Chris Blattman

Miscellaneous reflections after an entire week of parenting

First of all: I love it. Better than Cats. I am going to do it again and again. (Well, maybe just one “again”.)

You can plan the birth you want and you can get something really, really different. But in the end it’s the ten fingers and ten toes that matter.

Staring at your little girl puts all the field experiments in perspective. Suddenly those emails can wait a week. Or three.

You love her even if she cries from 11pm to 3am and then promptly covers you in liquid poo.

You will be very glad if you buy a good camera in advance. But also keep your snapshot camera or phone in your pocket.

The Times quotes some dubious research that older parents are less unhappy than younger parents. The only reason I think this finding is true: older parents have more friends with children whom, if my experience is any guide, repeatedly tell the prospective father that (1) he has no idea what it will be like, (2) but it will be really, really, really hard, and yet (3) you’ll love it anyways. Reality is constant but the gap to expectations is smaller.

The best gift we received: a hastily hand-painted set of nested babushka dolls. First: Chris. Next, Jeannie. Inside that, a doll simply labeled “survey data” (it’s so true). Last, Amara.

My first instinct with anything new is to turn to the manual. There are some profoundly ridiculous practices, movements and recommendations. Probably the best sense I have encountered comes from Michel Cohen, whose philosophy can probably be summarized as:

  • Most of the stuff people say is myth or silliness
  • There’s really not much you can do to kill your baby so relax
  • Breastfeed and innoculate you fools
  • You are not a bad parent if they cry — let them learn to soothe themselves sometimes
  • Try to sleep

The famous Brazleton was helpful but pompous with a hint of creepy grandpa.

Even in 2011 you have to work very hard to end up with a girl’s wardrobe that is less than 80% pink.

The woman who figured out that a crying baby is soothed by bouncing on the yoga ball deserves a Nobel prize.

It’s extremely unhelpful to get a second degreee burn on your right palm five days after your daughter is born. Two-inch blister + liquid poo = not good.

You can cradle your sleeping baby in one arm for hours and read your Kindle in the other, even with a blister, and read more than you did before the birth. (Yes, I know this is probably extremely temporary, but please don’t disillusion me just yet.)

23 Responses

  1. Noone told you about the healing properties in liquid poo?

    Congratulations! I’m one of those “older parents”, but with a “younger parent” background. Life has a way of reinventing itself. And it is GRAND!

  2. Older parent of younger children here. Have traveled so much in my youth that my life today with children is its own incredible journey.

    You WILL sleep through the night again.

    You may even develop songs, poems and stories about poop. A strange place to arrive at, but there you are.

    I have identical twin girls – there’s plenty of purple out there to vary the pink palette.

    Being a parent diminishes the time you have for your individual pursuits but exponentially increases the love you experience in this life.


  3. Chris,

    Congrats. Bless her. Enjoy her infancy while you can. My daughter is 27 months — time flies…

    She is the most precious gift ever. I could go on…

  4. Is it true that you can soothe a crying baby by turning on the tap and letting her hear the running water?

  5. “The woman who figured out that a crying baby is soothed by bouncing on the yoga ball deserves a Nobel prize.”

    Can you describe this yoga ball bouncing procedure, please?

  6. Welcome to the club and thanks for sharing your views. Looking forward to having a Kindle this next go-around!

  7. The woman who figured out that a crying baby is soothed by bouncing on the yoga ball deserves a Nobel prize.

    Also, lunges. Just walking soothed our first, but with the second, I had to lunge. Soothing and good for you.

  8. Congratulations, I love the nesting dolls idea. I burned my right hand 3 weeks on, trying to cook Christmas dinner. Made for about a week of complete uselessness around diapers. Can you believe they’re actually miniature humans?! Amazing.

  9. Congratulations, and welcome to fatherhood, Chris! I’m 3 months in, and I can tell you that she’ll become much more interactive and entertaining than the Kindle soon enough. :) Best wishes!

  10. Chris, congrats on your daughter… that is great.

    I was 37 when I got mine and she is about to be 13 now, I am was a pretty old parent…
    I think older parents are happier, definitely happier, the happiest parent one can be…
    you don’t need experience to raise a happy child, you need to love that child and be available to learn to understand.
    My tip: drop the kindle for a while, leave it totally behind if you can, reduce the amount of readings, there are so little to miss on the texts and so much to learn by giving full time attention to your girl’s looks, noises, smells etc.. She will grow old fast, you will miss it all. Plus: You learn a lot about yourself when you become a parent, for good and for bad and that is a real life changing thing.

    Congrats again.
    And yes, breastfeeding is love, pure love, greatest act of love, the first and definitive one.

  11. I think you’re misinterpreting the thrust of the NYT piece; it’s not that people who are older when first having a child are happier, it’s that having young children is an emotionally taxing experience (young people with kids less happy than young people sans kids) which pays off once aforementioned spawn successfully learn to stop breaking everything and go off to have kids of their own (older people with kids happier than older people sans kids).

  12. “But in the end it’s the ten fingers and ten toes that matter.”

    As the father of one child with 20 digits and one whose 24 digits signaled a serious genetic disorder, let me thoroughly affirm that statement. On the other hand, having a child with actually serious problems also drives home the, “there’s not much YOU can do kill your baby so relax” point. It really reduces the anxiety of parenthood to be think in terms of: is this life-threatening or not?

  13. I’m just a week or two ahead of you in the new fatherhood thing … Its awesome. I do get fed up with the advice, though, both solicited and unsolicited. We’ve even had people walk up to us in the supermarket and offer their opinions on our parenting. Its amazing that somehow people think this is more appropriate than walking up to a total stranger and saying “You could do with a different haricut” but somehow they think it is.

    Did you read the William and Martha Sears “Baby Book”. I like that one – its a little too far on the “do what the baby wants all the time” end of the spectrum, but also very practical and comforting. I agree about Brazleton – he seems kind of posessive of his patients in a way that would make me not want to take my baby there.

  14. Even the necessity of breastfeeding is far from confirmed. Correlation and Causation, you know.

  15. Working with a napping baby works for a really long time! Later, when she learns to hold up her head, you can even cradle her in your lap while you work in the laptop with both hands!

  16. Maybe older parents are also happier because more of them actually wanted a child. With many of these 18-year old parents, I can’t help but believe that this was not exactly their life’s plan.

    Me personally, I still prefer cats.

  17. Two months before our daughter was born, in November 2006, I headed to NYC from our home in London to take advantage of the Black Friday sales. We kitted out our daughter – also Amara! – for roughly the first 18 months of her existence at a bargain-basement price; and just as importantly, evaded the ifitsagirlitmustbepink thing, which is even worse in the UK than in the US.

    Most of what I bought was made by Carter’s. Don’t know anything about the brand, except that it was on sale ridiculously cheap that day in Macy’s in Brooklyn, the quality was superb, and they had lots and lots and lots of colours, for both sexes.

    Oh, and if you’re feeling a bit flush, try Polarn O. Pyret – available online in the US, although there are lots of European stores if you’re ever passing through. Their stuff is amazing. Pricey, so watch out for sales, but amazing. They claim to make clothes not for boys or girls, but for children, and they live up to the claim.

  18. Michael Cohen sounds just like my mother. Except for the breastfeeding part – I’ve never met someone more militantly against the idea, much to my pregnant sister’s amusement. Congrats again – exciting times!

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