Dear Rob: Information

I suspect that every now and then and your soon to be every waking moment you’re beginning to wonder: “how the hell do you look after a baby?”

Well don’t worry. Lucky for you there’s almost as much information out there on babies as there are babies.

Unlucky for you much of it is either frightening, mystifying or contradictory and in every other paragraph the baby’s gender changes (you’ll be relived to know that that does not happen in real life). Navigating the stormy seas of books, blogs and advice is fraught with peril. A few thoughts for you then, which according to my own advice you should take or leave entirely at your own will.

There seem to be two general kinds of books: those that tell you what to do and those that tell you what happens as a baby develops. My preference was always for the latter as they don’t tend to set up too much false expectation. Books that tell you what to do take wildly different and occasionally terrifying approaches and seem to be about the kinds of well behaved infant the likes of which I have yet to meet or even hear compelling evidence to prove the existence of; unlike, say, the yeti which I’m far more certain is real.

They are also on the whole directed towards mums. I was lent a book on parenting for dads. On about page two it told me that after the birth I’d be the one counting fingers and toes. I thought that was a bunch of patronising bullshit and stopped reading. In the end I don’t know if anyone actually counted his fingers and toes but it was the last fucking thing on my mind after what we’d just been through.

Books also don’t really tell you the stuff that you absolutely do need to know like how to get the smell of shit out of your nose, what it feels like to really really hit the wall on lack of sleep and how fucking freaked you’re going to be when you realise that baby boys get erections (yeah, no one told me either).

There was one book that we both placed great store in. It’s called Wonder Weeks and it’s about the developmental stages of infants and how their physical and mental development runs in cycles that can create discernible and predictable periods of calm and bloody mayhem. It’s fascinating because it’s about how your baby develops and one of the few products I’m ever going to mention by name.

To be honest most of the ‘how to’ you’ll get from friends, colleagues, other parents, your own parents and God bless it, the Internet. So even though parenting, like getting married, is one topic in which so many have such well informed intentions, the world of blogs and forums gives you the collected and accessible benefit of experience: real world knowledge, on-the-job training. And often many very very very funny stories.

You can do a lot worse than turn to your peers (although when it comes to sickness then asking the experts is still the way to go).

That’s still a lot of very different opinions to choose from. You know what kind of parents you want to be. Follow what makes sense to you. Ignore what doesn’t. To do otherwise will only make you unhappy.

In this respect I really do recommend some kind of ante natal class. Not so much for what they teach you but to make contact with a bunch of folks all going through the same thing at the same time. I remember one of the mums in our group saying that it never mattered what time it was, there was always someone else up on email. It’s company and comfort and learning from each other’s experience. It’s swapping tips and tricks and war stories and bearing your scars with pride; although dads meetings can get a little Quint, Hooper and Brody.

You’ll also learn to sit in a room full of women with their boobs out and not gawp like some hormonal teenager which is a pretty good life skill of its own. I should clarify that new mums don’t all sit around half naked in some Wicker Man style circle, at least not round these parts, but they do breast feed.

One of the other things I love about researching or hearing about current recommended practice in good parenting is how it highlights how wrong most of what our parents did was…

It will all get on top of you eventually, information overload, so take heart my friend, and keep these three simple things in mind at all times:

~ evidence suggests that as a species we’re quite good at reproducing; much of what you need to be able to do will come naturally, improved medical facilities will take care of the rest

~ despite the incredibly long journey to maturity and the world being against them, babies are actually pretty resilient little things. On balance you’re far more likely to fuck them up emotionally than they will come to physical harm

~ and to be honest, we’re all just winging it anyway…

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