ChangingDad

Making the most of a new life


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Like Son, like Father

It has been a bit of a strange start to the summer holiday period. This was always going to be the case to a certain extent since this was the first time that Jake would be home for several weeks since he first went to nursery when he was nine months old. We have also had friends staying, and so have had five children in the house; and to add to this Sam has been poorly. In fact he has been so poorly that he has been asking to go to bed without any prompting from us.

This has meant that we have sometimes been putting the boys to bed at different times, rather that the usual seemingly chaotic procedure of getting them down together, and the combination of these different factors meant that when I took Sam to bed last night it was a very calm time which I enjoyed very much.

Sam was quite restless, it was also a rather humid evening, but he sang a few songs to me that he had learned at nursery, and for the first time we had a chat. By this I mean a proper little talk in which we were both contributing ideas, a chat that had some sort of point to it and a definite beginning and ending.

This on its own would have been quite enough for me to class it as quality time well spent with him, but half way through our conversation it struck me that the situation that we were in seemed strangely familiar. It took me a while to understand what was going on for me, and I originally thought maybe it was a repeat of a similar time that I had had with Jake. But no, I realised that this first proper chat with Sam reminded me of my last proper chat with my Father.

As you can image this was quite a revelation for me, and one that I had to think through. It was certainly the case that in the half light of the bedroom Sam certainly bore more than a passing resemblance to my Father, but it was also the nature of the conversation which solidified the comparison for me.

My last real conversation with my Father took place in hospital about four days before he died. I had always found it difficult to talk to him when I visited since the distractions of a busy ward together with his increasing deafness and the aphasia that has come about as the result of a stroke made communication very difficult. For some reason, however, he had been put in a single room and we were able to focus on each other more, and I was able to spend time deciphering what he wanted to say to me. It was a lovely afternoon that I shall always treasure.

This is where this particular bedtime with Sam I think was similar. There was not the usual distractions of him and Jake egging each other on, or of him trying every trick he knows to put off the ‘awful’ moment of lying down quietly, so we were able to focus on each other much more. Added to this was the issue of me trying to discern what he wanted to say to me. His vocabulary is increasing at an amazing rate but he is still trying to work out how to say many words and, like my Father, got a bit frustrated when I could not understand what he wanted to say.

This was a really lovely and very positive moment for me and, for a change, I did not want to get out of the bedroom as soon as possible to begin my ‘child-free‘ evening. From this I learned that that sometimes it is important to slow down and take more notice of what it going on around me. I have no idea whether I will be able to heed this advice in future, but I really hope so.

Somehow the generational baton was passed on.


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Powerless in Yorkshire II

So the problems with the electricity were soon fixed and I re-composed myself for the rest of my weekend with the boys. We had a relaxing day on the Sunday doing nothing in particular, and then I had a good day with Sam on Monday while Jake was at school.

By Monday evening, though, I was shattered and the events of the weekend were catching up on me, and I was starting to recognise the old signs of sleep deprivation and the general crankiness that goes with it. As a result bedtime did not go well.

I was desperate for the boys to go to bed because I needed both sleep and a little time to myself before achieving that. I think that it was because of this, I probably pushed bedtime earlier than I should have, I also think that the boys spotted my desperation and saw it as an opportunity to buy some time, and get some attention as well. They were all over the place, running round the house, opening the blinds, jumping in and on each other beds, and generally creating mayhem. It was the first time that I felt that a situation with them had gone completely out of control and I had no idea how to get it back, and no backup. I felt powerless and I really did not like it.

After what seemed like an age, and after an awful lot of shouting, things finally began to settle down; but I felt really bad. Bad because I had got so angry, bad because I had felt powerless, and bad because I was too tired to feel good. I also knew that this bedtime may have set a precedent for future evening, and I really needed some sort of strategy to, what I saw at the time, wrest control back.

Now, as regular readers will know, bedtime is something of a recurring theme here (see ‘Bedtime hour’ and ‘Ok, so I was wrong’); and is an issue for most parents at one time or another, often for the reasons I have described already. So once Karen came back I was able to think more coherently about how I coped with what did become a recurring theme of boisterous bedtimes.

The answer was something that was surprising to me, and taught me something about my need to control every situation. I got the boys to the point where they were ready to get into bed and…I did nothing. I just sat on the floor of their bedroom, head bowed (I eventually did this because Sam thought it would be a great wheeze to lick my nose and it made me laugh), and I just let the storm rage around me; and after a while it blew itself out and the boys declared themselves ready for bed.

I did the same thing the following night and, starved of the oxygen of attention, the boys quickly decided that that particular game was not fun anymore and quickly settled down. I have to say that I was elated. Completely surprised, but elated.

Since then bedtimes have settled down again, and if there are any shenanigans they are met with indifference from me.

Do not ask me why this works at bedtime and not any other time of the day (when it would be far less appropriate to ignore the boys), but I am just happy that, for now, it does.


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Spoilt for choice

I am nearing the end of rant week here on ChangingDad. I have been exorcising those little niggles that I have developed since becoming a parent and have found that I am not alone with many of them.

Today I want to talk about choice. Now choice is usually seen as a good thing, it gives us a broader experience and increases the likelihood that we can find something that we want. When it comes to young children though choice is not necessarily something that I can embrace.

The best example that helps me to explain what I mean is with nappies. To the untrained eye a nappy must seem to be a relatively mundane object: you put them on your child, they soil them, and you wipe them off again. If only it were that simple. Nappies are probably the single thing that has caused strife when getting the boys dressed or putting them to bed. There is one reason, and one reason alone for this; that no matter which brand you choose it always contains more than one design. This means that, particularly in the evening when everyone is tired, there is a weary conversation to be had about which design of nappy the boys are going to wear.

Both boys have developed a favourite design, both around the age of 3. With Sam it is currently the one with the giraffe on, and definitely not the lion. This is not a problem for the first half of the pack when giraffes can be extracted from the pile, but after that it is becoming increasingly hard to convince him that the lion is also a desirable animal to have on ones bottom.

And that is the other thing, why is the main design at the back when the child cannot see it when they are wearing it. Surely it should be at the front since the main person who is bothered about nappy design is surely the wearer. We frequently have to convince Sam about what he is wearing, often through an imaginative use of mirrors.

I am bracing myself for this to escalate in the next year or so since I remember having endless exasperating conversations with Jake at a similar age about which nappy he was going to wear, which usually went along the lines of:

Me: nappy on Jake?
Jake: want the dog
Me: sorry the dog ones have all gone
Jake: want the DOG
Me: well you cannot have the dog because there aren’t any left
Jake: want THE DOG
Me: (placing all existing clean nappies in a line) look! There aren’t any dogs
Jake: WANT THE DOG!
Me (now extremely exasperated): but there aren’t any dogs, look that’s not a dog, that’s not a dog etc….
Jake: WANT THE DOG!!
Me: look at the funny bunny/ roaring tiger/ cute cat, meow
Jake: WANT THE DOG!!!

You get the idea. If there was only one design in each packet this sort of thing just would not happen. So nappy manufacturers and other purveyors of children’s goods. How about it. Packs with single designs in them. Make us parents lives just that little bit easier, surely it cuts your costs too. And this does not even begin to address the issue of having two children who want the same and there is only one of that particular variety left.


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OK, so I was wrong

A few posts ago I described the difficult time that we were having getting Sam in particular to settle in the evening and go to sleep; and how it was affecting our chances of having some rare time together as a couple.

Well it is difficult to believe that that was only about six weeks ago as things have improved somewhat since then. As often seems to be the case it was time away from home that seemed to break the cycle we were in, and I do not just put that down to Sam, but Karen and me as well.

So what changed? Well to start with we took away the threat of the ‘baby bed’. What started as a good way to keep Sam in bed really backfired on us badly and ended up with Sam wanting to go in the cot again. This felt like a massive backwards step; and meant that instead of coming in to see us in the middle of the night he stood in his cot and shouted until one of us came, so we were actually getting less sleep as a result.

Next, after a 10 days away, we took away his bed frame thinking that one of the issues might have been that he was worried about sleeping higher up, we also re-arranged the room a bit and changed the direction the mattress was facing so the bedroom looked different.

This all seemed to have a positive effect, but the biggest change was the one that I was stubbornly refusing to do: sit in with the boys until they fall asleep. I really did not want to do this as it somehow felt like we had been defeated, and I also had memories of when we sat in with Jake at a similar age.

Jake was also having trouble settling and we decided to put a chair in his bedroom and sit in with him. The problem was that he would never let us leave. The slightest movement would lead him to either scream or wake up then scream until we were sat down again. We were stuck in the room for ages. We racked our brains as to how we could leave more quietly but nothing worked. Then one day I just took the chair out of the room and he never expected us to stay in there again. If only we had  known it was that simple.

So this is why I did not want to introduce this routine now. Well I have to admit that I was wrong and I’m glad that I decided to be pragmatic in the end. In fact I have rather enjoyed watching their settling routines, many of which have taken me back to when I was a boy and trying different strategies to settle myself. I have also been amazed at how quickly both boys can go from from being extremely boisterous to being asleep.

So as well as them liking one of us to be in the room with them, I have actually learned more about them and developed a further bond with them. Both Karen and I have also found that we enjoy that time of (eventual) quiet to calm down and reflect on the day too; something we often do not find time to do. What’s more the bedtime hour has become a maximum of half an hour (less and earlier if Sam does not sleep during the day), so everyone’s a winner – until the next time.


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Bedtime hour

After their bath the boys are allowed a ‘bedtime hour’, which is actually 10 – 20 minutes of watching a DVD or clips from Youtube. There is often a bit of opposition to switching the tv or computer off, but this soon disappears when the offer to race upstairs on our backs is made. The boys fairly quickly brush their teeth, but then the real bedtime hour begins. This is the hour that it often takes us to get Sam settled.

Jake is usually asleep within 15 minutes of the light going out but Sam tries everything to stay up longer, and we seem to have tried everything to get him to settle.
It all started when we moved house and Sam went into a ‘big boy’s bed’ rather than the cot he had previously slept in. He seemed to settle quite well at first, but then seemed to get more and more bold in coming downstairs with a big grin on his face.
We have become more and more frustrated by this, and we are losing more and more of what we see as valuable time together once the boys have gone to bed. We rarely go out as a couple at the moment, but we enjoy having a meal together, sitting chatting, or watching one of our favourite TV series (currently Homeland and Downton Abbey); and the two hours from 9.30pm to 11.30pm go by all too quickly (especially if I fall asleep while watching, though not usually while eating or talking)).
We have tried a number of strategies including:
  • We got the travel cot out and told Sam he would have to go in there if he did not settle. This worked until Sam got wise and called our bluff, saying he wanted to go in ‘the baby bed’. Of course, we did not really want him to go in there because, a) it was a backwards step; and b) if he woke up in the night he could not just toddle through but wake the whole house up.
  • I have tried sitting at the top of the stairs, showing him that I was there but not communicating with him. This works to a certain extent but I feel terrible because he just shouts and shouts, and although he finally does then realise that he is not going to get anywhere; it is usually sometime afterwards – still a bedtime hour; and it is not getting better.
We have looked at all sorts of different things but nothing seems to work. It is particularly frustrating because this is the first thing that we feel really stuck on. We have usually found a way through before, but not this time.
I realise that this is probably not a massive issue in the grand scheme of things, but at the moment it feels like one. It is a change that we feel we have not managed very well, and we really miss having more time just for ourselves; and we really feel that Sam needs a longer sleep than he is getting.
So it would be great to hear what others have done to reduce the bedtime hour.
What are your top tips for getting children settled?
Or are we lucky that it is only an hour?
Thank you.