The 13 things I've learned in 13 months as a dad

I've been a dad for just over 13 months now. It's been a truly wonderful experience so far but never in my life have I had to learn so much so quickly. I started thinking about some of the things I wish I had known at the beginning of this journey. After a few hours of scribbling I came up with the following 13 things I've learned as a new dad:

1) Advice from your parents(' generation) isn’t as valuable as you might think. I’ve found the advice from fellow new(ish) parents to be far more timely, relevant and actionable. I asked my brother-in-law Leaf and my buddy Fergy so many questions before and after Luke's arrival because they'd recently been through it themselves. In contrast, it’s been 20+ years since your parents looked after a baby on a regular basis. Standards have changed, ideals have changed, best practices have changed. What you WILL get from your parents is some experienced hands who can help out when you need it and on your terms, as well as unconditional love for your new family member. Both are hugely valuable.

2) Speaking of advice, the amount of unsolicited advice you will receive is staggering. It will come from family, friends, coworkers, even total strangers. It will be presented to you in no uncertain terms (e.g. “you need to...” “you have to...” “you mustn’t...” “always...”, etc). You can safely ignore almost all of it, no one knows what’s best for your kid except you. Thank them for their thoughts and move on.

3) Trust your instincts, they will rarely fail you. If you think your baby is too hot/too cold/hungry/tired/wet/teething/feverish/bored/perfectly fine, they probably are.

4) Babies are tougher and smarter than you think. It is our natural predilection to protect our babies from anything and everything. We are their guardians, their protectors and their providers. So the thought of taking your kid outside for the first time is terrifying. Same with their fist car ride, bath, meal, fall, illness, solid meal/poo, and the first 4 week's worth of sleeping. You are in a constant state of alert and fear and worry. But they're tough little buggers, designed to exist in far worse conditions that the ultra-padded, Mothercare-embroidered environment we create for them. As my sister-in-law Donna always says, if a crackwhore can raise a baby so can you.

5) Be disciplined about sleep. No matter which sleep-training method you adopt (Cry it out, co-sleeping, Pick Up/Put Down), stick with it and be consistent, no matter how hard it seems in the moment. Yeah they scream and it sucks but not allowing them to build a natural and consistent sleep pattern is not fair to them.

6) They can eat solids from a very young age. Baby-led weaning (BLW) is the single greatest tip I’ve ever been given (thanks to Becky and Katy!). Despite your fears, they won’t choke, you don’t need to mash up their food until they’re 15 years old, and you don’t need to chew it up and spit into their mouth - that’s just idiotic. BLW teaches kids to be comfortable with texture, it teaches them to gag (a HUGELY important skill to prevent choking), it teaches them to pick up food and eat it from a very young age, and you’re not shoving food into their faces which, according to research by the Mayo Clinic, contributes to problem-eaters in the future. Read about it and adopt it. This book is great.

7) Read to them from the moment they can open their eyes. From 6 weeks old we read to Luke. People thought we were crazy but every night before bed, we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar and he was captivated, we would have to read it 3 times in a row. Now we read 5 or 6 books before bed and several throughout the day. I'm completely convinced that it has helped his general comprehension, reasoning, and listening skills.

8) They’re good travelers. Traveling with a baby sounds like a complete nightmare but it’s really not that bad, especially when they’re under a year. Luke did 8 international flights covering 29,893 miles before his first birthday, all without a hitch. Of course you need a bit more planning and some extra time but don’t be afraid to do it. I wrote a few tips on traveling with a baby last year.

9) The people that complain about babies in restaurants/planes/trains/public place? Fuck ‘em. They’re babies for the love of Pete, they can’t help it. A persistently obnoxious baby in a public place is the fault of the parents, not the baby. Be cool about where  you take your baby, and be the better person if they start to get upset or noisy and take them out. But don’t get upset when people complain, they’re the same type of people who are assholes to waiters and we all know the rule about them.

10) Constantly educate yourself but be selective about what you read. And be sure to apply your FUD filter when reading. It’s important that you know the ins and outs of parenthood, especially in the first few months but there’s a LOT of fear-inducing, scare-mongering books and websites out there that will freak you out unnecessarily with their prophecies of doom. They’re like Fox News, for entertainment purposes only. As a dad I got a lot from the “What to expect...” series,  I appreciated their FAQ structure and the tiered milestones for each month. Oh and your FUD filter should be set to max power when reading internet forums as they are teeming with categorically unintelligent people and dangerous advice.

11) Ask questions, constantly. Ask your health visitor/pediatrician/OBGYN, ask your friends, ask your brother-in-law, ask your neighbor, ask your partner! This is especially applicable for that first set of people. Believe me, child health professionals have heard every question ever asked about babies so don’t feel embarrassed about your question. In the first few days after Luke was born I had so many questions that I wrote them all down and bombarded our health visitor every time she came to the house. She always said that she would stay until all of my questions were answered because an informed parent is an effective parent.

12) Don't waste your time comparing your kid to other kids. I recently updated my bio and made sure to include the fact that I took my first steps by 14 months old. Oh wait no I didn't because it's completely irrelevant. Kids reach different milestones at different times and there are some parents who LOVE to tell you that little Susie/Jimmy said their first word at 13 months old. What they always forget to mention is that little Susie/Jimmy can't walk, feed themselves, or give an earth-shattering high 5. Luke walked at 11 months but still hasn't mastered clapping. Who cares, he'll get it eventually. Parents that put your kid down to big up their own kids are the same parents who will be standing at the sideline of their kids' soccer in a few years game yelling "You score a goal, Kenny, you score a goal right now!!! You score a goal or mommy and daddy won't love you anymore!!! SANTA'S NOT REAL!!"

13) Take a million photos. Carry some sort of camera with you at all times, even if it's just a smartphone with a camera, and take photos constantly. Your kid won't tell you when they're going to walk for the first time "Oh hey Dad, I'm thinking about taking my first steps by COB on Monday so...y'know...FYI, and all that." and you'll never forgive yourself if you miss one of those moments; a toothless grin, first steps, first time on the swings, meeting relatives for the first time, etc. Memories are great but it's fun to look back and relive those moments from time to time. It's especially important in our situation with 75% of Luke's family scattered across the world.

and a bonus 14th...

14) Relax and enjoy it. I won't lie, the first year can be stressful. When you're running on a few hours of sleep, the kid's been crying for what seems like hours, and you've changed your 200th nappy of the day, you can start to get a bit twitchy. But those times are the exception, not the rule. The amount of joy that my son has brought me is infinite. I am lucky, I work from home so whenever I'm sick of looking at a spreadsheet I just get up and play with my son for a while. Should I be working? Probably. Will I regret not working to play with my son in 18 years when he's off to college? Not for a second.