New Dad Diaries – week 13 – How a lion and a warthog changed our parenting

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Chronicling life as a new father to his beautiful firstborn child – daughter Thea – Chris Kerr’s goal is to provide all men experiencing fatherhood for the first time with some invaluable tips and tricks as they are learned – the hard way. This week, it is Chris v. Mufusa in a heavyweight (oi!) clash around routines. 

My wife Alicia and I have got Thea’s bedtime routine perfected. With military precision (I was a Sea Cadet, you know), we do the following: 

19:00 Change Thea’s nappy and put her sleep clothes on (Mum & Dad) 

19:10 Feed Thea 50ml of high-calorie formula (Dad) 

19:20 Top Thea up with a breast feed (Definitely not Dad)  

19:30 Rock Thea to sleep and hold her until bed (Dad) 

This routine helps Thea to sleep until 10pm, when she has another nappy change and feed.  She then sleeps most of the rest of the night. Motivated by a good night’s sleep, my wife and I will fiercely protect this bedtime routine at the cost of everything else. If you knock on the door at 19:01, like one poor charity fundraiser did, you will be sent packing in double-quick time with no apology. 

At one point, I even drew up a risk-management plan to ensure nobody ruined our family bliss. I wish I was joking. Our phones would be put on silent, I would put an out-of-office on and I switched the doorbell off (yes, seriously!). I had fallen into the parenting trap of getting my security from a routine. Any small deviation from the plan made me feel anxious, fearing that a minor change would lead to our daughter, and consequently us, never getting a good night’s sleep ever again.

The reality is actually very different, and it took an all-singing, all-dancing lion and warthog to show me that. That’s right, for the first time since Thea was born, Alicia and I were going out without her, to watch The Lion King musical at the Wales Millennium Centre. During the opening song, ‘The Circle of Life’, I took some solace in the fact that Mufasa seemed pretty aloof about Simba’s night-time routine and, perhaps ironically, by the time Timon and Pumbaa started singing ‘Hakuna Matata’, I was pretty laid back about it all (although video-calling my mother-in-law, who was kindly babysitting Thea, during the interval perhaps suggests differently).  

In that video call, I could see that Thea was fast asleep as per usual. In fact, she slept really well that night, and continued to do so thereafter. It turned out that my anxiety was unnecessary, and that was a lesson for me. Don’t get me wrong, routines are important for babies and families. Research consistently demonstrates that routines help infants to feel safe, and have a positive impact on their social, emotional and cognitive development. It also confirms that children without routines don’t fare as well. But routines don’t need to be perfect, they just need to be consistent.  

What do I mean by that? Well, as a default, we should stick to our routines, whether before bed or at meal-times. There will be times to drop or amend the routine: for example, our kids are unwell and need something else altogether. There will be times that we do everything right, yet our kids still wake up due to teething or trapped wind. And as our kids develop, we need to change the routine to meet their new requirements. Routines are much like maps in that way. They provide good boundaries and keep us on the right roads, but sometimes we need to find a different route to the same destination, which is ultimately, the wellbeing of our little ones.  

On the subject of your child’s wellbeing, one of the best things you can do for them is to prioritise your marriage. There is nothing like having two parents who love and serve each other to make a child feel safe and secure. Disrupting your baby’s routine to go on a date is not a selfish thing to do. It’s a huge positive for both them and for you. So, don’t delay, book a babysitter and take your wife out for dinner and a movie. I am going to do just that – and as I had to sit through The Lion King for my wife, it’s my turn to pick the entertainment! 

Smallprint 1:  A big thank you to my mother (in-law) Sue who babysat for Thea. Sue was amazing and I am thankful for her patience when we asked for regular updates!  

Smallprint 2:  The Lion King was actually very good, and I highly recommend it. Just don’t tell Alicia as I really want to go and see Top Gun 2: Maverick!

TIP OF THE WEEK

The mother of your baby is experiencing an all-consuming, exhausting existence at the moment (you probably are too). It may be wonderful, but she needs some time to herself as well. How can you incorporate that into your day? She deserves it.  

Chris Kerr

Chris is a husband to Alicia and father to Thea, who is the subject of his columns on Fatherhood for Sorted.  In his spare time he works for a national law firm in an executive capacity and provides crisis leadership consultancy support for non-profits across the UK.  He attends Urban Crofters Church in Cardiff.  A keen weekend adventurer, Chris is regularly spotted in the sea or on mountains.
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