Sunday 23 October 2016

Attention new dads! The books you need to see you through

Aiden Lawlor

Published 22/06/2015 | 02:30

Aiden Lawlor with baby Sarah. Photo: Kip Carroll
Aiden Lawlor with baby Sarah. Photo: Kip Carroll

Having kids was never part of my plan. I never saw myself pushing buggies or changing nappies. To be honest, I never understood why anyone actively chose to do those things and take on such hefty, life-long responsibility.

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After all, you don’t even know what you’re going to get! Could be a genius, could be a serial killer, there’s no way of knowing. You wouldn’t choose to go away on holiday with your best friend for more than a week, but you will gladly accept whatever random child the universe throws at you for the next 18 years plus!

However, this was all beside the point for us because my wife Lia had the baby bug. She really wanted to be a mother and have a family of her own and when you put it like that it doesn’t sound so bad.  So we put logic and reason on hold and late last June we had a healthy little baby girl, Sarah.

Now, this isn’t the part where I tell you how wrong I was and how incredible every moment has been for the last 12 months. It’s been a tough year. Sarah had reflux from birth which meant she never slept very well, which meant we never slept very well. And apart from ailments, having a baby in general is just a non-stop, around the clock job that doesn’t allow for any time off. So I wasn’t wrong.

However, thank God, Lia was right. I wouldn’t go back to life before Sarah for anything in the world. She’s an amazing person and it’s been an incredible experience. I love playing with her or just watching her play and explore the world around her. The experience of having my own has been simply indescribable. It has enriched my life in ways I could never have imagined. All that said, it would have been a much tougher year had we not had as much help and support as we did, especially from the in-laws.

But we also mined many a baby book along the way too, sometimes in preparation, sometimes in crisis and with varying degrees of success. In retrospect, some of their suggestions seem completely insane now, like trying to live your life in minute to minute schedules with a new born, co-sleeping until your child is practically a teenager and locking your bedroom door so your children can’t get in at night. But there’s definitely some good stuff in there too. If you’re about to become a father and are looking for some tips on how to stay afloat, here’s a round up of our experiences with some of the more popular books on the market today.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

Dr Marc Weissbluth

Vermilion, €17.25

Some say he’s the father of sleep training. Others say he maybe could have gotten his point across in less than 503 pages. I can sum up his message for you in three words. Sleep begets sleep.  Essentially, the more sleep your child gets during the day, the more they will sleep at night. Night-time sleep is really all you care about when you have a newborn, so we got on board fully with Dr Marc.

 Unlike most of the parenting guides, which tend to harangue you with their particular mantra, Dr Marc is a kindly, grandfather figure. He also backs up his message with tonnes of actual research, and so is the definitive word on how sleep affects your children. And just in case you weren’t sure, the short answer is badly, very badly indeed. All sort of behavioural problems come down to lack of sleep, according to Dr M.

But this huge book is dauntingly long when you’re in the middle of new born craziness. We ended up out-sourcing the actual reading to the mother-in-law, who would then come back with one sentence summations, about as much as we could take in during the worst of the sleep deprivation. The first section is basically get them to sleep at all costs. Do whatever it takes. There are little anecdotal pieces from his paediatric practice, and it’s all very cosy — he throws in the odd tale of his own children. Then suddenly, chapter five, he brutally pulls the rug when he unveils his actual theory — with a name that would sound better as a Hollywood blockbuster starring Nicolas Cage; Extinction Theory.  Basically, you put your child to bed, close the door, and let them cry until they go to sleep. Returning only confuses them and prolongs the process... We opted for a less brutal approach in the end.

The New Contented Little Baby Book

Gina Ford

Vermilion, €18.95

Unless your wife or girlfriend is militant by nature and organised like a legal secretary on steroids, maybe avoid this one, as she will most likely be berating herself for not having the baby in a solid routine within a week of leaving the  hospital.  My belief is that Gina’s way, which is founded on strict routines — glasses of water are even scheduled in — actually only works for kids who would have slept anyway.

For babies that aren’t great sleepers from the get go, give this to your partner and you are giving her a stick with which to beat herself. It’s also fairly hard core on the crying-it-out front, and doesn’t really offer any suggestions on what to do if your child doesn’t immediately fall into line. Lia tells me she found this quite comforting to read whilst pregnant, as it gave her a sense of comfort that the situation would be controllable.  She remembers picking it up a couple of weeks after we brought our daughter home, and almost having a panic attack. It’s an often used argument against Gina’s teachings, but the woman doesn’t have her own children.

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer

Tracy Hogg

Vermilion, €20.55

One of the most annoying phrases in the world of new-born sleep is the line to put them down ‘sleepy but awake’. This rarely if ever worked for us. Hogg is full of annoying phrases like this. Less of a cry-it-out advocate, hers is a more present approach. Pick up/put down, whereby if they’re not going to sleep, you pick them up, reassure them, then put them down again.  And then there’s ssshhh pat, where you shush, at the volume level of a tap on full force, whilst patting them on the back. We tried this and it definitely worked for a while, however, it is a stop gap towards something less intense and involved.  Hogg also identifies several baby personality types, so my wife became slightly hung up on whether or not we had a touchy, grumpy or spirited baby. In the end we settled on Sneezy.  Hi-ho!

The Irish Pregnancy Book

Dr Peter Boylan

A.&A. Farmar, €16.99

As he was our consultant we had first hand experience of Dr Boylan’s reassuringly no nonsense manner. On a regular basis he shot down all the internet research-driven, anxiety riddled questions Lia managed to dig up in a firm but kindly reassuring manner. This book makes that approach available to everyone. Do yourself a favour, buy it and avoid Google.

The Wonder Weeks

Van de Rijt and Frans X. Plooij

Kiddy World Promotions, B.v €25.30

This is the only parenting manual still allowed in our house. My wife swears by it, I swing between having to acknowledge its undeniable accuracy with our daughter, and wanting to bury my head in the sand at the announcement that yes another Wonder Week (they’re actually usually several weeks long) is imminent. This is based on an empirical study which took place over forty years. It found that all babies experience cognitive leaps around the same time. During each leap they become cranky, clingy and their sleep goes to pieces. Our daughter Sarah is the poster girl for this book, reacting like clockwork when a leap is due. Obviously it’s because she’s such a genius though.

Jo Frost’s  Confident Baby Care

Jo Frost

Orion, €20.55

Supernanny is good ‘thank God they’re not my kids’ TV, but when you’re in the trenches with a new-born, you do not want or need long-winded chapters on the minutiae of baby nail care. Surprisingly light-weight.

What to Expect when you’re expecting

Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Murkoff, Sharon Mazel

Pocket, €26.85

Lia did buy this book on the kindle but said it was too boring to get beyond the first chapter. When pregnant, she signed up to the app and got regular updates on how things were going, regularly announcing things like ‘this week she’s the size of a kumquat’. However, small fruit baby size comparisons aside, this classic parenting guide is actually quite a disappointment. The tips are either fairly obvious stuff, or specifically for the American mentality- taking baby bump pictures to later show to your child. Our experience of pregnancy was one of near constant, all day morning sickness, not something either of us felt particularly eager to document.

Annabel Karmel’s New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner

Annabel Karmel

Ebury Press, €23.70

Karmel has cornered the market in the area of guiding your baby from milk to solids. This guide provides detailed schedules of babies meals throughout the three weaning stages, from purees to actual solids. We started off religiously following every word,  until we realised our daughter was having more elaborate meals than we were. Now we take it as a useful source of suggestion for what sort of foods to introduce next.  If you want to buy Irish, Neven Maguire has just released a Complete Baby and Toddler cookbook with similarly healthy but elaborate recipes and meal plans.

The Baby Book

William Sears and Martha Sears

Thorsons, €24.50

The parents of attachment parenting, the Sears are the people to turn to on those long nights when it’s all collapsed into a bed-sharing, breast-feeding on demand mess.  They’ll basically reassure you that anything else will be sheer cruelty, and while, for most people, their methods probably go too far (years of co-sleeping), but for those desperate days, and nights, when you feel like you might never sleep again, the Sears are the people to make you feel like you’re doing the right thing.

How to (Really)  be a Mother

Emily Hourican

Gill & Macmillan, €22.50

This is the kind of parenting guide you want to be reading. Hourican’s book is a fairly no holds barred account of what it’s like to be a parent. It doesn’t preach, or try to sell a particular brand of parenting. She’s honest about how hard it can all be, and reading it reassures you that you’re not doing such a bad job. It’s also on the side of trusting your own instincts, rare amongst parenting manuals, and actually probably the best parenting advice you could receive.

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