What a difference a 2nd baby makes – why #dadtime hasn’t been blogged as much on 2nd #sharedparentalleave

I’ve become conscious that this blog is starting to read like a bit of a good-pub-guide to East Surrey, with a couple of posts pending that feature a walk/cycle and a pub (though one of them was excellent). And I think there is a reason for that. Somehow, despite No.2 sleeping “better” (at least more predictably and with less walking) than Junior, I actually have less time to blog!

Part of this is obvious – it simply isn’t possible to do it when Junior is at home as well, especially as he no longer naps in daytime at all, except the odd catnap in the car on the way places. In addition, No.2’s consistency with me of only sleeping for 30 minutes simply isn’t long enough to really get into the swing of things – by the time I’ve decompressed slightly, if I start writing I have to stop long before I’ve finished. Which may indicate I’m writing too long posts, but it is catch-22 – the less I get to write the more I have to say!

The other impact, and why it’s become a pub guide, is that this means I don’t have the reflective time to write some of the more introspective posts as last time. And I think that is my main reflection on having a second child. You simply don’t have the time (at this stage) to be truly reflective, you have to be much more reactive and immediate. Which neither Mummy nor I find easy to sustain for long periods of time. It is also having an impact on Junior, and I think to some extent leading to his behaviour issues, although that is also the direct constraints on the time and quality of time we get to spend with him.

Needless to say this hasn’t been the only difference – one of the posts I WILL get round to writing is about how different the characters and interactions with the two are – every multiple parent warns you about how different they will be, but you don’t really believe them until you’ve got two and you see just how different two superficially similar crying-eating-pooing machines can be.

I just heard a rustle…break over!

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Bad day follows bad night – double #dadtime at its hardest.

A short account of yesterday, which was the counterpoint to the mostly successful and enjoyable days I’ve had so far on my own. But building on the sleep post I made yesterday, it was almost entirely caused by a bad period of sleeping. 

Junior has got a new routine, as he’s back in nursery 3 days a week, Mon-Weds, which he’s finding tiring. Coupled to this the general disruption of Mummy going to work, and a new intake of younger children into his class, and his sleep has for disrupted. Again. He’s been going to sleep earlier to bath with his sister (very cute),which means he’s waking up about 5am. And he doesn’t understand why everyone else isn’t up… Last night he then also woke up about 3am for a bit, before going back to sleep and waking up properly at 5.30am. Which resulted in a very grumpy family, No.2, Mummy and I all got woken up.

It being Thursday, we couldn’t hand the problem to nursery, so I was staring down the barrel of a very long day with two tired babies. And long it proved to be. 

By the time they both crashed out at about 10:30 No.2 had already fallen down the steps into the kitchen – no damage, but not nice for anyone and left me feeling really guilty as it happened when I was literally 2 feet away but too quickly to stop. Then I had to wake Junior up as it was time for the weekly Joe Jingles class, which meant he didn’t get enough sleep – and this was an exceptional time for him to sleep anyway. He’s mostly stopped napping, but when he does need one (every 4-5 days typically) it’s in the afternoon. So he was still grumpy. See if you can spot him in the below picture, this was how I found him after getting No.2 off to sleep!


We made it to Joe Jingles, but late as Junior wanted to do a poo after waking – which was 2 days after the last one, as although potty training is going well, he does wait a while between poos, so it takes a while to get it all out (grim, as know, but the internet doesn’t transmit the smells so you are spared that at least). 

While we had a pleasant lunch at the Pilots Hub at Redhill Aerodrome, when we got back Junior started talking about doing a poo again, and I foolishly ignored him, thinking there couldn’t be anything in there as we’ve never had more than one in 24 hours. No.2 and I sat in the garden while he went upstairs to get something – shortly after he runs off his head appears in his bedroom window, I thought waving and saying hello – he even started to read one of the books on his windowsill. But in fact what he was trying to communicate that he’d done a huge poo in his pants. Cue emergency shower with complete clothes change, and a crying No.2 while I ignored her to achieve this. 

The knock-on delay to dinner then that meant they were both so tired that they didn’t really want to eat, particularly Junior who is fussy at the best of times (although in fairness he did eat nearly 4 chipolatas, he refused everything else without tasting it). Safe to say I could not wait for Mummy to get home. Fortunately Southern Fail actually haven’t been too bad since she went back, so she was on time.

But we all survived with no harm done, and I have to remember I had a few rough days last time round too. But I was mostly left feeling guilty as it was all things I could/should have avoided. Oh well, Must Try Harder!

Babies and #sleep, what a nightmare (with added science)!

The one post I made last time that has kept receiving hits even while this blog was “resting” was the one about the 9 month sleep regression (based on this article). So I will focus a bit more on the topic of sleep, in an attempt to put some more information and experience out there. As well as because it is probably the single biggest topic of conversation between Mummy and me. 

First, the science part. There are two natural drivers for humans going to sleep: circadian pressure and homeostatic pressure. Big words, but actually quite simple:

  • Circadian is about the time of day – we are hard wired to sleep at night, i.e. when there is no sunlight. Obvious, as before fire and particularly man made lights we wouldn’t have been able to do anything at night. Babies also need to sleep more often, again at fairly regular or repetitive intervals – what we call naps. 
  • Homeostatic is more complex, but is to do with how “tired” we are – so doing more increases the homeostatic pressure. It’s why we get more tired after a hard day’s work than a sofa day.

However sleep is a learned activity – you have to learn how to fall asleep (I know! This amazes me every time I hear it). Once actually asleep you don’t have one monolithic block of sleep, even though that’s how it can feel, you go in cycles, typically 90 minutes for an adult, but less for babies. One recent fact I like is that humans evolved to sleep in two halves, with a period of waking in the middle – probably protective, with added reproductive benefits, when living in trees/caves. 

In our babies, the operation of these two pressures has been quite evident, but very different. Below table (sorry, analyst) summarises their behaviour on these various traits at about this point (9 1/2 months). 


I can really only stress that I am not exaggerating. Mummy has it very marginally easier during the day in possessing weapons of last resort (breast feeding), but much much harder in them being the only effective option at night. The scores are probably relative, but our children are among the worst I’ve heard about, comparable with other parenting nightmares we’ve heard of. I still laugh in disbelief when people say they’re going to put their child down in their room for a nap. While they are ironically currently both asleep, No.2 is in the push chair and Junior remains where he collapsed on the sofa!

So, given this awful experience, what conclusions and tips would I give?

  1. Breastfeeding affects sleep. A lot. This is just a fact. It means significantly less for Mummy, but also as you will end up cosleeping, less for Daddy too. The benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the inconvenience, but be under no illusion that this will have a long-term impact on how and for how long they sleep. See this recent article on “breastsleeping” for an insight. It also doesn’t mean all bottle-fed babies will sleep.  I didn’t, see #5. 
  2. Put the child down asleep as often as possible. They get used to sleeping on someone, and this is a killer. While mobile phones can alleviate some of the boredom, it is frequently uncomfortable and very dull. Also, it’s a bit dangerous if you really are knackered. As above, at night this is pretty unavoidable for mums, but dads can reduce babies’ dependency on this during their shifts. When I’ve been on parental leave, sleeping has improved as both have realised they can sleep not using a bosom for a pillow (no Brimful of Asha played in our house…). 
  3. Look out for Mummy. She will be more tired than you, and has less opportunity to recover than a daddy does. Mummy to mine has basically not had more than 3 hours consecutive sleep in nearly 3 years. When it gets really bad (teething, development leaps, growth spurts), do something. Anything. Long drive, late night, whatever it takes. When someone is that sleep deprived even 30 minute can make the difference. 
  4. It does get better. Slowly, oh so slowly, but it does. The challenge with Junior was that his sleep would get better quite quickly then regress hugely. But by age 2 and 2 months he was sleeping through the night. And then No.2’s sleep, which for the first few weeks had been excellent, literally fell off a cliff. Her challenge has been that change has been painfully and imperceptibly gradual, but ompense she hasn’t really regressed.
  5. It might be genetic…. It turns out that both Mummy and I were awful sleepers, as was my father before me. I appear to hold the record, being 3yo before I slept through the night. I literally can’t imagine, although consecutively our two are approaching that marker now! Although I have always been a bit of a slow learner…

Some will ask “why didn’t you try sleep training”. Well, seeing as all these are some variety of letting them cry, Mummy didn’t want to do this. I will happily admit I would have, but I haven’t been worst affected or done most of the work, and I want all the family to be happy. And it is incredibly hard letting a small child you love, who knows they want something but doesn’t know what it is or how to get it, scream. So we didn’t. 

We did try a book called “The No Cry Sleep Solution“, which cured a few habits, but I don’t think really did much good in the long run. Mummy bought it at about 8 months, so it took over twice as long again for Junior to get the hang of it…. I’m slightly in awe of those who do (props to a magistrate colleague who got all 4 of hers sleeping through the night by 9 weeks), but not for us. 

So I admit sleep deprivation is part choice. 

However I reserve the right to whinge with other parents!

A frantic finish to work and a quiet beginning to parental leave – but that’s unlikely to last all of #SPL…

My latest and last adventure in parental leave  started on Thursday. Frankly it was a massive blur. 

Leaving work was not as smooth or well planned as last time. I think the fact I am more confident about the childcare (I.e. Have no illusions about how hard it is going to be…), and being a parent already simply having less time to mentally prepare. This meant that I was working 100% right up until the last second. Not aided by various new joiners to my teams in my last few weeks, but mostly my own fault. 

If I were to do this again, what I’d do differently is mostly not try to cram as much as I have into the weeks preceding the start of SPL. Coming back after Xmas was a bad idea, although I didn’t have enough leave to do anything else. Also you don’t get much control over when the baby is born! It doesn’t help that I had been covering for 2 vacant team leader jobs for about 5 months. 

There is a key contrast with maternity leave here. It becomes very obvious when a woman is about to go on maternity leave, and good ol’ (inverse?) sexism means that as a man I’m going to be very cautious of overworking a woman in such a condition, and towards the end it usually gets pretty obvious when a woman is in such a condition!
Add to this having my phone stolen while on my leaving do, and my stress levels on Thursday were pretty astronomical. It wasn’t until Friday afternoon that the whole “not going to work, chill” vibe kicked in, with some help from Mum and kids. And it properly has now while I sit watching the NFL Divisional Championships safe in the knowledge that (a) I’m not going to work, and (b) it’s my turn for a lie in! 

Buts it’s not all fun and games – my first major goal for the joint time off is to decorate No.2’s bedroom – she’s not in it yet, as her sleeping doesn’t really warrant it, but we’d like to try settling her in it before the 9 month sleep regression hits (see what happened when Junior went through this. More to follow on sleep, obviously.) Looking forward to that one, obviously. 

Things they don’t tell you at Parent School – sleeping babies are a myth, and still then they “regress”

….Ok so I admit there isn’t a Parent a School. I’ve reached the conclusion that this is because it isn’t until you actually have a kid that all the privations and difficulties would seem worthwhile – a school that told you about them beforehand would simply mean no-one in their right mind would actually have children, and so the world would be populated solely as the result of drunken one-night stands. Nothing wrong with this method of conception, it just isn’t going to keep the chimneys swept!

The latest thing we’ve found out about after it happened is the “Nine Month Sleep Regression”. As noted a couple of posts ago, Junior’s consistently poor record of sleep actually succeeded in getting worse, with him returning to his neonatal levels of waking every 1-2 hours (at best). Ideal with Mum having gone back to work.

According to the reassuringly comprehensive blog Baby Sleep Science this is perfectly normal. At various times in their development, because of the huge amount of changes going on in their brains, their sleep patterns “regress” to earlier ones. Nine months is one of those, as with the mobility changes and social development that we’re currently seeing. Junior being the lack-of-sleeper he is, this means he did completely regress, not just a bit, so we’re currently back to square one of trying to teach him to sleep again. Which we hadn’t really succeeded in doing, but were at least getting the odd 4-5 hour stretch out of him.

Apparently the same thing happens again at 18 months too. Looking forward to that already…

 

An Easter of Kings, Curry, Cousins and Less Sleep!

Another Easter passes, Junior’s first ritual consumption of chocolate passing in what could have been a diabetic haze, but instead was quite a good weekend of eating. Although his obsession for all forms of bread-related product continues – this weekend we added muffins to his approved list, along with pancakes (possibly pikelets) which frankly are a bread substitute. We’re already trying to hide other food-groups in the bread in the hope he’ll pick up their taste!

It opened with an evening of curry and beer – Junior and Mum departing early once Junior had won the prize for cutest customer in the curry house for the evening. Some of the waiters really took a shine to him! This was followed on Saturday by the start of a visit by his two little cousins (and attendant adults), aged 6 (Boy) and 4 (Girl).

Boy Cousin and Junior were endearingly fascinated by each other – playing very happily, which unfortunately left Girl Cousin somewhat out of the loop. This was ameliorated during the visit to Hampton Court by the fact that Junior spent a lot of his time in the back pack, thereby being out of reach and conversation for both of them.

Hampton Court was in fine form – as it should have been for its 500th birthday! We obviously weren’t going to the HCP500 evening bashes (with children?! Absurd…). There were a range of playlets going on throughout the day to keep everyone occupied and give those who didn’t have their ears glued to an audio guide an idea of what the main historical events at the palace were. Mum and I actually visited last year, when the plays were probably less well done and slick, but had more of a storyline to them – this weekend they were mostly significant but unrelated events dotted through the palace’s history. Obviously Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn got centre stage, but also a range of other monarchs. However the dancing and singing was very good – at one point I definitely felt like an extra on Shakespeare in Love!

On Monday we went to Dad’s Playgroup, which was attended by a fairly select band – but this allowed Junior more opportunity at the toys – which he failed to take advantage of by sleeping and then clinging to me most of the time! This was followed by a junior hosting one of his NCT girlfriends and parents – he was on good form for her, of course. Demonstrated his spectacular eating skills by demolishing some more bread. And in fairness a bit of meringue. Little bit.

In amongst all this jollity, Junior did absolutely sideswipe us with a complete sleep relapse. According to the Wonder Weeks theory he has just entered his next developmental leap, so this has probably contributed, but he may simply have mistaken his mother for a chocolate Easter egg, and been enjoying the opportunity to stay as close as possible. As the scratches from a couple of nights’ close attention prove….

Quiet pint and reflections on 2 weeks of Dad Time #dadtime

Sat in the Boathouse pub in Putney (good for a glass and gleaming steel structure, best river view not in Wetherspoons) watching the crews practising for the Head of the River races this weekend. This being about as close to actually sitting by the Thames it is possible to get anymore, something to thank modern embankment builders for, this seems like a fitting moment to reflect on the last 2 weeks. Two weeks which will stick in my memory forever, for all the best reasons, and the odd slightly less positive!

I knew that this wasn't going to be easy, and definitely not a holiday. What I hadn't fully thought through was how having to use a completely new feeding method was going to add difficulty. We're still nowhere near figured out how to get enough food into him, and this is having impacts on all of us (including Mum). I reckon it's added about 15% (time, complexity and effort) to doing things over Mum. Before I started I thought I could imagine what it was like to be at home with him full time when he was younger. But I'm dealing with Junior at a stage where he is able to amuse himself for at least some of the time. As a result my respect for the job done by Mum has gone up even higher. Amuse himself like now, where we're playing a game of fetch – he crawls off and I go fetch him when he goes too far…

So what are the big things I've learnt? Here they are:

Lesson the First – Sleep is your Friend. Junior is the non-sleeping type of baby (there appear to be the 2 sub-types. For reference, Junior typically naps for 1 1/2 to 2 hours a day). I knew this before I took over. But until this week I didn't fully understand why it was so important to get him his naps. On Tuesday Junior had only had about 45 minutes nap, in the morning. When Mum returned I'm not sure she could tell which one of us was more tired and distraught. I think it was me, because I can't just sit their and cry. Or at least not if Junior's got there first. Lesson learned the hard way.

Lesson the Second – Play is really fun! We've done a few things in the past fortnight that he hasn't done before – art (finger painting), mountaineering (climbing on cushions) and experienced different viewpoints and gravity (backpack carrier and stuck things to the floor and got him to pick them up). All ideas off the internet, obviously. He might not always be smiling, but the pleasure he has in trying new things is evident from the serious look of concentration on his face. We even had a hello wave going for a few hours!

Lesson the Third – Little boys really do miss their mummy. While he is more than happy with me, and doesn't mind when Mum heads out the door (except for a couple of days where he'd hold her leg for the preceding 5 minutes then be right as rain once she'd actually left) the smile on his face when Mum comes throught the door is defintely wider than the one I used to get….

Lesson the Fourth – Dads do stand out. It is definitely still unusual to be a dad at home and I don't think this stereotype will go away quickly. “Mother and baby” is used to describe everything. You get some friendly and….lets go with sympathetic looks mostly from older women.

Lesson the Fifth – Other dads aren't like Morris Minor drivers. I used to drive a Minor, and you would always wave at any other Minor you saw on the road because (a) it's always good to see another one and (b) you both understand it might all go wrong at any moment and need help. Barring the guys at Dads and Littluns, when walking past other a Dads, even if they're not full-time, I expected a bit more engagement. Rarely even a smile.

Lesson the Sixth – You really can't do things you want when you want. For instance I'm now trying to finish this post at home, before Mum gets home, as we didn't last long enough in the pub.

Here endeth the lessons. But not the fun – in summary its been amazing. In 2 weeks I feel like I've got to know Junior better than ever before – I better understand his moods, even if I'm still not sure what to do about them. I think I've seen him develop based on things I've taught or encouraged him to do. We've been lots of places and done stuff that some/many/most dads don't get to share with their kids.

Let's see what happens in the next 2 1/2 months!