damn it! I’m not sure how much more I can take.

We still have three days till the due date, but we’re aching for the birth. And it’s not just us – my twenty-two month old daughter has been looking forward to meeting her little sister for months now.

‘What’s in mummy’s tummy?’ I ask her.

‘Baby,’ she replies excitedly. ‘Baby girl.’

‘Yes,’ I say. ‘And how’s she going to get here?’

‘Mummy bigger, bigger, bigger POP! Hello baby girl.’

‘Yes. Well, sort of.’

If only it was that easy…

Of course, she probably has no idea of what’s going to come – a pretty dolly she can play with, I think – but we’ve tried to prepare her as best we can and included her as much as possible along the way. She’s come to scans (nightmare), midwife appointments (nightmare) and to see the consultant (nightmare); she’s seen the baby on the screen, heard her heartbeat, and helped us pick out the layette; and she talks to her in her mummy’s tummy, hugs her, and kisses her goodnight.

But currently, her little sister is nothing more than an abstract concept. When she arrives, when Izzie faces the reality of a crying baby who monopolises mummy and daddy’s time, that’s when we’ll see how she really feels.

And there have been a couple of signs of potential storms to come, both concerning the sleeping arrangements. When the new cot arrived – after I spent several hours wondering why I’m so much better at baby ballet than assembling furniture – she climbed into it and decided it was hers. When I told her it belonged to the baby, her face fell.

‘My bed,’ she said quietly.

‘You’ve got your own bed, sweetheart. This is the baby’s bed.’

‘My bed.’

After half an hour of this, and plenty of hugs and reassurance, she finally admitted it was the baby’s bed, and the crisis was averted.

The second difficulty was when she discovered, a few weeks later, that the baby would be sleeping in our room for the first few months.

‘Me, mine room; mummy daddy, mummy daddy room; baby, baby room.’

‘She has to sleep next to mummy and daddy because she’ll be very small and we need to look after her, like we did when you were small.’

‘Mummy daddy, mummy daddy room; baby, baby room.’

And that’s that.

That one wasn’t quite so easily resolved. It took a long time for her to get her head around the idea, though she eventually seemed to accept it. Clearly, she understands the concept of fairness and isn’t going to like that the new baby is likely to have certain benefits that she no longer enjoys.

This might explain why she has become rather clingy of late; she’s trying to keep her dummy with her during the day when she’s only allowed it at night; and she wants to be carried everywhere. Certainly, she is aware that a change is coming, and she is insecure about just what that might mean.

On the one hand, a second child entering the house is a rival, if we look at the family unit as an economic model. She has to compete for limited resources – namely, her parents’ attention – and she will no longer be the centre of the universe, which are both difficult lessons to learn.

On the other hand, I’m not so sure this either/or allocation of love and attention is entirely accurate. We fully intend to involve Izzie in every aspect of our child-rearing – she can help fetch nappies and wipes, hold the bottle during feeds (with close supervision, of course), and she can sing and dance and entertain the little one. It’s not so much about the new baby coming and stealing her place as it is adding another member to our already happy family. So long as she can feel included around the new baby – and if we all work together, there’s no reason that she shouldn’t – then I don’t think there’ll be much of a problem.

But even if there is, we’ll deal with it. That’s parenting.

I sat her down the other day for a chat. I told her not to feel scared about her sister coming, or how strange things might be. I told her that even though things might be different, it wouldn’t change how much she’s loved or how special she is. I reassured her that we’d still have bath times, I’d still read her a book at bedtime, and that no matter what, I would be there for her when she needed me.

I’m not sure how much of this she took in, being as she’s only two-years-and-two-months old, but I’m continually surprised by what a toddler is capable of understanding. You give your child love and patience, there’s nothing that can’t be overcome.

But I really hope this second baby comes soon – if mummy gets any bigger, she really is going to pop, and I don’t want to be anywhere near when that happens.

Number 2 – uh oh! (Part 1)

Today I am reflecting on the preponderance of the number two in my life. My wife and I together are two; my daughter is two years and two months old; we have two household pets (a dog and a cat); after the tragic death of Peking the Pecking Pekin two weeks ago, we now only have two chickens; and two weeks from today, we are due to welcome baby daughter number two into the world.

And then we’ll be in more number two than we know how to handle! (Come on, admit it, you were expecting a poop joke).

Yes, my wife is thirty-eight weeks pregnant. I might have forgotten to mention this over the past, oh, thirty-eight weeks. Partly because I wrote a series of posts about how I wasn’t keen on having another baby, and I hate going back on myself; and partly because of good, old-fashioned denial.

Not that the pregnancy wasn’t planned – it was, and I’ll explain about the decision process in Part 2 – but I’ve been caught in a quagmire of complacency and the mistaken belief that I had more time. It was always, ‘I’ll do it tomorrow,’ or, ‘I’ll do it next week,’ but I’ve run out of next weeks and I might have run out of tomorrows too, so I’d better do it now.

You see, the first time you’re expecting, you go to all these classes, buy all these weird and wonderful products, read everything you can about babies and child-rearing, rearrange the entire house, get everything ready, and pontificate about what it means to be a parent. Consequently, the baby takes forever to arrive and you’re in touch with the process every step of the way.

Not so with second pregnancies. The second time round, having been through it all before, you’re a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. I mean, you’ve already got everything a baby could ever need, the house is as babyproof as a marshmallow, and having successfully raised a child from babyhood to toddlerhood, you’re pretty confident you know how this parenthood thing works. Instead of living, breathing, eating, drinking and sleeping pregnancy, therefore, you’re not as closely tied to the day-to-day development of your child, so it races by with little notice until you realise with shock that it could literally arrive any moment and you’ve not prepared yourself emotionally for that wonderful, terrifying, exhilarating, traumatic and altogether life-changing day.

But that’s only half the story of why second pregnancies race to an unexpectedly sudden climax. The other half is that there’s already a pint-sized version of yourself tearing around the house, and throwing herself down the stairs, and loving you, and hating you, and hitting you, and hugging you, and generally taking all your attention, all your love, and all your energy, so you can’t spend anywhere near as much time thinking about the second unborn baby as you did the first. That’s not really fair on the second bump, I know, but it’s the way it is, although I’m fairly certain that my neglect of my child in utero won’t have that many long-term consequences. What’s important is that I focus on her once she’s born.

And therein lies the other reason I’ve avoided thinking about my impending second child until the last moment – I’m terrified of how it’ll change things, I’m terrified of how it’ll affect my relationship with my first daughter, and I’m terrified of letting them both down.

With your first child, you don’t have to divide your attention. You lavish everything upon her because you can. Every need she has, you meet there and then. You give yourself to her, body and soul. She is the centre of your universe.

How can I give that to my second child? Clearly, I can’t. And how will my first child cope when I can’t give it to her anymore either? The best thing I’ve got going for me is the closeness of my relationship with my daughter, and I don’t ever want to lose that, but equally, I want to have the same with my second daughter, and I’m struggling to see how that’s possible. I’ve always considered my heart as fixed in size – one child can have all my heart, two children can have half each, three a third, four (god forbid!) a quarter, and so on. The only way out of this diminishing is for my heart to double in size each time – and I’m not sure there’s enough room in my chest for that. Or perhaps, in my typically autistic way, I’m far too focused on this ‘heart’ metaphor and should stop trying to intellectually analyse something that is beyond conscious comprehension.

I said in my earlier posts on the subject that having a first child is a matter of faith – trusting that you’ll be able to cope and it’ll all work out okay – but that a second child is more of a conscious decision. I’m only now realising that having children is always a matter of faith.

Because for all my cocksure complacency, my know-it-all arrogance and bluster, I’m just as scared this second time around as I was the first.

 

My Funny Toddler

‘No chi-shen no poo daddy!’

That’s what my daughter shouts every morning when I let the chooks out of their house – no, chickens, don’t poop on my daddy.

Like most of the things she says, you have to train your ear to hear it properly. Having a toddler, you spend your life picking through the mispronunciations and the comedy juxtapositions, fighting to make sense of it all. Every morning when I brush her teeth, I have to put poo-paste on the poo-brush. All day I’m asked to shit on the phwoar. And every night I put boo-balls in the bart so she can have a bubble-bath.

But sometimes, I frankly don’t have a clue what she’s saying. That’s when she shouts at me in frustration. Because what’s plain to her isn’t always obvious to everyone else.

Like yesterday, when I asked her what she wanted for lunch. ‘Piss, please,’ she said excitedly.

‘Piss?’

‘Piss, please, daddy.’

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

‘Piss, daddy. Piss. Pissssss!’

‘Honey, she says she wants piss for lunch.’

‘She means crisps.’

‘Oh thank God for that.’

At least it’s different to what she normally requests – ‘Cheese and marmite,’ morning, noon and night. I’m fine putting it on her toast, in her wraps and croissants. Not on chips or fish fingers. I refuse to put it on her yoghurt. Tonight, just to shut her up, I put a big dollop of marmite in the risotto I was making. It’s not an experiment I intend to repeat.

Then there’s her favourite expression. Every few minutes she sits on the floor among her toys, looks up at me and says, ‘Punch me, daddy. Punch me.’ Or she’ll be hanging halfway over the stairgate. ‘Punch me, daddy, punch me.’ Or slipping off her seatbelt while I’m doing sixty along a country lane, forcing me to pull over yet again. ‘Punch me, punch me.’ Don’t tempt me…

From contextual clues, I think it means some combination of ‘Play with me’ and ‘help me,’ but where she’s got it from, I have no idea.

Driving has become awkward of late. Every time I stop – at lights, in traffic, at a junction – she shouts, ‘Doe!’ and scares the life out of me. And no matter how I try to explain that I can’t go because there are four cars in front of me, it makes no difference to her. ‘Doe, daddy, doe, doe!’

In the car, she also has a captive audience. I’m fine with the singing – it’s mostly Wheels on the Bus. ‘The conductor on the bus says “All Aboard”‘ becomes ‘Ad-jee boose “ball baball,”‘ but that’s okay. What’s definitely not okay is when she says, ‘Daddy, a diddin?’

‘What am I doing? I’m driving, sweetheart.’

‘Ah. Daddy, a diddin?’

‘Driving. I literally just said it.’

‘Ah. Daddy, a diddin?’

‘Conjugating Latin verbs. I’m teaching a class of underprivileged children to read Martial’s epigrams in the original language.’

‘Ah. Daddy, a diddin?’

‘Quadratic equations. It’s part of a project to solve the energy crisis using quantum mechanics.’

‘Ah. Daddy, a mummy diddin?’

But if I don’t answer, I just get an endless stream of ‘daddy, daddy, daddy,’ so I pick the lesser of those two evils, and die a little inside each day.

She thinks I’m the master of horses, too. We’re lucky enough to live on the edge of the New Forest, so wherever we go in the car, we have to avoid scores of ponies walking in the road. And every time we pass a horse or two, she says, ‘More gee-gee. Daddy, more gee-gee. Daddy? Daddy!’

‘I can’t magically conjure up horses out of thin air!’ I reply.

‘Oh,’ she replies, subdued. And then, ‘More gee-gee, daddy. More gee-gee!’

She’s started experimenting with her voice too. She’ll scream with excitement. And then, discovering the wonderful noise, walk around screaming for the next ten minutes. Same with crying – she gets over whatever made her cry, but then becomes so enamoured of the noise she’s making she keeps it going. On and on and on. Until she asks you to punch her again.

This has made bedtimes somewhat unpleasant. I read to her at night – we’ve finished Treasure Island and are halfway through Black Beauty – and she’s started making this weird groaning hum every time I talk. I can hear it as I’m reading, but every time I stop at the end of a sentence or pause to take a breath, she stops. It’s like I’ve got a ghostly echo.

This same experimentation has spread to many of her reactions, which have become completely over-the-top. If I show her anything, draw anything, make anything, she looks at it, puts her hands flat on her cheeks, and goes, ‘Whooooooooaaaaaaa daddy! Wooooooooow! Daddy, whoooooaaaaa!’

She’s either incredibly impressed or her understanding of sarcasm is well beyond her 25-months.

That said, she seemed very enamoured of the tower I built this morning. She held up her index finger – ‘Wait,’ she said, rummaged through her toy box, returned with a pretend pink camera and proceeded to photograph it from all angles. Then, the tower preserved in pretend posterity, she kicked it down and laughed.

Impressively for her age, she can count to ten. Unfortunately, she thinks there are eleven numbers, since clearly it goes, ‘One, two, three, go, four, five…’ And she has her colours, too, although she gets very annoyed when I can’t tell if she’s talking about daddy’s ‘wed car’ or mummy’s ‘whet car’ (red or white).

But the worst thing she does, the most horrible thing she manages to say, is whenever she sees me without my top on. She smiles, points at my belly, and says with delight, ‘Baby girl!’

No, I’m not pregnant. It’s just fat.

‘Daddy baby girl!’

I’m now on a diet. Punch me.

The key to good parenting

I was recently asked what makes a good parent. You can fill a library – a thousand libraries – with the possible answers, so I could have gone on about patience, tolerance, a sense of humour, imposing boundaries, being consistent, enjoying the moment, and all those other nuggets of wisdom, if I wasn’t sure that most people already know these things.

Instead, to save you the time and the eye-strain, I can sum up what makes a good parent in just two words: emotional resilience. Everything else stems from that.

I think that society is very confused about what a good parent looks like. The parent with the perfectly behaved, adorable little angel of a child is lauded as ‘good’, while that with the bratty, obnoxious little oik they have to drag out of the supermarket because they’re screaming is judged as ‘bad’. I know, because I have done this myself, inferring the relative merits of the parent from a brief glimpse at the behaviour of their child.

But this is, in fact, a very unreliable method of gauging an individual’s parenting ability, because all kids are different – some are easy, most are a mixture of tranquil and testing, and some are right little bastards who, in an earlier generation, would have been destined for birch and borstal. It’s not so much the behaviour of the child but the behaviour of the parent that reveals their abilities or otherwise.

You see, being a good parent isn’t about succeeding when things are going well, the toddler’s perfectly happy and everything is hunky-dory – those are the times to sit back, relax and bask in the glow of strangers who deem you the very model of a perfect parent.

No, the real test of your parenting prowess is what you do, and how well you cope, when things are going horribly, horribly wrong, the little one is screaming fit to burst her lungs, and you want nothing more than to run away, find a dark place where you can curl into a ball, and hide away as you ride out the storm. That’s when you discover whether you’re a good parent or not, and that’s when you find whether you have the strength to rise up in the face of adversity – or not, as the case may be.

Being a parent, you’re tested every day. What your toddler loves to eat on Monday she decides is vomit on Tuesday, no matter how long it took you to make. At home on Wednesday she’s as good as gold while on Thursday at the restaurant she behaves so badly you have to leave early in defeat. And on Friday she’s using the potty like a pro, but on Saturday pisses on the sofa and then craps on your shoe, and she’s so upset, you break your heart trying to console her.

The hours of crying, the thrown toys, the irritating whining, the tiredness, the dressing and redressing, the bathing and washing, the repetitive game playing, the incessant highs and lows and successes and failures, the constant battle of wills and the endless sacrificing of your own hunger, thirst, wants, needs, dreams – it is so difficult not to be affected by all that, not to get run down.

That’s what I mean by emotional resilience. If you want to be a good parent, want to keep going in the same calm, controlled, reliable fashion you’ve done from the start, you have to find a way of protecting your emotions, shutting off a part of yourself, so as not to become overwhelmed. If you let things get to you, if they weigh heavy on your heart, you’re never going to make it.

As I said before, emotional resilience is pretty much all you need to be a good parent, because it is the foundation of everything. Nobody sets out to be a bad parent – nobody decides they want to lose their temper at their kids, shout at them, hit them, make them cry; nobody thinks one day they’ll start to ignore their child, sit them in front of the TV, dump them with family and child minders and start hiding at work; nobody plans to simply give up and overlook their child’s bad behaviour because they can’t deal with it, or give them the chocolate bar because it’s easier than arguing, or leave them in nappies till they’re five because it’s just too hard – but I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of these behaviours.

Hell, I went to a fair yesterday, and I saw most of them – parents losing control and swearing at their kids, parents looking the other way as their kids misbehaved, parents buying things for the kids to stop them whining – anything for an easy life. I don’t believe these parents started out this way. I don’t believe they ever thought they’d be like this. But somewhere along the way, they’ve become so run down by being parents that they’re just trying to survive – and good parenting has gone out the window.

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter if your child is well behaved or not. In the grand scheme of things, all your mistakes as a parent, all your failures, aren’t anywhere near as important as you think they are. What’s important is that you never stop trying to be a good parent; that you persevere, no matter how difficult; and that despite wanting to run away, or give in, or give up, you don’t, don’t, don’t. That’s the only way you can be a good parent. And ultimately, your child will be all the better for it.

 

Child Protection Issues

Long term readers of this blog might have noticed that, up until Izzie’s first birthday, I regularly shared pictures on this site, but have not done so in the past year. This was a deliberate decision, and I shall explain why.

Putting photographs in an album or in a frame for display ensures that you retain control of them – who has access to them, what is done with them, and where they are seen. Putting pictures on the internet means that you have zero control over what is done with that image. As Izzie is too young to give informed consent over what is shared, that right passes to me as her father and legal guardian, and in this capacity I feel it is my duty to protect her image and prevent it being placed in the public domain until she is able to make that decision for herself.

I am not inflexible on this position – I do, for example, allow a few, carefully selected professional photos of my daughter to accompany magazine articles, etc. – but in general, sharing pictures of our day-to-day life is not something I feel comfortable doing.

I am sure that, without my having to explicitly state it, most readers will be able to infer which people I don’t want having access to my daughter’s photographs.

Whenever I have seen such issues raised – keeping photos of children away from the attention of people who might wish them harm – there is always somebody who pipes up with: ‘Most abuse goes on inside the home by family members or trusted friends and neighbours.’ And this is undoubtedly true. And then there are others who say: ‘We can’t censor everything just because there are some sickoes out there.’ Which I also agree with – hence I allow the aforementioned professional photos to illustrate magazine articles.

But the fact remains that, while the risk is low, there are predators out there. While I commend people for continuing to share photos because they won’t let the sickoes dictate their behaviour, as a dad I do not want some disturbed individual looking at pictures of my child, because I know that they are.

How do I know this? One of the interesting benefits of writing a blog is that you receive information about visitors to your site – anonymous, of course, but it records what country they’re from, what they’re clicking on, how they came to your site, and so forth. Every so often, you’ll even get to see the search terms they typed into a search engine – the very words they entered that brought up your page in the results.

I always think of myself as pretty unshockable, but the search terms somebody used to find and access this blog yesterday made me feel sick. I won’t repeat them here, but I will say that they contained the words ‘dad’ and ‘little girl’, and whoever typed them needs to be on a watch list somewhere. That such a person has visited my site makes me feel grubby by association and more than validates my caution about sharing pictures.

So, to all my fellow parents and bloggers who might read this: take a moment and think before you share something. Probably no harm will come from it; probably no sick weirdo pervert is ever going to see it; but no matter how small a chance, perhaps they might.