A tough gig – why parenting is like being in the S.A.S. (well, almost)

Who Dares Wins”. The motto of the world renowned Special Air Service, the S.A.S. The most fearsome fighting unit of the British Army. These are armed forces personnel of the highest calibre, displaying an array of skills including: extreme fitness and epic endurance; mental toughness and the ability to think under the highest degree of pressure (including facing harsh conditions, sleep deprivation, and interrogation by enemy personnel); high levels of organisation and efficiency and being able to take calculated risks and come out on top.

SAS – tough, hard buggers…

If you remove the reference to the SAS above, the skill set could also be describing parenthood. Whilst being a Daddy is THE best job in the world, at times, parenting can also be very tough and conditions and circumstances exist to test us as parents. I’ve no doubt that Ant Middleton considers his job as a parent to be every bit as tough as his time in the Special Services (well, I have a little bit of doubt, but not much). Each day is pure parenting survival, particularly when fate transpires against you and makes this parenting malarkey tougher than the average day.

Last week was my first full week on my own, with Karen having returned to work four days a week. This coincided with a few other issues that made it a tough week and this post is designed to focus on the tougher side of parenting and the numerous skills required of parents.

Sleep deprivation

From the end of last week we experienced sleep regression from Toby. He’s had a cough and a cold and has been full of mucus which is affecting him in the night. He’s also teething and has had conjunctivitis (hooray!). I’m guessing this is part of the reason why he decided to wake between 10:30pm and 11:30pm each day for around 5 days, staying awake for well over an hour and on some occasions staying up until 2am …. As Karen is back at work this all happened on my watch (as it rightfully should). All well and good when you can sleep in until after 8:30am (as Toby has done afterwards), but not if you’re being bounced awake by Tessa or Tilly at 7:10am (Gro-Clock time) or earlier each day and your wife is back in work. My sleep levels (which have been around 5 to 6 hours on average since he was born), have therefore taken a hit this week, giving me the true experience for my shared parental leave. I’m that tired I have started to nod off during story time with the girls every night this week (I must have a soothing bedtime story voice – sign me up CBeebies!). I might expect a degree of sympathy from the girls in such a scenario, but no, I’m greeted with “Stop it Daddy!“, each time the book jerks a little as I nod off. Torture at its best – let’s see how many SAS soldiers can survive that game for a long period of time! Toby has slept a little better the last couple of nights, so I’m hoping he’s over the worst of it and his better sleeping now continues!

The late night visits from young Toby started off fun around 11pm, but soon turned to a nightmare as he stayed up until 2am!

Fitness and endurance

Carrying stuff. And little people. This is what parenting is. All the time. We, as parents, try to be positive and try to get out for walks when we can to encourage regular exercise – this might be the school run, or a nice trip out to the local park – often with bikes or scooters. The Bee Trail round Manchester last September time is a good example, which was great family fun (see photo further below). But this carrying business starts to wear a bit thin when the kids are getting bigger, there’s more of them each wanting a go, and they begin to dump their equipment and machinery on you too! Often on said walks I will be left to carry bikes back with one hand, whilst pushing the pram with the other, maybe a scooter strapped over my shoulder. I never had to carry that much stuff when I was rugby training at my highest! Kids on shoulders is another one. If they fall over, if they’re tired, or many other ridiculous reasons, they “need” to come up! Then it’s a balance of making them walk – cue monumental meltdowns, or bowing to their demands as time pressures mean you need to get a move on.

Half my life is spent like this. If I was a pirate they’d be my parrots!

One of the biggest examples of physical parenting endurance I can think of is with Tessa at a Haven caravan park in Weymouth two summers ago. She was desperate to watch the Pantomime. We trundled down to the entertainment area and quickly established that the Haven regulars, who knew the drill, had bagsied every table and chair going. We said to Tess that we’d leave it and were faced with enough tears to burst a river’s banks. So I did what any Dad would do in those circumstances, no not bribery (which in hindsight would have been a better idea), but sent Karen off with Tilly to the soft play and let Tess watch the entire panto sitting on my shoulders. Good grief indeed. It lasted about an hour and I could barely raise my arms once I got her down. I didn’t even get to have a beer whilst she was up there either. And the Panto was pants – oh no it wasn’t, oh yes it was! (I know you were wondering when I’d sneak that in).

“The floor is lava!” Being pulled from pillar to post is common place for me these days with three of them. Just think of me as a human climbing frame.
I need to try and refine my technique for lifting all three now – a good substitute if I can’t make it to the gym.

So in summary, parenting fitness is good fitness – carrying the whopper Toby in his car seat was a killer (thankfully he’s been promoted to forward facing proper car seat this week), bag after bag of stuff that comes with kids, fitting stuff, moving stuff, walking places, running places (when you’re late). It all adds up and parents who parent full on must be commended for their endurance, particularly with lack of sleep thrown into the mix. And to them, I doff my cap to you!

Mental toughness and surviving interrogations

When you factor in the above issues, you can see that a degree of mental toughness is required as a parent. Particularly when the nippers are nipping… there’s no opportunity to ‘pull a sicky’ and skip parenting for the day. You can’t decide to stay in bed for an extra hour or three (10 minutes maybe). You have to crack on and persist with the daily grind and routines that are required to allow life to tick on. This does require an amount of mental fortitude and the best way to deal with this I find, is to keep reminding yourself why we do it – because kids are a wonderful gift and the opportunity to shape, guide and nurture these young little people is a privilege that should be cherished. Throw in lots of fun, laughs, hugs, games and chats along the way and open your mind to learning new things (about them, the world and more importantly about yourself) and every difficult moment is infinitely worth it.

Toby Tornado was ready for his role in the remake of The Deerhunter …

The interrogation issue I refer to comes in the shape of questions such as:

  • Are we nearly there yet?” (which they do actually ask – 5 minutes into long car journeys!).
  • Can I have a snack please?” (often 10 minutes either side of lunch or dinner).
  • Can I play on the I-Pad? Can we watch Mr Bean / Tom and Jerry? (their current favourites on Prime)” … and so on.
  • Why do we have to do that / go somewhere? etc. etc.”

There are a lot of these types of questions, often on a daily basis. And it’s necessary to employ various techniques to deflect them and to preserve your sanity (for example, car games to pass the time – spotting is a good one!). I fear the questions we face as parents will only get worse as the kids get older, and more cringeworthy, when they begin to ask about sex and other such things. In my mind I know the best way to approach this is with matter of fact honesty, but this is easier said than done! For now I’ll enjoy dealing with the easier questions and deploying my distraction/diversion tactics. Or if all else fails, use bribery.

Organisation and performing under pressure

I’ve written a previous blog post about the need for preparation in order to get by in parenthood – https://bethedaddy.blog/2019/03/04/planning-preparation-permits-plentiful-participation-playtime-and-prevents-pss-poor-parenting-performance/

This still stands true and last week I wasn’t as organised as I had been previously. Note to self – plan next week meticulously! It’s become very apparent on my shared parental leave to date that there is a LOT to think about on a daily basis! I knew this to an extent, but I am learning more all the time. In a Train Spotting, Ewan McGregor style monologue, think: “Get them dressed, breakfast, dirty nappies, school run, nursery run, food times, food shop, food prep, snacks, drinks, washing, drying, ironing, dishwashing, bins and recycling, more dirty nappies, nap time (not for you!), baby groups, school run, Rainbows, Gymnastics, Science Club, tea time, homework, building stuff, playtime, bath time, story-time, prep for tomorrow – uniform out, breakfast prep, make your own tea, speak to wife, maybe a run or trip to the gym, life admin, a glimpse of TV, dream feed, sleep, glorious sleep, soothe the wakening children, night feed, sleep … and repeat

So far on my shared parental leave we have acquired two robots into the family: Bobby and ‘Rainbow Robot Queen’… Not sure how long they will be staying if I’m honest!

If you don’t employ some sort of system to ensure you are organised then disaster will soon smash through your front door and bring you down. Each time I have the correct quota of children in my presence I remind myself I am doing well! The other thing to remember is that all the above jobs and tasks need carrying out in the face of time and other pressures – you can’t be late for school, you need food in the house to be able to eat, the kids’ food needs to be varied, Toby might be more demanding of time than at other points, the girls are prone to meltdowns at any time for no reason whatsoever, and you also need to find time for your other half and for yourself. The treadmill keeps running and to just survive, let alone to do it well, skills of time management, organisation and planning are fully evident in parents world wide. Karen and I will need to sit down and figure out our logistics for when I return to work in May to make sure everything is sorted for all 3 of the kids and the grind will continue. We just need to remember to make sure we have loads of fun along the way!

Risk / Reward

I’ve mentioned above another parenting skill that needs constant work and refinement is the taking of calculated risks – true SAS style. This could be giving Toby some nappy off time – how long before he wees on the floor? It’s decisions over when to try and get him to sleep given the school run. What do I dish out for tea – will they eat it? Do I play it safe and do Pesto Pasta or try them on something new they might not eat? Do we go out and chance the weather? There’s a lot of choices to be made which could have an end result which makes life harder. That being said, my view is, as far as you can, it’s worth taking a few risks and chancing your arm a bit. Otherwise life will become mundane and therefore become even tougher, particularly mentally. I just need to keep reminding myself of this. If this means I make mistakes along the way or have more mess to clear up, then so be it. The rewards from taking certain risks should outweigh any negative outcomes – here the mantra “Who Dares Wins” does ring true.

The art of disguise is also a useful skill for the everyday parent – here Prince Eric and Ariel plot their next course of action!

Beating the toughness – remembering “why”

This post has been to highlight the more difficult and taxing times parenting includes. When you’re tired, the weather is grim, the kids have coughs and colds and are a bit nowty, and things feel like getting on top of you, it can be hard. At those times, I just try to remember why I am taking this shared parental leave and why being a parent is such a privilege. Balancing the life admin required to get by with spending quality time with the kids – playing with them, talking to them, building things together, going out for walks or to the park (and carrying them or lots of stuff!) – is not an easy balance to strike. But as long as you bring yourself back to the fun side of things, everything is put in perspective and you see it’s all well worth it. There are times when we as a family should do it more – leave the mess a bit longer and just play. As long as we do that, we’ll be fine and those weeks where you feel like an SAS commando will remain only occasional and the level of organisation will return to that of an efficient office worker or some such role. There are undoubtedly a great many skills used in parenting on a daily basis and anyone who belittles the parenting role in any way is a numpty and has clearly never done it full on. I suppose my sign off is to keep smiling and crack on, after all, “Grinners are winners!”

Thanks for reading and see you again soon – have a good week!

Jonny

Follow me on Instagram @bethedaddy

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