10 things I’ve learnt about parenting

The internet and Malcolm Gladwell will tell you that if you practice something for 10,000 hours, you can become a master. Well I’ve now been parenting for 10 years, that’s 87,600 hours (or 87, 548 if you subtract the hours I was asleep), which means that I am pretty much the Yoda of parenting. So here are 10 things I have learnt over 10 years of parenting.

1. Spinning plates

I can remember a time in my 20’s when I knew that if I just dedicated a Sunday to ‘catching up’ then I could get back on top of pretty much anything. Finances? Check. Clean the house? Check. Annoying little jobs around the house? Check.
But the arrival of Josh lead to a 2 year period where life became a constant plate spinning act.
Finally feel that I’m getting on top of things around the house? But what about fitness? Quick do more fitness! Oh no…what about that Tax Return that’s due? Quick do that. Aaaghh!! What about spending time with the Hull-Browns…Oh God and the Riordan’s? Oh crap, I’ve got to devote some of my time to keeping the marriage together, and the dogs could really do with some attention…but I also need to get on top of things around the house!!!
By the time Holly arrived I started looking on in horror as some of the plates I was spinning crashed to the ground…and by the time Xavier arrived I was pretty much walking around with the sound of crashing crockery rebounding around my head. Did the world end? No. Did my marriage dissolve? No. Did the kids become little monsters? N…actually…look, let’s just say it could have been worse. But the simple fact of the matter is that spinning plates is foolish and overly ambitious. Just have as many plates as there are people in your family, put good food on them, make sure everyone uses them at the same time, clean them when they’re finished with and everything else will sort itself out from there.

2. Misery likes company

You need to make friends with people who are going through the same thing as you. Friends without kids will be nothing but a well meaning source of jealousy. Parents of kids who are older or younger than yours are also of little use. Those with kids older than yours have already repressed the horror that you’re going through, and besides they’re a little distracted by ‘Oliver! Get down from there! No don’t jump down!!! Oh God. I told you not to…yes, yes I do think it’s broken.’ And people with younger children have absolutely no interest in entertaining the possibility that things could actually get worse (or as I like to call it ‘bad, but in a different way’).
What you need is people who can look at you through bleary eyes and say ‘Yeah…I actually went in and woke her up at 2am so that I had an excuse to watch the Tour de France’. People who aren’t appalled when you mention your kid has Hand, Foot and Mouth, people who will buy birthday presents that aren’t Axle-F playing toy cats, and people who will occasionally utter to your child the most beautiful sentence known to parents ‘Yeah, of course it’s OK if you come over for a sleepover!’

3. Money

There is no end of things you can spend your money on once you have kids…and roughly 6% of these are things that you actually want. Mortgages, rent, cars, basketball, piano, choir, food, clothes, food again, I have been genuinely appalled at the number of times I’ve had to slink into a bank branch to withdraw money in the days leading up to a payday, simply because I had less than $20 in my account and so couldn’t take money out of the ATM.
If I had my way, the whole family would be living in a tent somewhere subsisting on foraged food and care packages from concerned relatives, while money accumulated in our bank account. ‘Fun costs money!’ I would yell at members of the family as they suggested expenditure of frivolous items such as holidays, or parties, or running water. To say the least, I am a fiscal conservative.
Katie on the other hand doesn’t share my fear of spending money. Indeed, if she had her way, we would probably  be living in the same tent foraging for food, but we wouldn’t have a large bank balance and instead would have an amazing array of life experiences to show for it.
Fortunately we have managed to find a middle-ground that sees me spending a lot of time feeling anxious and Katie spending a lot of time feeling frustrated…but our kids have a renovated roof over their head, they rarely have to forage for food, and the care packages come in the form of dinners at our parents house. Which is really the sweet spot you should be aiming for with your parenting.

4. They need you…but you need you too

I’ve seen a few parents who have continued on with their lives after kids exactly as they were before they had kids, and I’ve seen parents whose lives were gradually subsumed into the lives of their kids. As with most of these things, somewhere in between is where you need to be. You need to be there for your partner and kids…but you also need to maintain enough of the person you want to be so that when you look in the mirror you don’t wonder ‘Who is that chubby, dull, old guy?’
Having said that, I have swung to pretty much both ends of this pendulum. On the one hand I’ve spent an entire year training for an Ironman, and on the other hand I’ve spent so much time as the ‘self-nominated child minder at social events’ that I have pretty much become a social ghost in that I’m constantly leaving conversations before they can develop into anything interesting as I’m scampering off to move someone away from a ladder, or playing with a child until they have ‘warmed up’ enough to go and play with the other kids…or not even attending grown-up social events because I’m at home looking after the kids. The net result has been and increasingly reclusive lifestyle that only leads to jealousy about other people’s non-reclusive lifestyles.
So this is ultimately a very long way of saying, if I’m talking to you at a party and I’m really struggling to make small-talk…please bear with me…I’m a bit rusty.

5. Sleep

With all three of our kids we have spent the first two years of their life not sleeping through the night. So I clearly have no advice to pass on here, other than that sleep deprivation is a freaking killer. It kills motivation, patience, creativity, passion and tolerance…which are pretty much the essential ingredients for a successful family life, marriage and career. There will be plenty of times when you put a strain on these things…but if you feel you are losing them, get help. Try sleep school, ask your friends what they’re doing, see if  you can palm the kids off to a relative or friend for the night so that you can at least get one night of uninterrupted sleep. But don’t just try to ride it out. Sleep deprivation is like an insidious gas that distorts your perception and clouds your judgement, the only cure is a few nights of unbroken sleep…or failing that coffee…lots of coffee.

6. Mini-Me

Have you ever wondered what the personification of all of your insecurities and weaknesses would look like? Well let me assure you it looks a lot like your child as you watch them loitering around the outskirts of a social occasion, or you see them being dragged along the beach by a dog because they have absolutely no body weight…but are determined not to let go, or of course in that precious moment when at 3 years old they drop something and say ‘Oh, for Christ’s SAKE!’

7. They’ve got to take risks

This is one is really hard. Put simply, if you never let your kids take any risks you will probably have an unblemished report card when it comes to visits to the Emergency Department. But I also think you will have a child who will compensate wildly for this lack of risk taking in later life, or a child who is too scared to take the risks that we need to take as human beings to progress in life. With that said, I still feel a pang of fear each time one of the kids goes for a ride around the block, or heads up to the shop to get some milk, or stands on something very high and asks me to film a slow-mo video of him jumping off. But that’s nothing compared to how proud of themselves they are when they do it.

8. Parental guilt

One of the most brutal parts of raising kids, is realising what a turd you were when you were a kid. How hard you made life for your parents, how ungrateful you were for everything that they did for you, how ignorant you were of the myriad battles they were fighting. You want to apologise to them, you want to say ‘Is there anything I can do to make up for it?’, you want to do anything you can to assuage the guilt and feeling of indebtedness.
Instead, you say ‘Can you PLEASE look after the kids this Saturday night?’…and dig that hole a little deeper.

9. Some things you grew up with were actually really good

Growing up in Melbourne, and in a family that liked sport. I was pretty indoctrinated into the worlds of Cricket and AFL Football. But in my late twenties, I found that I was actually getting way too involved in the actions of 18 men on a footy field who I had never met and slowly started to divorce myself from footy. I also stopped hanging out with people who enjoyed watching cricket (or perhaps more accurately started living with someone who didn’t enjoy watching cricket) and I slowly lowered my cricket status to ‘aware of enough to make conversation if necessary’.
By the time Josh was born, I hadn’t watched a game of footy or cricket for years and so he has grown up without doing AusKick, or going to a footy match, or watching an ODI or 20/20 cricket match.
While we were down at Wilson’s Prom in January some kids came over and asked if he’d like to play cricket with them, he tentatively said ‘Yes’, but then admitted ‘But I don’t really know the rules’. In an instant I realised that at his age I was out pretty much every night in the backyard bowling at an imaginary batsman, or bouncing a ball off our back wall and catching the rebound, and that Saturday nights always held the potential of watching a Day/Night match at the MCG with my Dad.
I’d deprived my kids of this, just because I didn’t like the way it turned out for me…not because it was a bad idea. What’s more, in a city that lives and breathes sport, I’d deprived them of key information that will most likely provide the backbone of thousands of future conversations.

10. Don’t listen to people on the internet

For the love of God, you’re an adult…and a parent. Why are you reading this? You don’t need advice from someone on the internet about your own children. You know full well they’ve probably just plonked the kids in front of a screen so that they can find the time to write a blog about how to be a good parent. You also know that the photos that people post on Facebook showing the happy family engaged in an educational/cultural/physical activity was preceded by 5 minutes of screams and threats. You know that the parent humble bragging about their child’s achievement at school/sport/lion taming is glossing over the part where their child also nearly set fire to the cat.
So don’t surround yourself with someone else’s curated version of parenthood. Surround yourself with real life parents living with real life kids and share the good, the bad and the ugly. Because that’s what parenting should be about; sharing the dazzling highs and commiserating on the soul-crushing lows. But most of all it’s about talking honestly about what your kids are doing and what they are going through…and then walking away and thinking ‘well at least my kids aren’t doing that!’


Moving out

I’ve always been deeply suspicious of people who complain about how hard moving house is. I mean I once sat through an entire ‘Twilight’ movie, so I think I know a little about suffering and enduring hardship…and unless Hollywood has lied to me, moving house involves a rough 2 minute montage of people packing boxes, moving boxes and occasionally bumping into each other and then laughing about it, before heading off to watch some ‘salt of the Earth’ workers load all of your stuff into your new home. Doesn’t sound so hard.
Well Hollywood has lied to me…again! Because moving house does indeed suck…so Now I‘m No Expert But here is my advice to anyone considering moving.

Do you have small children?
If yes, then there’s your first big problem. Nothing impedes the process of emptying a house quite like having to regularly rush into another room to stop a child from; pulling something onto themselves, or wanting to play the game where they hide inside a box and you have to be surprised for the 800th time when they pop out, or trying to eat whatever has just been uncovered by moving the couch.
Also, if you’ve ever looked around your house and thought ‘man we have a lot of stuff!’…let me assure you that a very small proportion of that is actually yours…the rest belongs to your kids…and you are in for some incredibly guilt inducing looks/tears if you try to get rid of any of it.

Have you hired removalists?
If yes, well la-di-dah…it must be nice to have your disposable income!
I’m sorry, that wasn’t about you…that was about me and my issues. We did not get removalists in…and in hindsight getting some people who actually know what they’re doing and have to pay their own chiropractic bills…does have quite a bit going for it.
If you don’t have removalists, then you had better have some friends/family who are willing to help out. We were very lucky enough to have some great people who came over and helped with moving things, cooking things and stopping small things from crying the whole time. This was invaluable!

Have you hired a truck?
If you haven’t got removalists, then you will need a truck. If you have already hired a truck, then you will need a bigger one…seriously, you have a lot of stuff in your house and no-one wants to spend a day carting around small amounts of it, when you could get all the transporting done in one hit.
And speaking of hits, if you’re driving a truck along Murray Rd in Preston, there is a pole outside the Supermarket that sits out further than all the other poles…it costs about $100 to replace the side mirror…you will swear quite a bit.

If you think you’re 80% done…you’re actually only about 60%.
Every time you empty a room you will move out all the big things and feel as though you’re making swift progress…but it’s the litany of small things that will see you at 11.30pm surreptitiously dumping stuff into garbage bags.

Do you really need that?
If you haven’t used it or worn it in the last 12 months…then no you don’t. We are currently house sitting at a friend’s house for 6 weeks, and so I packed everything I could into a backpack and left the rest of my stuff at my parent’s house. It’s becoming pretty apparent that all I actually need is a back pack full of stuff. The rest is like local government elections…occasionally necessary, but you really could do without them.
However, there are a few exceptions to the ‘backpack rule’. The first is the coffee machine and grinder. If I had come down to choosing between packing the coffee machine & grinder or pants…let’s just say I would have been arriving at work pantsless…but highly caffeinated.
As the picture below shows, you can question my parenting…but never my dedication to coffee.

The second is the Thermomix…because you know…it’s good for making porridge for breakfast and cutting things up and stuff. But most importantly it means that your insistence on bringing the coffee machine suddenly doesn’t look so crazy.
Finally, a good set of knives. We have been lucky enough to stay in two houses so far with good knives…but you should never risk staying somewhere with crap knives. If you prepare food using crap knives it will eventually make you want to stab yourself…the only upside being, crap knives won’t pierce your skin.

Cut the kids some slack
If you do have young kids, there is every chance that this move is away from the only home they have ever known. So while you may be annoyed by the fact that the weather’s warming up and you can’t for the life of you find where your shorts have been packed, they are going to be going through an emotional upheaval equivalent to your first break-up. So ready yourself for some interrupted sleep, the occasional emotional outburst and a feeling of helplessness on your part…actually, come to think of it, this is EXACTLY like your first break up!

But, unless you’ve been evicted by your landlord (or an audience on Big Brother), you are probably moving out of your house for a good reason. You might be moving closer to the city, or further from the city, or renovating, or downsizing…whatever the case may be, you are following a dream of a better life, and moving out of your home is just the first step in this  journey.
It’s just a pity that this first step is straight onto a rake…which flicks up and smashes into both your head and genitals, leaving you dazed, in pain and wishing you’d never started this journey in the first place.


The kids on Facebook

When it comes to putting photos of my kids on Facebook I think I’m somewhere between one of those lunatics you see holding up a ‘The end is nigh!’ sign and King Canute.
I still think it’s dangerous, I would rather it didn’t happen…but deep down I know that there is no chance I’m going to stop it. So am I a paranoid delusional madman…or is everyone else just stupid? Well clearly the first option is ridiculous…so it must be the second one.
Now I’m No Expert But…here’s why:

1. Dear stalker, do you need any other info on my child?
I’ve put up a photo of them on their first day of school so you know what they look like and what school they go to. From some of my other posts you know their hobbies, friends and cute stories about them, what my name is and what I do. But have I really given you enough info to go on?

2. Wait, why is my child’s image on that ad?
At the moment you can change your privacy settings so that your photos aren’t used in ads. But an ad for a product that features your own child is going to have a massive impact on whether you buy that product. So companies would pay a lot of money in order to get access to your photos for their ads…and Facebook would really like to take that money.
So as long as Facebook puts a greater emphasis on your wishes than on large amounts of money…you’ll be fine…*snigger*.

3. But people need to know what my child has achieved!
Let’s face it. The minute you have kids, you have pretty much given up on achieving anything impressive for yourself for the next 15 years. So you can’t really post ‘Just remembered to put the bins out’ or ‘Just fed the whole family and didn’t kill them’ because no-one really cares (actually in truth you can and most likely do post these sorts of achievements…but you shouldn’t…you’re ruining the internet for everyone with this sort inanity). But if your child has done anything from losing a tooth, to riding a bike to not asking ‘why is that lady so fat?’ in public…then this is worthy of a post and a photo. Because your child’s achievement is vicariously your achievement. After all they couldn’t have possibly done it without your exceptional parenting.
So by all means put up those photos of your kids…but just don’t pretend that you’re saying anything other than ‘My child is better than your child!’

4. Wow! That’s some impressive paranoia you’ve got there.
Ok, I’ll admit that the chance of someone stalking my child as a result of appearing on Facebook is remarkably slim. In fact the whole idea of stranger danger is a bit of a nonsense seeing as about 85% of all acts of abuse a perpetrated by someone the child knows…and if they know the child then they’re not going to need Facebook to know that they look like.
But then I’m sure that every one of those muppets who leaves their key in the wheel arch of their car while they go for a walk/run and comes back to find it stolen was equally sure it wasn’t going to happen to them.

5. But I’ve got some great photos!
Ah, this is where it gets tricky. In a previous post I talked about the importance of shooting what you know and what is going on around you. For me, pretty much all I know and all that’s going on around me is my kids…and if I had to choose the best 10 photos I’ve taken over the last 5 years, I can guarantee that they would all be photos I’ve taken of my kids. Not being able to show these off via social media is killing me…KILLING ME!!
But given the choice between fulfilling my heart’s desire…and maintaining my ill advised devotion to a poorly thought out idea, I’m going with the latter (I didn’t endure 18 years of Catholic education for nothing!).

So there we go. Parenting is all about choosing the risks you want to expose your child to. I’ll happily let my 6yo son ride around the block on his bike by himself, but I won’t put identifiable photos of him on the internet. A lot of people would do the exact opposite.
I know that in 6-7 years he will be happily sharing photos and videos of himself that will cause him a lot more grief than anything I could post. And I know that my refusal to put photos up is completely useless seeing as my wife happily puts photos of our kids on Facebook.
But like a recipe in a Teague Ezard cookbook, I’m complicated.
I’m also interested to hear your thoughts, so what do you think twice about putting on Facebook?

Staying fit when you’ve got kids

Apart from the actual exercise itself, two other essential ingredients when it comes to staying fit are consistency and sleep. You need to have a regular routine rather than sporadic bursts, and you need to be getting enough sleep to let your body recover. However there are two things that are going to be mere blips disappearing into the distance of your rear view mirror as you travel on the good car ‘parenthood’; routine and sleep.
So what can you do if you want to stay fit with kids? Well first of all I have to premise this with the fact that a year and a half ago I completed my first half ironman…but after the birth of our 3rd child 6 months ago, my next involvement with triathlon will be next weekend when I am going to handing out drinks at the Melbourne Ironman…so I’m not claiming to be a shining example of being in peak fitness.
Now I‘m no expert but’ here are some tips I’ve developed over the last 6 years of raising our three kids.

1. Consider being a bad parent.
Being a good parent is actually really time consuming. All that loving, and nurturing and ‘being there’ can really bite into your training time. Sure, being a good parent will probably result in them being well adjusted human beings who people actually like spending time with…but if you put the time you’re putting into being a good parent into your running training, you could probably run 4 minute kms for the marathon. So think about which one of those is more important.
But bear in mind that your kids are probably going to be the ones who decide which old people’s home you get put in.
2. Abandon hope all ye who enter
Ok, so a  more positive way of saying this may be ‘readjust your goals’, but positivity disappears at about the same rate as your anaerobic threshold after the birth of a child, so  unless you:
a) have gone with the option above
b) are a genetic freak
c) have been setting your goals remarkably low
You will not be returning to your pre-child levels of fitness for at least the first 6 months of the child’s life. So there’s no point trying to achieve it, and even less point beating yourself up for not achieving it. On a good day I focused on ‘maintaining a base level of fitness’ so that I when the time became available I could increase my training without having to start from scratch. On a bad day I focused on not becoming someone who was morbidly obese and had to be lifted out of their house by a crane.

3. Work the training into your life
As I discussed in my previous post (which ‘The New Yorker’ described as “We don’t review blogs so please stop sending us emails”), it’s hard to find time to do the things you want to do at the best of times…and finding time to do the things you want to do when you have kids is even harder. So where possible work it into your day to day activities.
For example:

  • Ride to work if you can. If you’re feeling courageous try running to work.
  • Pretend that carrying a small child is in fact an exercise for your core
  • Still carrying that child? Pick up that toy you just stood on. Now do it again…look you’re doing squats! You used to pay to do this at the gym.
  • Take your kids to swimming lessons and participate. If the sight of yourself in bathers isn’t enough to terrify you into more exercise or less eating, then you’re doing well.

4. Misery loves company
You know how little you cared when one of your friends without kids complained about how they had to wait for ages to get a seat at some new and expensive restaurant even though they ‘totally knew someone who worked there and had spent like at least $200 on drinks at the bar’? Yeah, well that’s about how much they care about your ‘I got no sleep’ and ‘I’m pretty sure this is an acceptable amount of vomit to have on my top’ discussions.
So if you’re going to spend a couple of hours on a bike talking to someone, make it someone who is the same situation as you. They are a lot more likely to empathise with you, and a lot more likely to be at a similar level of fitness as  you.

5. It does get better
My experience has been that you spend the first month after the baby is born living off residual fitness. For months 2-4 the sleep deprivation accumulates and your level of exercise is pretty much eviscerated. At this point you become pretty much convinced that you will never be fit again. Months 5-6 are frustrating because you suddenly get intermittent exercise availability…but nothing consistent enough to let you feel as though you’re doing anything other than fighting hard to stay in the same place.
But after that you will hopefully start finding that you can get out every second weekend for a ride…or to the gym a couple of times a week. Within a year, suddenly you’ll start feeling some of that fitness come back and you might start identifying some targets for the next year. Within 2 years you will be back to your original level of fitness and you will have completely forgotten all the pain and frustration of that first 6 months…then you will decide to have another child…and 9 months later it will all come flooding back.

But is it all worth it? Well I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Jon Stewart who says that ‘Parenting seems like a lot of work. But for all the hassle and worry once in a while comes a moment of pure innocence that touches your heart and tickles your funny bone…nah f%&$ it, it’s a lot of work.’

If you’ve got any advice or tips, I’d love to hear them.