A year ago this afternoon, life changed. I left the house as a father of two children and returned later that evening as a father of three after the birth of my daughter Kara. Which, obviously, makes today her first birthday.
A lot has happened over the course of the past 12 months. Other than feeling like I am living my life as some kind of cross between Outnumbered and Big Brother – only more deranged while simultaneously being more mundane – it has been a year of taking all the routines that we had carefully established over the previous couple of years as a two adult/two children household, ripping up the rule-book and starting all over again. Here are ten things I have learned as being the patriarch – ho ho, as if! – of a five-person household:
1. There are no rules any more, other than the fundamental tenet that you have signed up to living in a permanent state of sleep deprivation, at least for the next couple of years. Think of it like being waterboarded. Only worse. And with no upside if you throw up your hands in surrender.
2. Looking after three kids is not really that much harder than looking after two, but what it means is that you never ever have those little spare moments in the day that you used to have to do things like have a cup of tea, or check Facebook, or go to the toilet. (I get around this by doing stuff later at night and consequently sleeping less. See (1).)
3. With two kids, you work hard to ensure they both receive all the attention they need. With three kids, you learn to accept the fact that none of them will ever receive adequate amounts of attention ever again. It’s a mindset that takes the kids a while to get used to (except for the youngest, who will never know any different). I’m not sure it’s something the parents ever stop feeling guilty about, though.
4. Following on from the above, ‘middle child syndrome’ really does exist. It’s really hard to ensure they receive even one-third of your attention, let alone the amount they really need. If anyone has a solution as to how to handle this, please let me know!
5. With a first child, everything is a big deal: sterilising bottles, wiping down toys with antibacterial wipes, planning the best birthday party ever. With a second child, things are a bit more relaxed – you’ve been there and done it and are wiser for the experience from the first time around. By the time you get to your third child it’s more a case of ‘whatever’. If it looks clean, it’s clean enough. And it’s an achievement in itself just to remember their birthday and organise a card and presents, never mind the party.
6. A third child is much more likely to push parents over the line where you become ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ 24/7 at the expense of being ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. It’s important not to lose sight of the latter. Our children are the most important things in our lives, but they should never be allowed to become what defines us.
7. Kids inherently know how to manipulate their parents by applying the principle of ‘divide and conquer’. The only way we have found to counter that is to reciprocate wherever possible. That means weekends are spent doing as much stuff separately as we do together: Heather will take Kara while I whisk the boys off for their regular babyccinos, or I’ll spend some one-on-one time with one of them while Heather entertains the other two. It’s exhausting but effective.
8. I now accept that I am only the fifth most important person in the house. And that’s on a good day.
9. Gina Ford and her oh-so-perfect rules of parenting can go take a running jump. Mind you, that’s exactly what I said about her books the first time around.
10. For all the hassle and the stress and the sleepless nights, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love all my kids, but the arrival of Kara having had two boys already really does make my life feel complete.
Anyhow, that’s the past year. More importantly, today was all about ensuring that Kara was made to feel even more special than we try to make her feel every day. That meant presents to open, party food and birthday cake, and the presence of her doting grandparents and uncle. From the photos below, I think it’s safe to say she enjoyed it. I may only be the fifth most important person in the household, but today was all about ensuring that Kara knew she was the most important.
Love you, Baby K.