No matter your gender, the first few months of having your first newborn are terrifying.
You’re overtired and you feel like you’re constantly changing and feeding this baby that is also constantly sleeping and crying somehow. Then, there’s the brain fog which makes you forget where you put everything.
Seriously, from the last clean bottle in the sterilizer to where you ended up putting the sandwich you made in your 5 minutes of free time (check the washing machine) everything disappears and you’re at the mercy of your little cherub, and a brain that’s in power-saving mode.
However, life happens. My partner was offered a fairly ludicrous contract when my daughter was 9 months old. Which left me leaving my job to pursue years of dirty nappies and being able to count the amount of sleep I had a night on one hand.
My daughter is now 4 and my partner’s contract has amicably ended, meaning I’m back at work. While I wouldn’t change the time I had with my daughter, there were certainly a few things I mastered and some I…well, didn’t get quite right.
Welcome to the 5 things I got right as a stay-at-home dad and 5 I got wrong!
1. Right – Putting an additional bed in my daughter’s room
Being able to crash out in the same room as my daughter was a double-edged sword.
On one side, being able to feed and change her without waking my partner, who had to work, was a blessing as it meant everything could be dealt with as efficiently and quietly as possible.
By quietly, I mean she would only wake up one set of neighbours and not the whole street.
Of course, the elephant in the room was the lack of sleep that one parent is dealing with. Not to mention when I snore, it sounds like there is a…well an elephant in the room. Surprisingly though, my daughter adjusted to this quickly, meaning at least one of her parents was fairly well rested/able to catch up on sleep from 9 months of insomnia.
1. Wrong – Late bedtimes
There are hundreds of studies about when children should go to sleep. Most of these studies were written by people who may have children but certainly weren’t sleep deprived at the time. While your mileage may vary, I would sometimes find myself trying to settle my daughter anywhere from 6 pm to 3 am.
I didn’t see much of an issue with this until she got a bit older, and realised her erratic schedule was making her unpredictable with feeds, changes and naps.
We survived, and she now goes to her bedroom at half 7, falling asleep by 8 pm. But I do NOT recommend the late bedtimes if you want even a morsel of an existence outside of the change, feed, sleep, repeat cycle.
2. Right – Feeding
My daughter was breastfed, to begin with, but being a 6ft 5 born man I lacked the capacity to continue this. Plus, pumping looks exhausting and I commend any woman who has had to go through that.
That being said, I was in control of the feeds. Formula, baby food, her first rusk, all the way up to a varied, healthy diet (or takeaway pizza when I don’t want to cook); I did the lot. Patience and understanding are key. Also, not only having to teach a kid how to use a spoon but doing so successfully still blows my mind.
2. Wrong – Reflux
So, I think I may have lied slightly. There was one aspect of feeding that I didn’t quite master. See, my research indicated that babies and toddlers needed to eat a certain amount of times a day. So I and my daughter would eat about 6 times a day when she was a bit older.
I didn’t realise 2 things with children under 1. First, portion size is key. My daughter was like a dog, in the sense you put food in front of her then she is going to eat/drink it. Two, this meant that she would often have way too much milk.
Reflux, vomit, spit-up. Whatever you want to call it, there was a lot of it. It gets all over them, all over your clothes, it’s a nightmare to wash out and a phantom smell of it still lingers in my nose whenever I see a feeding bottle.
Sometimes it’s unavoidable and a lot of children go through a reflux phase. However, correct portion sizes can help alleviate this. It does usually get better as your child gets older but do speak to a GP (or someone with more medical knowledge than myself, so most people) if it persists.
3. Right – Buying a playpen
Before my daughter could walk, crawl or generally mouth off at me, the playpen was a life saver. If I needed a safe place downstairs to put her down for her nap, or if she wanted independent playtime, this helped keep her away from the unsafe areas where she would inevitably want to go.
Other than one other thing that I will discuss later, the playpen was one of my best purchases. It made it easier for me to teach her colours and shapes and helped her stop being as clingy as me. She’s now an independent, but the sociable, little soul and I’m glad she has learnt how to entertain and settle herself at a young age.
3. Wrong – Not double-checking she is asleep
So, the playpen was a win and if she would nap in there, it meant I would sometimes get a rare bit of free time. Sometimes it was general life maintenance, like cleaning, cooking, washing, tidying and all-around channelling my inner Mary Poppins.
However, sometimes I would get free time to play a video game on the tv, on mute, while she slept. Ladies, gentlemen and everyone, if you’re a gamer, please pick your games accordingly to who is in the room, even if they’re asleep.
For those who have initiated gamers, I was playing Doom. For those who aren’t, Doom is essentially the stereotypical game your older relatives worry is turning the youth of today into Satanists. This is quite ironic as it’s about slaying hellion masses.
Anyway, hearing a little giggle next to you as you watch the unmentionably brutal death you’ve committed on screen is like something from a horror movie. I slowly turned to see the cheeky little madam was now wide awake. I shut Doom off and did not play a game on the TV again until she was much older. To this day, I still only play games I would not be worried about her walking in on and that I would be willing to let her play.
Heed this…really obvious warning, Kids and Doom don’t mix.
4. Right – Breaking down the social structure of mum and dad
We now live in a society where the social constraints of mum and dad are disappearing. It’s far from perfect – some working mothers still struggle with a social stigma in a corporate environment and some dad’s still struggle with being shunned by baby and toddler groups which are primarily mothers.
But we’re closer. My daughter would ask why I was at home and mummy worked. I would explain that someone would need to look after her and it didn’t have to be a mummy. There are no rules to it.
It also meant that she had more understanding at an early age of unconventional families, people who were different to her and disappearing gender norms. Of course, she is only 4, so she also spends a lot of her time spinning around in circles and laughing at pineapples. But it’s a start which I hope will help her in the future.
I mean help her with her openness by the way, not with laughing at pineapples.
4. Wrong – thinking it’s possible to still study
So, in the midst of teaching my daughter about spoons, pineapples and the breakdown of social constraints on nuclear families, I thought I would still be able to continue my studies to help me seek employment in my chosen field.
If you can get away with not having to do anything not too mentally taxing when looking after a small child, then don’t.
Seriously, this is self-explanatory and I was incredibly naïve. I was already fortunate to be in a position where I didn’t need to keep studying in this period. If you are as well, then just embrace the time and the craziness. Time passes quickly and you will miss it.
5. Right – Getting Life insurance
So, you’re probably rolling your eyes and tutting at this point. Maybe even exclaiming ‘I don’t need life insurance, I’m not going to pass away anytime soon. Well, hear me out.
Babies and toddlers have the vulnerability of a porcelain doll strapped to a car, going down the motorway the wrong way. In the snow. That’s part of the territory.
So yes, you need to be around to protect them, teach them and help them grow. But what really made me decide on insurance protection was being able to keep a roof over her head, or food on her plate if I was gone. Because it would be unresponsible and unfair on her if I didn’t have the right cover, and if I left her navigating the big wide world without me.
Money can’t replace a parent, whether it’s through working sixty-plus-hour weeks, being born into it, or life insurance. But it can give a fighting chance to those who are still learning about the world.
Once I realised, ashamedly late, that parenting doesn’t stop when your children fly the nest, I knew I needed to talk to a broker and take out cover. Then I could be reassured that she could have a slightly easier time living if anything were to happen to me.
I wouldn’t want to burden her with funeral costs and remortgaging our home. I want her to have the loving memories, be able to continue in life and…you know, buy a car or something, to make her feel better when I’m not around.
If you are considering life insurance for the first time to protect the financial future of your loved ones this article is a great place to start https://www.investopedia.com/best-life-insurance-for-parents-5088231. For our growing UK audience leading broker Reassured has created this excellent guide https://www.reassured.co.uk/life-insurance/life-insurance-for-dads/ where you can compare quotes for free.
5. Wrong – Thinking I could play both parental roles
Sadly, it is only a privilege for a child to have two parents in their life, regardless if they’re of different genders, the same gender, step parents or another form of guardians. Things happen, people separate and sometimes they pass away in unforeseen circumstances.
While myself and my daughter’s mother both play elements of mum and dad, we know it would be difficult mentally if one of us was gone. That’s why my partner also took out life insurance.
Turns out, children are expensive – who’d have figured that one out!
But everything now is expensive. Money might not make everything better but having a little financial security, a filled stomach, a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in do make everything a little bit easier.
So, for a bit of cash a month, we can focus on making memories. Not on the anxieties about when the worst possible tomorrow happens. That’s why life insurance for parents is important – you can’t put a price on peace of mind.
Well, I guess, technically you can with life insurance. But it’s 100% worth the cost.