Posted on 13 January 2018
Last year I became a dad for the first time. A number of people I follow write weeknotes logging their work, and as my work is currently full-time dadding and people often ask me what it’s like, I thought I’d write some of it down. This is only half a week’s worth, but as it’s my first one it’s rather long anyway.
This is, by some definitions, my first week as sole full-time parent of a baby. My wife, Sonia, and I took advantage of Shared Parental Leave, so we had the first three months together, then I returned to work for six months, and took another three months starting in December. However Sonia didn’t actually return to work until the start of January. As a result, this week is the first week where I’m truly in sole charge. Luke is now 10 months old, and when he turns a year I will return to work. So I’ve got 2 months of doing this.
That said, Sonia works from home. During my 6 months back at work, I worked from home 2 days a week and took Luke with me on my morning and afternoon breaks, to give Sonia a rest, and she is more than happy to return the favour.
Christmas and New year
Over the festive period, we hired a car for a month and drove all around the country visiting friends and family, with overnight stops in Shropshire, Cumbria, Glasgow, St Andrews, Berwick, and Lichfield (with extra day trips to Dunblane, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Hargrave in Northamptonshire). This was perhaps a slightly mad thing to do with a 9-month-old, but it turns out that hosts (and, especially, grandparents) will do a lot to accommodate tired and bedraggled parents and energetic babies.
Luke is a healthy baby and is growing fast: he’s around the 90th percentile for both length and weight. (This means that of a typical sample of 100 babies, Luke would be longer and heavier than 90 of them, and lighter and shorter than 10 of them).
Luke does, however, have a cow’s milk protein allergy. His is the delayed or non-IgE form, which is not life-threatening, but it means he can’t have any dairy products in his diet, and this includes most standard infant formula. Conveniently, BBC radio’s Inside Health covered cow’s milk protein allergy this week (section starts from 07:20 in the programme).
The new routine
A question I sometimes get asked is “what do you do all day?” Here are some of the regular tasks:
On average, we do at least one load of washing a day, sometimes two. At this time of year, drying space is at a premium, so I spend a lot of time worrying about this, and trying to ensure that there’s always something drying.
Luke is on solids (he started at 6 months old) and eats 3 meals a day. That food needs to come from somewhere. It’s just not practical to cook every meal from scratch, so we try to cook big batches of meals (often doubling the listed quantities in the recipe) and split into boxes for the fridge and freezer.
Along with this is planning and ordering the weekly shop, and making sure we have a good balance of nutrients for baby and ourselves for every meal. With Luke’s milk allergy, we generally try to make dairy-free meals that we can all have, rather than cook separate meals for Luke and for us.
Feeding a baby results in an enormous amount of washing up. We have a dishwasher, which is a lifesaver, but there’s still a significant amount of stuff we wash by hand.
Feeding Luke itself is hard work. Mostly we have a dish which we spoon-feed to Luke, with a few finger foods on the side such as quartered grapes, fingers of bread with peanut butter or houmous, sticks of pear or cucumber, etc. We have experimented with baby-led weaning (broadly, letting the baby feed themselves with surprisingly big chunks of food from a surprisingly early age). I find that spoonfeeding is labour-intensive, but gets more food actually inside Luke, and as he’s a big boy he gets very hungry. Letting him feed himself also means that the mealtime itself takes longer.
Luke has been getting more and more keen on feeding himself independently though, so we may need to adjust our strategy.
Babies change so fast, it’s hard to stay one step ahead of them. Luke started crawling a month ago, and shortly afterwards starting pulling himself up on sturdy things to a standing position. He also started pulling not-so-sturdy things on top of himself, so there’s a whole new class of hazards we need to watch out for, and a new round of baby-proofing. There are helpful books and online guides to warn us what is coming next, but it’s not always easy to find time to read them.
Some of the things we are going to be looking forward to:
- learning to stand and balance without holding on
- learning to walk holding one hand
- learning more syllables (Luke repeats single syllables at the moment such as “ba ba ba”)
- variegated babbling (ie, mixing syllables together, such as “ka da by ba mi doy doy”)
- assigning meaning to words
- learning to drink from an open cup
Luke, like most babies, loves to have stories read to him. Some of his favourites are:
- What a busy baby!
- Quentin Blake’s Ten Frogs
- Big Fish Little Fish
- Each Peach Pear Plum
- Usborne’s Noisy Orchestra
He’s not just seeing the pictures and hearing the language. He’s also learning to turn the pages himself, and learning to anticipate the next page.
Since Luke has learned to crawl and to pull himself up to standing recently, he really wants to try it out all the time. He’s crawling all around the house and pulling on anything he can reach. This means he generally needs monitoring to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself or damage anything.
This is one of the toughest times for me. This is because it’s relatively boring – Luke is mostly directing his own play – so I feel I ought to be thinking about the next thing. I start planning the next meal, or folding some washing, or reading my calendar for the week ahead, and suddenly Luke has started reaching for the DVD player or the TV and I need to intervene.
Parent and baby groups
Being in a big city, there are loads of parent-and-baby groups available. These are good for parents to meet one another, to have a reason to get out of the house (which is often an achievement in itself), and for babies to get used to seeing others their own age.
For a while, I did a dad-and-baby yoga class in Herne Hill which I absolutely loved.
The week in brief
With all the context in place, my week might make some kind of sense now.
We returned from our christmas & new year road trip. We were exhausted. We put a wash on straight away, and got Luke’s bedtime equipment (including his plushy duckie comforter) unpacked straight away.
In the morning, we needed to return the car and take Luke to the dietician. Sonia took the morning off for this to work: I could have taken Luke with me when returning the car, but then I’d need to get Luke and car seat back by public transport which would have been awkward.
I did one wash on Wednesday.
I had a grocery delivery arrive before 9am.
Our NCT group mums had a lunch together. It was good to catch up with them, some of whom I haven’t seen since my first three-month parental leave period.
Building a support network is important as a parent, to share tips, help each other out, and just provide emotional support. NCT has been a good way of making friends with people in the local area – prior to having a baby, it wasn’t too hard to rely on old friends distributed all across London, but having a baby makes you a lot less mobile.
It’s worth talking about gender for a minute here. There are two things working against me building my own support network. The first is that men are generally worse at maintaining close friendships, and this gets worse for men in long-term opposite-sex relationships who can tend to outsource relationship maintenance to their partner. This is something I have to be aware of and work on for myself.
The second is that men are seen by society as having less childcare responsibility - even in situations where they are clearly taking a childcare role. This means men can be overlooked or ignored in situations with parents of babies. See Friday for an example of this below.
(It may not surprise you to learn that my Christmas reading was How Not To Be a Boy by Robert Webb.)
I did two washes on Thursday.
I spent the afternoon making a massive batch of morrocan sweet potato soup, using ingredients from the grocery delivery. I chose the recipe as it has relatively little prep work - peel, chop, roast, blend. It’s also not terribly time-critical: I can be interrupted at almost any point and it’s okay. However, soups are necessarily spoonfeeding food, so I’m going to think about recipes which Luke can feed himself in future.
Thursday evening was orchestra rehearsal night. My orchestra ends at 10pm which is really late for me nowadays.
We are starting Luke at nursery soon. On Friday we went to a pre-admission session at the nursery. This was mostly going through application forms and policies. Sonia and I went together, and we shared the session with another mother and baby, but I really noticed how the nursery staff talked directly to the mums and not to me. One of the staff even forgot to introduce herself to me and ask me my name, after asking Sonia’s and Luke’s. It’s a small thing, and I didn’t complain, but I definitely noticed it.
I did one wash on Friday.
We managed to forget the required documents to give to the nursery so I had to make a return trip in the afternoon. On the way back I gave Luke a go on the swings, which he absolutely loves. His giant smile is so infectious!
I even managed to escape to go to GOV.UK Infrastructure’s goodbye drinks in the evening. I no longer take nights like this for granted, because someone needs to be in to keep an eye on the baby monitor. That said, it’s important for both Sonia and I to maintain some sort of social life, and so we talk a lot about what we can do to help each other go out in the evenings.
What is full-time dadding like, then?
Full-time dadding is hard work of a very particular sort. The main difficulty is that you don’t get to have a break on your own terms: there is often a constant stream of firefighting. Baby is hungry; baby is crawling around and needs watching; baby is threatening to pull furniture onto himself; baby wants a story. It can be difficult to even go to the toilet when you’re on your own with a baby, much less have a shower. One of the NCT mums talked about the multiple full cold cups of tea strewn around her house which she had made and then had no opportunity to drink.
That said, there are opportunities for breaks. Luke still has a nap in the morning and afternoon for ½–1½ hours (indeed, I’m writing these notes in his morning nap). But time management is important, and in fact some of the tips I picked up in Time Management for System Administrators are proving helpful, because fundamentally I’m responding to interrupts for much of my time.
There have been a few moments when I have been absolutely despairing and at my wit’s end. In my working life, I almost always have the opportunity of taking 10 minutes to go and have a coffee or a walk to let off steam, but often that’s just not the case with a screaming baby. I’ve had to learn new skills and techniques to manage my own emotional state and the baby’s. Often a walk is a good idea, as putting the baby in the pram or sling is a good way to calm them down when they’re fractious or upset.
I’m looking forward to writing more about my experiences!