Before becoming a parent, I read a lot of ‘How to be the Best Parent’ books. Obviously reading parenting books doesn’t make you a good parent, but I do think it helped. The rest of parenting is trial and error and learning as you go. I’ve been watching someone be a sort of ‘new parent’ lately and it’s almost comical some of the things I have learned as a parent that I now take for granted as things everyone should know.
The ‘new parent’ I’m referring to is my Dad. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’m his child and that he’s not technically a new parent at all, but he also kind of is. My Dad has always worked in construction running heavy equipment (excavators, etc.) for a living. He’s very good at his job and he’s paid well for his work, enough so that my Mom rarely worked while we were growing up. Part of the construction business is long hours (often 12-hour days), so there were many days when we wouldn’t see our Dad since he left for work before we got up and came home after we went to bed. When we were older, he would sometimes work out of town, far enough away that he would stay in a hotel for the week and only come home on the weekends. All this to say that my Dad was not a very active parent. In his defence, you can’t exactly parent sleeping children, but he was never the one to change diapers or feed us or help us with homework when we got older. So, it’s not that he’s anti-baby or anything, but he’s so genuinely confused about what to do with them because he never really experienced what it was like to parent full-time when we were little. He’s also terrified of hurting Thalia and now Raiyah. He refused to hold her until she was big enough to hold her head up on her own and even then, if I asked him to hold her while I went to the bathroom, I’d come back out and he would be in the exact same position. Like literally, he does a great statue impersonation! I’m not entirely sure he would breathe while he was holding her… it was pretty crazy. It’s a good thing she’s 16 months old now and not a newborn! Now that Raiyah is here Dad will only offer to help with Thalia since she’s, in his words, ‘less breakable’, ha! Honestly, I think Thalia is more likely to break Grandpa than him hurting her so I think that makes him feel confident in watching her now.
Now, however, he’s had to experience parenting and it’s been very entertaining to watch. He went in for cataract surgery in late November and will be off work until early February. The recovery time isn’t that long, but he was off for a few weeks to recover, then came the Christmas holidays, and he just went for a second cataract surgery at the beginning of January and will be recovering from that for another few weeks. Since I was still working in November, Mom was watching Thalia during the day, and Dad had been forced into helping share childcare and housework responsibilities with Mom (he washed more dishes in the first week than I’ve seen him do in an entire year!) and he has some very interesting ideas about eating, playing, sleeping… pretty much everything really. We had been trying to coach him through some of these parenting ‘oopsies’ as we knew he would be watching Thalia for a little bit while I was giving birth since Mom was my birthing partner, and let me tell you, it’s been quite the journey!
Sometimes it’s big things like forgetting to close the baby gate at the top of the stairs (we’ve had some scary runs to get them closed before Thalia noticed). Other times, it’s the smaller things, like feeding her too many crackers and spoiling her lunch. Watching a grown man learn to parent is sometimes scary but mostly a very entertaining thing! The first few days he was helping watch Thalia, his solution to fill time with her was to give her food. This was mainly toast since that’s basically the only food he makes for himself. He would also stick her in the playpen. Thalia is not a huge fan of the playpen. I think I’ve mentioned before that I feel like I gave her too much free rein when she was younger, and she got used to running around all the time instead of learning to play in confined spaces. She’ll play for 30 minutes every once in a while and then she’s over it. Dad obviously wouldn’t know this, so he’d put her in the playpen. The first time she goes in she’ll play for a bit and then start crying wanting to get out. He’d pick her up for a few minutes and then try and put her back down to play some more because he just didn’t know what to do with her.
Naturally, she wouldn’t like that at all and would start crying again and he would repeat the same process over and over. He finally asked me why she wouldn’t play independently, and I had to explain that she doesn’t like playing in the playpen more than once a day and only for short periods of time. I’ve never seen my Dad look so scared in his entire life! I had to suggest that he read some books to her or let her run around the living room, which is always her favourite thing to do. He went downstairs and woke Mom up a few minutes later because he didn’t want to have to watch her run around. There were too many things for her to get into and he was still supposed to be taking it easy from surgery. In total, I think he watched her for an hour and a half by himself each day for the first two days, which for him is a lot! I’m honestly amazed he made it that long each day before waking Mom up. I’m not usually a betting person, but I probably would have said it would be max 30 minutes that Thalia would play independently in the playpen. We’ve had to coach him to stop putting her in it every time he wants to put her down (he tends to carry her a lot since he doesn’t understand how to play with her yet). She shouldn’t go in the playpen for 5 minutes before a meal or nap because then she won’t go in it again for the rest of the day. This also means that Mom can’t get any cooking or cleaning done because she has to watch Thalia for the rest of the day. It took a while of him watching her by himself for him to really understand why that 30 minutes of playpen time is key each day.
Now he’s pretty good about not putting her in there unless she can actually play for her 30 minutes, during which time he watches TV, something he would spend the entire day doing if he wasn’t watching Thalia so at least this is helping mom and he enjoys spending time with her. He has become comfortable playing with her a little bit more now, they play peek-a-boo under the comforter of the bed when I take her down to wake them up in the morning so I can start working. He plays hide and seek with piggy, a plastic toy pig Thalia has taken a liking to. His new favourite pastime is to ask her ‘where is the butterfly’, or ‘where is Grandma’s clock’ and he’ll walk around the house waiting for her to point to them. I know butterfly hunting in a house sounds really random. They’re not live butterflies I promise! My mom put a butterfly window sticker on our patio doors because birds kept running into it and surprisingly it works. He also hides piggy in the pocket of his shirt or randomly around the living and asks her to find piggy and she’ll run around looking for piggy until she finds him. They play with piggy a lot throughout the day and it may not seem like much, but for my Dad - this is a huge step!
He never moved a muscle
One thing he hasn’t progressed with is bum change time. He’s been helping watch Thalia since November and he still refuses to change diapers! It’s amazing how he always needs to ‘go for a smoke’ or ‘use the washroom’ every time she needs to be changed even though he insists he ‘didn’t smell anything’. It’s so funny! That being said, I have seen some improvements. Thalia is eating less toast now because he’s starting to feed her things other than toast and baby crackers. He’s progressed to cheese and crackers, grilled cheese (if he gets very desperate), and berries so her diet is a bit more balanced now that there’s some fruit and protein.
My Dad is not big on vegetables in his own diet - he’s a meat and potatoes kind of guy, so trying to get him to give her vegetables is a challenge. If I make veggies or give her some of the things I’m eating, he’s making comments about them tasting bad, like ‘you don’t want to eat that’, ‘who needs greens away’, ‘broccoli just makes you gassy’ and Mom and I are just looking at each other going, really?! He seems to think she doesn’t understand what he’s saying, and she might not now, but she’s picking up on things very quickly and starting to repeat words. Therefore, we’re constantly correcting his language and having to remind him that he can’t be telling her that vegetables are yucky because she needs to eat better than he does. That’s not going to happen if he keeps making comments about not liking veggies. I always figured that people got that... Kids are like a sponge at Thalia’s age, so she soaks everything in.
He’s slowly starting to understand that she’s learning really quickly. He says things randomly throughout the day and Thalia repeats them as if she’s known how to say them all along. He got her saying ‘wamo wamo’ one day. I don’t even know how or why this came up in conversation for him but he thinks it’s hilarious when she says it. I think he thinks she’s a parrot that he’s training. Once he learned that she picks things up quickly he started trying to teach her to say funny things. He’s convinced she’s ready to go to the beach this summer because he’s taught her to say ‘hubba hubba baby’. I’m officially afraid of going to the beach for the parental judgement I’ll get when the other parents hear my daughter saying hubba hubba but he thinks it’s hilarious!
I <3 Grandma & Grandpa
On the bright side, Thalia is starting to take after her Mommy and is a huge reader right now so at least she isn’t inheriting all of Grandpa’s bad habits! It’s just books on books with her! If you sit down anywhere in the house, she’ll run to her room and be back out with a book in no time flat. By the end of the day, I usually have to reload the entire bookshelf because its contents are scattered all over her room, the hallway, the living room and the kitchen. I love reading, so I don’t mind this at all, although I do wish we had a little more variety in what we read. We have a good collection of books, but she definitely has favourites that we’ll read a dozen times a day or more.
My Dad doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of Thalia’s favourite activity, not that I can blame him since English has never been his strong suit. His dislike for books coupled with his recent eye surgery made reading more difficult for the first week or so. I would catch him staring at a page in her book and not be able to see or interpret the words on the page, so he’d just point to one of the pictures and say something about it instead. Not that Thalia minds, oftentimes she’ll ‘read by herself’, (AKA flip through the pages in the book) so she was just happy to be reading with someone else. Also, it’s not like she understands the words on the pages yet anyway, but I could tell it still made Dad uncomfortable. He does the best with her farm books since he grew up on a farm and one of his brothers has a dairy farm so he tells her lots of stories about “when I was younger…”. She’ll appreciate these more when she gets older and understands more of what he’s saying so I’m glad he’s starting to tell her these stories now!
I’ve tried incorporating reading into her nighttime routine since she seems to love it so much. I’ve been working on sleep training Thalia for the last 2 months and we were starting to make progress. She was slowly getting used to going to sleep by herself at nap time without us needing to be in the room, which I thought was a huge victory! Dad has been helping with nap time at my Mom’s request and now I feel like our sleep training has regressed in large part because of him. He sits and rocks her to sleep after giving her a bottle because he’s afraid if he puts her down, she’ll wake up… kind of the whole point of sleep training! If we do tell him to put her in her crib, he gives her toys to play with and starts playing games with her like peek-a-boo. Though this is super sweet, it shouldn’t be at nap time.
He doesn’t know that babies can’t sleep with anything in their crib and that it needs to be dark and quiet to encourage good sleeping habits (although given how much he complains if someone talks or turns on a light outside of the bedroom when he’s sleeping, you would think that would be common sense for him!). He’s also quick to get her up when she starts fussing during a nap, which oftentimes makes her even more cranky because she didn’t have the opportunity to put herself back to sleep or fully wake up before the lights are turned on. He now looks to Mom or I for permission to go and get her up, which I think is kind of funny, but at least it’s allowing her to wake up more naturally and happily. He’s slowly learning and adapting to her sleep training routine, but it will be a while until we can get her sleep habits back on track. I think her teething and current growth spurt are also impacting her sleep habits, however, changing her routine is definitely not helping the situation. I do think it’s sweet that he’s started offering to do nap time with her, I think he enjoys the cuddles more than he admits!
Don't they look sweet together!
Overall, there’s been some hiccups, however, for the most part, it’s nothing drastic! I honestly just find it interesting to see how much he doesn’t know and understand as someone who is already a parent. I feel like this would have been similar to my Mom watching me and Grayson and figuring things out those first few months. With Thalia and Dad, I’m seeing it from the other side and can appreciate the comical and stressfulness of learning to parent. Maybe instead of having him go back to work, we can write a parenting book, “Becoming a Grandpa, 101 things not to do with your Grandkids”, I think we could make it funny enough to sell to supplement his income so he can stay home! For example, letting your grandkids play with golf balls is not recommended. They’re dangerous for the kids and for your house when they start to get thrown around like bouncy balls. Additionally, when Mom and Grandma say “don’t let her play with golf balls”, the solution is NOT to give her a second golf ball to play with. Yes, this is based on a true story.
All in all, I give him lots of credit for pitching in to help out. I totally figured he would say no, but his assistance is helping free up some of my Mom’s time to work on her very long and never-ending to-do list. That being said, now that he’s helping ‘parent,’ he’s quick to complain at the end of the day about how much work it is, how tired he is, and how he doesn’t want to do anything in the way of chores. Funny how I’ve said that the whole time and no one listens or believes me! Parenting is a lot of work! But the household still needs to be maintained and as it stands having 3 people watch Thalia and try to tackle a decade and a half of backlogged homeowner projects makes me feel like we’re still not gaining ground. I’m still hopeful that will change soon for everyone’s sake!