After a stressful incident in a toy shop, we were sat in Costa trying to regain some composure. I snapped at my kid for the fifteenth time, when he spilt his drink and wiped caramel shortbread all over his trousers. As I averted my weary gaze from the crumby apocalypse I saw a young couple with a baby at a nearby table. They looked so relaxed and happy, all fresh faced and smiley like the kind of people you see in adverts for SUVs. I raised my eyebrows towards my partner and sighed “Remember when it was that easy?” She smiled back and said, “Oh babe, it was never easy!” I conceded that easy was maybe the wrong word, but perhaps it was easier. So is it harder parenting a 5-year-old or baby? Or just different (equally hard) work?
Here are my entirely unscientific conclusions based on three key factors of raising kids: food, sleep and play.
I’m not qualified to speak about any of the issues that mums have with breastfeeding. I have no idea what it’s like to have your child not latch on, not let go, or bite you. I’ve never had to endure the stupidity of people judging me for feeding my baby in public. So, from a dad’s point of view, the act of feeding a baby is quite simple. Stick a bottle in the kid’s mouth and you’re golden. But of course, the act of feeding is the easy bit.
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There are those hours in the middle in the night when you stumble into the kitchen to try to remember the procedure for warming a bottle to calm your crying baby. Trying to do it quickly to minimise the crying and hasten your return to bed – and having to do it all again a few hours later. Then there’s the burping. Have I done it right? Have I done it enough? Oh christ, did he just throw up all down my back?
Five-year-olds have developed their own tastes and agendas. They can answer back, refuse to eat, or decide one day that they’re not going to eat the end of a sausage because “it’s too round.” There are good days when we have lovely conversations over a nice meal but they seem to be as rare as a Christmas Day truce in the trenches.
Conclusion: Feeding a baby is like planning a military campaign, but feeding a 5-year old can feel like the battle of the Somme. On balance, I’d rather be a general than cannon fodder.
My son has never been too difficult to settle. When we brought him home from the hospital he had a moses basket in our room for the first three months.
After that he moved to his room. Of course, he woke every few hours for feeding or changing but wasn’t awake for endless hours in the night. One of us sat and sang him to sleep, we still do, and he needed a hand on his back as reassurance, which sometimes lasted 40 minutes or so, but we never had the problems that other parents have with sleep.
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He is now out of nappies at night and has never wet the bed. He wakes occasionally in the night and needs to be sung back to sleep but this doesn’t take more than 30 minutes. We do have the broken nights when he’s distressed by nightmares, or he’s ill, and on those nights one of us sleeps in his room with him. We bought him one of those Ikea beds that has a pull-out bit for guests for those nights so it’s not uncomfortable.
Conclusion: Either through luck or judgement we have been very lucky with sleep routines. Based on the consumption of time alone it was harder when my son was a baby, but it wasn’t ever really that hard.
Playing with a baby can be soul destroying. Sure, they’re cute and they flop about and smell great but peek-a-boo gets really old, really quickly. You can’t give a baby anything decent to play with because they shove it in their mouth the instant they get hold of it, though that instant is preceded by five tedious minutes of waiting for them to do so. Baby’s books are no better. I lost count of the number of times I read That’s Not My Dinosaur!
Playing with my five-year-old offers a universe of possibilities. He’s got the fine motor skills for Hot Wheels. He can run about and kick a ball or climb a tree. We can draw together, or play Batman being attacked by the Joker while riding a T-Rex. My son’s imagination is wonderful and the worlds he creates are fascinating. They’re wrong and sticky and everything gets mixed up or lost, but they’re fascinating.
Conclusion: When I’m not inhabiting Will Ferrell’s Lord Business character from The Lego Movie, I really enjoy playing with my five-year old. I had more control when he was a baby but I learn more nowadays.
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Life with a baby can be a constant, anxiety-filled blur of sterilising bottles and packing bags full of shit you probably won’t need.
Then there’s the constant worry about the baby’s health. Is he warm enough? Too warm? Has he fed enough? Does he look yellow to you? Should his poo be that colour? He’s not crawling yet, his cousin did by his age.
For all the glorious moments you spend gazing into your progeny’s eyes as he grasps your finger with his whole hand, there are all those times you have to use baby lotion to try and scrub the shit off his arse.
Don’t get me wrong I loved my son being a baby. He was so tiny and perfect and I couldn’t believe I’d had a part in creating this amazing little guy, but I also couldn’t wait for him to grow up. I wanted to share my passions with him and have that perfect father/son relationship. We do pretty well. It’s no Richard Curtis movie, but for the most part we have a lot of fun. All the things that frustrate me about having a five-year-old come down to control. The mess, the tantrums over stupid shit that doesn’t matter, the battles over eating fruit.
Caring for a baby is constant and requires discipline and planning. Caring for a five-year old who is at school five days a week is more hands off but requires UN levels of diplomacy. If I’m honest, I think I was better at looking after a baby because I could get on with it without the back chat. Having a five-year-old is way more interesting though.
But which is harder? I’ve concluded that that’s like asking if a shark is better than an armchair. The disciplines are completely different – both have their pros and cons.
Raising a child is hard because it’s important. The challenges change as they grow, and as we as parents grow, but that’s OK. That’s the job. We edit our past to favour the joy and while that’s a good thing, it’s also self-deceit. Maybe in t10 years time, when my 15-year-old is screaming that he hates me, I’ll look back and think it was so much easier with a five-year-old. I hope not though. I hope I’m still embracing the challenge, meeting it head on, getting it wrong sometimes, finding the joy. Or I’ll be wearily looking at couples with babies and wishing that was me.