ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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What’s eating me today?

This week I am getting those little things about parenthood that annoy me off my chest. I have already talked about the arrival of lighter nights, crappy toys on magazines and those who see children (and their parents) as public property. I am calling it ‘rant week’ but I hope that it is a little bit more than that since it is also highlighting how I have changed since becoming a parent, since none of these would have even been on my radar six years ago.

Today I am going to talk about something that I used to do a lot but nowadays not so much, that is eat out. Karen and I used to regularly go to restaurants before we had children, and quite frequently when Jake was very young. Over time, however, we find that we go less and less, more often than not with the children.

I have to say that eating out as a family is not something that I particularly enjoy doing. I find that the children get bored easily, even if we bring plenty of books and toys, and I do not really enjoy the restaurant experience when my food invariably goes cold for some reason or another.

However, this is not the reason for today’s rant. Rather it is so-called child-friendly restaurants that really do not seem to understand their customers. The thing that they seem to get wrong most often is when to bring the food. I have lost count of the number of times that Karen and I have found ourselves with our main course when the children’s, far more simple, meals are still being prepared in the kitchen. So there we are sitting there with a couple of hungry boys who have set their hearts on what they ordered only to be confounded by the restaurant and left with second choice offers of yucky food such as grilled sea bass or off cuts from a lamb shank with some exotic sauce (usually referred to as a ‘jus’) from Mummy’s and Daddy’s plates. Of such things are a tranquil mealtime not made.

So we have learned from experience that we need to ask that, if at all possible, the boys’ food comes first; in fact as quickly as possible since we are invariably in a restaurant these days because they are extremely hungry, and on one memorable occasion Jakes order was lost altogether – not great. I think that if we have gone somewhere claiming to be child-friendly this should be part of the service. It really is no good providing a selection of high chairs and a small packet of crayons for each child if they then get the basics wrong. For me it only adds to the stress of eating out, and does not encourage me to go again if they do not meet what I think are modest expectations.

Eating out is a good example to how life changes with children. We look for completely different things in an eatery now we have small mouths to feed. Karen and I still look for good food, but we also look for a place that it going to help us with the experience, and not heighten my already well-developed skepticism of whether we should be going there in the first place.


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Why I never want to be a celebrity

 

It is day three of rant week on ChangingDad. I have found seven things that rather annoy me since becoming a parent and have decided to spent the week getting them off my chest.

Today’s theme is something that first came to my attention just before Jake was born. Karen and I went on holiday for a week knowing that it would be the last opportunity to do so, at least just the two of us, for a number of years to come (and so it has proved). Given that I was about to become a father I was suddenly awoken to the fact that there were actually rather a lot of toddlers and babies around the place. What I had not realised is that many people treat little ones as if they are public property to be prodded, stroked and commented on. I remember one instance on that particular trip as clear as day when a woman reached into a pram of a baby she did not know and proceeded to do all the “coochie coo” stuff. I was outraged by this behaviour but took from the mother’s reaction that this was far from an isolated incident.

When I told Karen about this she was also unsurprised and told me of instances when people had regarded our in utero baby as being public property too, believing it to be quite ok to give Karen’s tummy a rub: a pre-natal celebrity. Why is this deemed acceptable by some people, most of whom, I am sure do not mean anything by it but who are also completely oblivious to the line that it crosses or the offence that it can cause.

Since the boys were born I have lost count of the number of times that their actions have been commented on as if they were X-Factor contestants, ripe for public comment. I half expect to see Jake or Sam on the front page of a tabloid paper under the headline “My cafe hell: parents made me EAT green things”, or some such. As already mentioned it also seems to have been deemed ok for some complete stranger to give a baby or toddler some sort of pat, often from people who have heavy colds and/ or coughs. Well thanks, it is nice to share but I am quite happy if you keep some things to yourself: your hands for instance.

But it is not only the children that are often regarded as public property, we parents, by association, also seem to be in the spotlight. So our valiant efforts at getting through the day without any major mishap, meltdown or embarrassment can be brought to nought by some stranger who chooses to take the child’s side and that vital moment when it seems that I have reached a delicate consensus with the boys. It really is not against the UN Convention on Human Rights to restrict the number of sweets our children eat in a public place, but by the way some people react you would think I was selling them into slavery.

What is more if you do make any protestation about such activities you are met by a reaction which questions how you could be so sensitive, how could you possibly complain about your children receiving such complimentary attention.

So far so clear you may think. Well indeed, but here is the rub. I am also proud of my boys most of the time. They are boisterous, tend to fight with each other quite a bit, and are often rather loud. But they are also sweet, cute, kind and thoughtful; and I rather like it when people notice that with a rye smile or a knowing look; and I am aware that I sometimes do that with other parents.

So am I being unfair to criticise people who take a more intense interest in the boys? I do not think so and think that there are lines that should not be crossed; for me there is a chasm between interference and acknowledgement.

I have not invited any celebrity by becoming a parent, and I am not comfortable to be in such a position; if I was I would be on some reality TV show like a shot.

I await the first series of ‘I’m a parent get me out of here’.


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It might be a comic, but it is not funny.

It is rant week on ChangingDad, and I’m getting those niggly things about parenthood that irritate me off my chest. These are not things that are, in the final analysis, important but bother me nonetheless.

Today I want to talk about children’s magazines. These are the things we get hassled for in places such as supermarkets, railway stations, motorway service areas and pretty much every convenience store. There is no escape from them, and no wonder considering the profits that must be made from them.

In order to make them more attractive to children, as if having their favourite characters on the front were not enough, they usually have some sort of plastic toy clamped to the front. When I look at these all I see is some crappy thing that is going to break as soon as the average child gets hold of it. To my boys they look like the gold at the end of the rainbow, the nirvana of their shopping expedition.

And so the pestering begins, and goes on and on and on. More often than not we resist the temptation to give in, but perhaps one time in ten we are just too tired or in too much of a hurry to go through the whole process of steering the conversation elsewhere; usually a reasonable lengthy process.

So we end up with one of these comics, open up the treasure and, more often than not, it falls out either broken or breaks on impact. If not then it breaks within five minutes of being played with, with predictable consequences, meaning that the discontent has only been delayed from shop to home.

I find this to be a very cynical policy by the makers of these products, and the worst kind of marketing. They play on the desires of the children, and they play on the fact that the magazines are sold in situations which are often stressful for parents who will give in rather than being embarrassed in public by their children. In fact the only playing that is not done is the children with the toys. We are played by the marketers every time.

Any trip through a supermarket with a child will tell you how effective marketing is with well known characters staring down from the shelves on anything from yoghurt to clothes, from birthday cakes to kitchen roll. A Lightning McQueen yoghurt will taste much better than a properly healthy one, and a Pooh nappy is much more comfortable than a biodegradable one with a generic animal on it; and while I find this frustrating it is no where near as bad as those crappy magazine toys.

In the end though I do not think that these strategies work as well as they could because, despite what the marketers may think, children actually are not that stupid and soon come to realise that they are being sold a pup (but that is a whole other story).

This is what really gets my goat. What marketing practices annoy you? Do you think that our children are targeted more than the rest of us, and is this ethically wrong?


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Blinded by the light

 

The last week has seen me thinking about those relatively small things about parenthood that annoy me, none of which I was aware before having children. So now having thought of them I think I need to get them off my chest. When I made a list I aimed to think of ten, but I fell short at seven (so it cannot be all that bad). However, seven is a good number for a short series over a week. So this week is now ‘rant week’ on ChangingDad.

I think what really got me thinking about these niggly issues was the clocks going forward last weekend. An hour less in bed aside, and that was always a small price to pay for light evenings, the arrival of British Summer Time was always my favourite weekend of the year heralding, as it does, a great deal more daylight at the right time of day. But now I am not so sure. It is a lot easier to get children to bed when it is dark, after all darkness equals bedtime, and light can mean anything but. As a result it has been hard to explain to Sam in particular why he should go to bed when it is still light, he somehow thinks it is morning.

I think that the light evenings also remind me that we cannot go out and do things in the light evenings like we used to, and it is certainly too cold to sit out at home in the evening at the moment (and I am not sure it ever was last year). While the thought of getting one of those patio heaters which pump heat anywhere but on the patio does not appeal.

So the clocks changing reminds me of past times and well as present issues; both of which, once again, come back to that recurring theme of having time to ourselves and the ability to do the things that we like (or liked) doing. For me it is probably the most obvious change about becoming a father; that as parents we have finite time but seemingly much more to fit into it. The light evenings meant that we could do more things away from the house. Having children makes that more difficult since the importance of having a bedtime routine cannot be overstated, and so being able to do things then means having babysitters on a regular basis. This is something which I do not think is totally fair on the boys who are clearly more comfortable with having one or both of us in the house when they go to bed.

I understand that some people find the winter months very difficult when there is not much daylight, and on balance I much prefer the summer months. Nevertheless, it is not as clear cut as it used to be and this time of year is definitely one of more mixed emotions than it used to be. That is, for me, one of the consequences of parenthood, and not one that I had particularly anticipated.

I wonder whether this is the same for other parents? Or is it just me?