Sleep Training – Preamble

V’s sleep patterns have evolved a lot.

At first, we thought we were very lucky, with a tiny little girl who was happy to wake up once a night for a feed and drop right back off to sleep.

Then things got better. She started sleeping through at about three months. The first time this happened we were a little concerned. Was she sick? Was she overtired for some reason? Given the nightmare stories we’d heard from our friends we thought it unbelievable that a baby would sleep through the night at the age of 3 months.

Then things started to go the other way.

V would wake up once or twice during the night, looking for attention, wanting to feed, needing to be soothed back to sleep.

Then it was three times each night.

We have our theories as to why this might be:

  • Mother’s milk is rapidly digested, and V is now at a stage of development where it no longer keeps her satiated for a full night
  • V is much more curious and interactive than she used to be, and when she awakes, she needs some human contact and some reassurance. She’s no longer content to stare into the distance and fall asleep again on her own

We’re as likely to be wrong as to be right. There’s a wealth of overconfident, under qualified advice floating around and I won’t add mine to the mix. As a parent you can’t help but speculate as to what’s going on with your child, but there’s no one-size-fits-all explanation as to the gradual changes in their behaviour that’s worth the digital paper it’s typed on, and you mustn’t mistake experience for expertise, and even less for authoritative knowledge.

We’ve therefore booked a sleep consultant – yes, that’s a thing – who will come around next week to help us get V into a better sleeping routine.

The metaphor I have kicking around in my head is that getting a baby to sleep is about getting a bunch of things right, and to do that efficiently, it’s good to have help and advice from someone who actually knows what all those parameters are.  I expect we’ll have to look at

  • Daytime napping schedule
  • Set feeding times
  • Settling ritual
  • Sleep training method (crying it out, soothing or gradual distancing)
  • Predictable daytime schedule

But I’m happy to be guided by the consultant. I’m not hiring someone who’s supposed to know all about this to then overrule them on every little detail. It’s like following a diet. You follow a diet set by some third party because that way you don’t have to think about it, you just know the rules you have to follow.

Our desired outcome is that V sleeps 11 to 12 hours per night, which apparently would be normal. If she can go to bed around 7pm and wake around 7am, that would completely transform our lives by freeing up between 3 and 4 hours every evening for us to not only do all the things we’ve been neglecting, like preparing for the day ahead, cleaning the kitchen, writing to our friends, cooking tomorrow’s packed lunches and taking the occasional long, leisurely bath, but also give us a little time together as a couple without our attention being totally focused on V.

That would be a huge improvement.

I’ll write again when we’ve seen the consultant.

Photo Credit: Anna Langova, from PublicDomainPictures.net – this is not a picture of V.

Modern technology, social networks and kids

One of the challenges every parent faces is preparing their children for interactions with the world. A world which will have changed by the time they start interacting with it outside of your supervision.

Our parents had a hard time of it. The advent of the internet completely changed the rules of social interaction over the last 20 years and many millennials have a completely different relationship to privacy than the generation that came before. Their parents were not really equipped to deal with those changes and their effects on the social fabric their children developed in.

I see this when I look at how millennials use social networks. I adapted to the use of Facebook after a while, in pretty much lockdown mode, with two thirds of my “friends” restricted in terms of what they can see. I occasionally get reminders from LinkedIn that I haven’t updated my profile in a while and I’ve got a mostly unused Instagram account. Not so with them: They’re on every platform going, with things like Snapchat, Instagram, Pintrest, WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook linking them to dozens of friends and thousands of quasi-strangers.

Convoluted and ever-changing privacy settings with ever-evolving defaults complicate matters, and we sign away our data, privacy and consumption preferences with a click when faced with a two-dozen page contract in order to create an account. There’s no way a 13-year-old thinks about that contract or what it means before they click “Agree”.

My parents didn’t show their photo albums to just anyone, they were private. Today I can find a stranger’s photo albums, constantly updated, by swiping the screen of my smartphone, while walking down the street. I can tell you who’s away from home, where they went on holiday, who they’re dating and where they’re having dinner tonight.

I straddled this change. I was in my early twenties when the internet began to really take its place in the world and I was an adult when smartphones became ubiquitous. I saw the changes, took what seemed useful and left a lot behind because it didn’t fit with the way I already lived my life. If I had been younger, I would have grown up with these systems and networks and they would have been woven into the fabric of my life, as they have been for people younger than me.

If you think our parents had a hard time adapting to new technology’s impact on their kids, that’s nothing compared to what we’re going to have to deal with. By the time our kids are fifteen, digital technology will be completely integrated into dozens of items they carry around with them. You’ll be able to search for photos of someone by uploading a photo of someone and letting facial recognition software find all other pictures of that person online. Privacy protections are being eroded not only legally, but in terms of societal norms as it becomes almost normal to receive edited highlights of everyone’s life.

I think about this quite a lot these days.

To think this is all harmless adaptation and parents just need to roll with it is to stick ones head in the sand and hope for the best. The reality of the situation is that kids are exposed to information and risks that fundamentally change their relationship with the world around them in ways never seen before. In ways that are often neither healthy nor safe. In ways that are not well understood even if everyone thinks they’re an expert.

Here’s a couple of factoids you may not know:

  • Each year about 40 percent of teens and preteens visit sexually explicit sites either deliberately or accidentally1
  • Studies have shown strong correlation between exposure to pornography and changes in attitudes to sex and relationships2

That second paper has a paragraph that nicely summarizes some of my fears on the subject when it comes to my kids and their future emotional development and wellbeing.

Pornography use by adolescents and young adults often leads to a distorted view of sexuality and its role in fostering healthy personal relationships.  These distortions include the overestimation of the prevalence of sexual activity in the community, the belief that sexual promiscuity is normal, and the belief that sexual abstinence is unhealthy.  These perspectives are likely to make it more difficult for young people to form lasting, meaningful relationships with the opposite sex, which will ultimately result in more anxiety, depression, and overall life dissatisfaction.

But pornography, sexuality and relationships are not the only areas in which new technology distorts and affects behaviour.

These technologies connect us in new ways and facilitate communications to an extent never before seen. We are still learning to deal with the social consequences.

Bullying, in one of its most subtle and insidious varieties, takes the form of exclusion. It was bad enough when kids would talk about other kids out of earshot, physically excluding them from social groups and shunning them in the playground, but what happens when the exclusion happens virtually. What happens when the group communicates through the cloud, when an entire school population can gradually become complicit in one child’s exclusion? What happens when “fitting in” means living up to a dare to send a half-naked picture to a classmate?

In its more overt form, digital bullying provides an almost endless variety of ways for kids to poison each other’s lives, with anecdotal evidence of extremes of harassment that should worry any parent. How do you protect your children from this sort of thing? How do you equip them for the potential nastiness of peers empowered by tools that protect their anonymity, amplify their efforts and broaden their audience?

I don’t have easy answers to this. I have a couple of notions that I’ll have to think through and consider. I am extremely wary of people who come forward with rigid or prescriptive advice about the best way to deal with it, because I don’t think society has found a solution yet, and the problem is evolving so fast that todays solutions won’t fit tomorrows problem.

I think that:

  • Education, character and confidence are an inoculation against the nastiness of the world.
    • The more a young person can be brought to understand the negative effects of certain behaviours, the better they can protect themselves against them. This works in many other areas (smoking, alcohol) and can work here too.
    • You can’t control what other kids will do or say to your child, you can only forearm them with character, humour, wit and knowledge.
    • The bullies are people’s kids too. Bringing up your kids overconfident and aggressive can turn them into the bullies. Respect for others is essential.
  • Policing your children to prevent exposure to things on the internet will only work for a while. You cannot prevent them looking at their friends phones. They will understand internet filters better than you.
  • The law is trying to catch up3, but efforts to police information and data are doomed to fail. Pandora’s box isn’t just open, the lid has been ripped off.
  • Criminalising the acts of children is a band aid on a symptom. The cause is poor education – not just at school but in the home. Also: when you choose a school, you choose a peer group whose influence on your child will rival and potentially surpass your own.
  • The fact that we talk about managing “screen time” makes me feel like we’ve already failed. If we had succeeded, our kids would be playing outside and the iPad’s battery would be dead because they’d have forgotten to recharge it. I’m not advocating a return to nature, but it seems to me – looking at other kids I see out and about – that tablets and telephones are like crack cocaine to a child.

I don’t really have answers at this point. I’m going to be reading a lot before these questions require answers on my part, and I have a while before V is at the age where this is a concern.

But it’s going to be a concern, and who knows what they’ll have invented by the time she’s a teenager.


Reading and Sources

  1. Pediatrics (Vol. 119, No. 2, pages 247-257): 42 percent of a nationally representative sample of 1,500 Internet users ages 10 to 17 had been exposed to online porn in the last year, with two-thirds reporting only unwanted exposure. In fact, the incidence of unwanted exposure has risen for this age group, from about 26 percent between 1999 and 2000, to 34 percent in 2005
  2. The Impact of Pornography on Children, (American College of Pediatricians – June 2016):
    – Male subjects demonstrated increased callousness toward women.
    – Subjects considered the crime of rape less serious.
    – Subjects were more accepting of non-marital sexual activity and non-coital sexual practices such as oral and anal sex.
    – Subjects became more interested in more extreme and deviant forms of pornography.
    – Subjects were more likely to say they were dissatisfied with their sexual partner.
    – Subjects were more accepting of sexual infidelity in a relationship.
    – Subjects valued marriage less and were twice as likely to believe marriage may become obsolete.
    – Men experienced a decreased desire for children, and women experienced a decreased desire to have a daughter.
    – Subjects showed a greater acceptance of female promiscuity.
  3. Government urged to act over children’s ‘easy’ access to online porn, The Telegraph, Saturday 4th March 2017.
  4. How the Internet Has Changed Bullying, The New Yorker, October 21st, 2015

The right number of photos to share

There are a hundred different ways in which life is completely different once you’re a father.

One of them is that you can no longer complain that all your married friends share too many pictures of their kids.

Oh she opened her eyes… click.  Look! she closed them again… click.

Nobody cares, you used to think while rolling your eyes. It’s just a baby.

So forearmed with the knowledge that people’s reactions to an incessant stream of baby photos would be polite and enthusiastic only on the surface, I set about limiting the number of images I blasted to family and friends. (Even though I took thousands for myself. If you’re going to be a dad, max out the memory on your next telephone, you’ll need it).

We settled for a photo where you couldn’t really see her because she was hiding behind a blanket with only her eyes peeking out. We put it on the cover of our Christmas card, which doubled as a birth announcement since she was born in October and the timing worked well.

Also, international postage in the UK is basically highway robbery.

We sent occasional photos to parents on both sides, since they live abroad, and a few choice pictures to a smaller circle of friends, and that was about it. Don’t over-share, don’t annoy people by being that parent.

Around six weeks after V was born, I started receiving hints from my mother.

“You never send any pictures, I hope you’re taking some!”

…and from my father…

“Your mother wants more pictures.”

Which means he wants more pictures.

Then came the family reunion. My extended family is a tribe, we need a very large space to hold them when they come with their descendants. They rounded on me one after the other:

  • How come you never send any pictures?
  • So glad she’s normal, since you didn’t seem to want to show her we were wondering.
  • So that’s what she looks like!
  • You know you’re not very good at staying in touch…

On and on… Not so much a hint as a coordinated sledgehammer blow to the cerebellum.

So my conclusion is that, as is more often the case then I like to admit, my own perception of things is not as widely shared as I thought. I’m the cantankerous grump who sees baby pictures and wonders why they’re being shared, but everyone else including all the men, are cooing happily while looking at pictures of someone else’s baby.

So now I’m sharing a bit more, and telling people that since she’s the prettiest of them all, I was holding back before because I didn’t want to rub it in.

They reply, “All dads think that.”

But in my case it’s true… no really…

Absence makes the heart…

I’m on a week-long business trip away from home.

It’s the first time I spend this much time away from my daughter.

I acknowledge that lots of people have it much, much worse, with business trips on a regular basis, long work hours and even some people who leave home for months at a time. But I had become used to being able to see her pretty much every night, and never being away from more than a couple of days at a time.

I’ve never been one to “miss” people when I’m away. I’m too logical for that, I know that I’ll see them soon and that the trip is temporary, so I’ve always left with an easy heart and returned happy to rediscover the people I’ve left behind.

But this is different.

It’s not an overwhelming sensation of misery at the time not spent with my daughter, I’m only gone a week after all. It’s just that little sense that I didn’t spend any time with her today, that she’s doesn’t interact with video calls the same way she does in person (or at all, preferring to try to put the corner of the telephone in her mouth), and that I would enjoy just holding her for a few moments before she falls asleep. It’s a small thing, but it’s a tangible and identifiable loss and I’ve not felt that before.

In my darker moments I wonder if she’ll pass some tremendous milestone while I’m far, far away and that I’ll forever regret missing her first [insert important event here]. I know that’s a little paranoid, but having a baby changes the way you think about certain things in ways that are hard to explain.

I’ll see her again in a few days, and until then, I will content myself with her image on my computer when I manage to get a call in to my wife.

Baptism gifts

I have the privilege of not only being a father, but also of being a godfather a few times over. While I know that many of these traditional roles are being revisited and reinvented, I feel that the role of Godfather remains one of those traditional roles that are difficult to reinvent.

So when I accept to be a child’s godfather, I think about the time I will have to dedicate to it, I think about what the parents expect from me, I think about the influence they are hoping I will have on their child, and what values and behaviours they might have seen in me that they hope to nurture.

In other words, I think its an important role and to accept it is to accept a burden, which you have to bear with seriousness of purpose.

Once you’ve decided something is important, there are plenty of ways of demonstrating the seriousness of your undertaking, and one of them is to follow long-established codes of conduct. Baptism has a few of these, and what gifts you choose to give, both at the baptism and in future, is one way of showing your dedication to the role.

Traditional baptismal gifts

This is the register I tend to play in, at least for the first gift to my goddaughter or godson. One reason is that while the child is far to young to realize what hey have been given, the parents are not, and so the gift is a strong symbol of how seriously you take the role they have conferred upon you.

My typical choice is an engraved sterling silver cup. It’s expensive, but you don’t need to pay for a branded gift, any solid silver cup worthy of a child’s hands (so not too big) will do, provided the silver is of quality. Nobody cares if it came from Tiffany. Because I value discretion, I have it engraved on the inside, a little below the rim, with the child’s first name. I don’t add a date or a message.

Silver cups are a good choice because they can actually be used by the child when they are of age to drink from a cup. Sterling silver (i.e. not plated silver, but solid silver) is safe to drink from. In fact, it is safer than many substances commonly used in children’s drinking vessels such as plastic. So its a gift they will actually handle in time.

Important note: don’t get plated silver. When they drink acidic things like fruit juice or soft drinks it will pit the silver and expose them to the material underneath, which in some cases is toxic.

silver napkin ring is another gift that can follow the child around for the rest of their life and which can make a pretty addition to a dinner table that is personalized for the child’s benefit for many years.

Other choices include a silver spoon, which I avoid because of the social connotation of being born with a “silver spoon in your mouth”. While there’s nothing wrong with the silver spoon as a baptismal gift, there is some potential for misunderstanding which I prefer to avoid. Also there are religious gifts such as gold or silver crosses on necklaces. I avoid these also because regardless of my own religious beliefs, I think a child should choose when they know what they’re doing and not carry around symbols of religion unless they choose to.

Modern baptismal gifts

Perhaps more fun are some creative alternatives to baptismal gifts. Here are a few for your consideration:

A case of fine wine. A proper wine merchant (Berry Bros, for example), will be able to help you choose a case of wines which will be of perfect drinking quality between your godchild’s 21st and 25th birthdays. This will provide them with the opportunity to drink six bottles of wine at hat age that will most likely be of a quality they could never otherwise afford. An eye-opening introduction to a world of gastronomic complexity that would otherwise be difficult to find.

Also in the alcoholic register, vintage port from the year of their birth, or a cask (or a share of a cask) of whisky. The idea is the same as for the wine, these age with the child, becoming ready to drink as they come of age.

A gift of jewelry is good if well chosen, and silver bracelets with the child’s name engraved on them are a good option, but you have to bear in mind that if they can wear them now, they will be too big by the time they are 1 year old. You could opt for a chain bracelet which can be extended in future, but chains on babies tend to get caught in things. A pretty necklace doesn’t have to feature a religious symbol and we received a very pretty silver necklace from one godparent for our daughter, but its value means we only bring it out on special occasions, for fear of losing it. Valuable gifts have their own inherent downsides.

Perhaps the gift that is the most conscientious in preparing for the future, but which is also the least visible or symbolic, is a savings account in the child’s name. You can get a good rate of interest if you lock the money away, and if you put a small sum into it monthly or yearly, you are providing insurance against the child’s future. The money can be freed up at a later date, and with interest will go a long way to contributing to a first car, or a gap year, or a course of study at a university. On the other hand, you will have to find another gift to give at the same time, because a statement from the bank is too impersonal to stand alone.

What if you’re not the Godparent?

Ah. That is a whole other subject. I have lots and lots of ideas for smaller presents, and how to choose them, but this post is long enough so that will be a subject for another time.

If you are not the godparent, however, you should be careful not to give traditional presents such as a silver goblet without discussing with the parents first. If the child receives two, then the parents will naturally favour the one received from a godparent, but if they received none, they may be very grateful for the gift from a generous third party. It is not necessary, however, to be so generous without cause, and you are likely to stand out among gift-givers, which can sometimes be good, and sometimes be a little showy.