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What works when you take your baby or toddler to the beach? What makes the trip more stressful? Here's some helpful advice if you're hitting the shore this summer. | instafather.com

So you've decided to go for a beach vacation with your baby.

First of all, that is super adorable you are still calling it a vacation.

For your baby, it will be a wonderful vacation! He'll play in the sand, splash in the water, eat watermelon on the deck, and make memories that will last a lifetime and/or the next 2 months because it's a baby and they don't remember shit.

For you, dear new parent, this is not going to be a vacation. 

I'm not going to sugarcoat it. Sugarcoating is for those Instagrammers that only show photos of their babies giggling while they are drinking a quinoa and spinach smoothie in an all-white kitchen in full make-up.

Will you have absolutely heartwarming moments? Photos that you want to immediately frame? A fond memory of playing together on the beach? Sure! It's the beach, not prison.

But when you become a new parent, one thing that might be hardest to embrace is that for at least the short term, trips like this are going to be more about making sure your baby or toddler is having a good, safe, fun time and much, much (much!) less about whether you are relaxing and soaking in the sun.

I've been taking three kids to the beach for years now, and we are always learning what works and what doesn't. One thing that works: My wife is a fantastic planner and thinks of everything we could need, and also is the most patient and calm person I know. That's the kind of person you want with you for a beach trip with toddlers, trust me.

Are you heading to the beach this summer? We're about to go on a weeklong trip to Ocean City, New Jersey, a place that is the epitome of family beach vacations (the slogan is "America's Greatest Family Resort." I would also accept "America's Easiest Access to As Many French Fries As You Can Handle." What I am saying is I eat french fries nonstop on the boardwalk.). 

A weeklong beach trip means packing up the van — it is insane how much more stuff comes with you when you are bringing kids. At least they aren't babies anymore. Babies mean a stroller. Diaper bag. Highchair. Pack 'n' Play. 152 outfits. And on and on. It's crazy how much stuff you end up putting in your car. And then you use half of it.

A weeklong beach trip means you have to gird your loins for potential meltdowns without all of your usual tricks available to calm them down.

A weeklong beach trip means your house literally can't get messy for a week! You did it!

Whether you're planning to go for a week or a weekend, it can be hard at first to know what you should do. Is it worth packing everything you have? (No. You won't use it.) Should you plan for a full day at the beach? (Has your baby ever lasted that long doing any other out-of-the-house activity?) Read on to see what's worked well for me, and I'd love to hear your own tips in the comments.

The New Mom's

Guide to New Dads

I've got a chapter preview available for my upcoming book! If you're a mom who has been wondering what in the world is going on with your kid's dad, or a dad who wishes he could better explain to his wife what it's like being a dad, this is the book for you.

Check it out Here's what I've learned about what works and what doesn't when you're bringing infants and toddlers to the beach:

A wagon like this with a canopy can save you from carrying your kids all the way down the boardwalk. Unless they decide they won't go in it. Because toddlers. But at least my twins look cute, right?

  • Works: Two different types of sunscreen. We use a spray for bodies and a sensitive skin sunscreen lotion for faces. Walmart's Equate sunscreen spray is top-rated (I know, I doubted it, too, but it works well). When you've got wiggly infants, using lotion is like asking you to fill up the gas tank of an Indy car while it's flying past you. And spraying the face is just asking for sunscreen to get in their eyes, which, if you ask my kids, is worth the death penalty. Don't forget that many baby/kid swimsuits have UV protection, so in this case long sleeves make your life easier. Do not worry too much about swim diapers if there is not much of a chance they will actually get in the water. Or bring one with you - you can always toss one on there. 
  • Doesn't work: Bringing tons of beach toys. Your average 1- or 2-year-old will not need 10 beach toys. You may have this vision in your head of building a giant sandcastle, complete with a moat. Your infant will be eating sand. Literally just putting that shit in their mouths. Temper your expectations. You can easily get by with a plastic shovel and a bucket. Max. 
  • Works: Brevity. Our first time on the beach with each of our babies lasted mere minutes. That was a lot of work for a few minutes on the beach, yeah, but this was about baby steps and I mean exactly that. We wanted them to enjoy it and leave on a high note. You get your cute photo for Instagram and move on. The next time, maybe 30 minutes. The next time, maybe an hour. If your baby freaking loves it, go nuts, but if they start getting cranky, remember that a beach is a huge environmental overload for them, and while you may know it's supposed to be fun, they are thinking "WHY IS THE GROUND MOVING BENEATH ME AND OH GOD IS THAT WATER MOVING TOWARD ME? ARE YOU SEEING THIS MOM? DAD?" Don't force a 5-hour beach session because you've committed to it in advance if after an hour your 1-year-old is done. We're hoping this year, with our 3-year-old twins and 5-year-old son, to do a few hours in a row, and that's considering they love the beach and splashing in the water. Make sure you factor in normal nap times, too. Will your wife nurse on the beach? Do you need to bring a bottle (which then means a cooler)?
  • Doesn't work: Assuming you can do your normal beach thing. I have to admit, this was frustrating for some time. Especially in the early going, when your baby can't do much on their own, you will be in 24/7 patrol mode. If you're lucky, you'll get them to fall asleep for a quick nap on your chest (under an umbrella, I hope!) so you can read a magazine and sip on a tasty beverage. Most likely you'll be helping them process all of the new sensations around them — sand will get in places that don't even make physical sense. You'll get your time to sunbathe or toss around a football, I promise. That might mean taking shifts on who is watching the baby if that's possible. Or you just soak up the experience for what it is — a cool new thing for your baby and a great check off the parenting list for you. 
  • Works: Wagons. If your baby can fit in a carrier, you'll have your hands free to lug the chairs, umbrella, tent (just make sure bringing the tent is truly worth it. We once spent 30 minutes setting one up and had to leave 15 minutes later!), and snacks. A Radio Flyer wagon can do the trick if you want to make it easier to pull everything and don't have a beach cart. In fact, those wagons are fantastic for the boardwalk, too! A stroller may not do well in the sand and is likely going to be pretty heavy. The wagon can easily be rinsed off and won't be hot to the touch if it sits in the sun. Bonus points if you get the UV-protection canopy! It folds flat. My kids need all the sun protection they can get, as their parents are pale folk who burst in flames like a vampire at a glimpse of sunlight.
  • Doesn't work: Being inflexible. Just getting to the beach can be an odyssey (wait, is that why they call our van that?). Traffic, crying, and heat can make you want to be done with vacation before it starts. I remember one trip where the whole first day I was in a bad mood over the rough ride in, and my wife had to basically say "Hey take an hour, calm down, and act like a grown-up" (which I did because she is very wise). You have to remind yourself over and over that even if you've planned everything out, things are going to change beyond your control. It'll rain and you're stuck inside. The beach is way more packed than usual and you can't get the spot you want. Your baby has a blowout after you got them in their new swimsuit. Your toddler gets a bad ear infection and needs to be rushed to the ER (this happened to us last time... poor Quinn.) Figure out what the point of your beach trip truly is. Is it to relax? Then don't line up a bunch of plans so that whatever happens is no problem. Is it to capture some memories? Then be ready to go with a backup plan if your big beach photo session is interrupted because your baby is having a tough day. Is it to enjoy the sun and sand? Then figure out the quickest way for you to get everything packed and ready to walk onto the sand so you spend more time outside and less time chasing down a can of sunscreen.
  • Works: Appreciating each of your kid's beach excursions for what it is at that stage in life. I look back at my oldest's first beach trips and it is insane to me how time flew by. I distinctly remember jogging down the boardwalk with him in a stroller. And tossing him in the air when he was small enough to do such a thing, the sun behind his smiling face and the waves crashing around us. Now he's at the point that he wants to run around on his own, which means I don't have to monitor him as much but also I don't get to hold his hand as much, either. Enjoy the stage for what it is, because the cons will fade away but you'll miss the pros.

I hope you've been having a wonderful summer so far. If you see a dad on the beach chasing three kids around and telling them sand is not for throwing, that's me. Say hello.

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What sitcom dads have made the best last impression and helped shape what we know about fatherhood? Instafather and Flat Circle Blog took a crack at it. 

It's Father's Day Weekend!

While my wife keeps telling me I am not allowed to stretch it into an entire weekend, it's my blog so I say yes. And as part of that, I'm celebrating with a special post about sitcom dads. I'm a big believer that, outside of your own family, pop culture can have the biggest impact on how you approach parenting. Think about it - how many situations have new parents faced that they would have never seen before outside of a television show? And sure, there are drama series dads, but let's hope you aren't taking parenting advice from Walter White. (Coach Taylor or Jack Pearson? That would be fine.)

Let me introduce you to my blog partner for today. John Saeger is a blogger and freelance writer. He is a suburban Philadelphia cat dad who lives in Narberth, PA with his wife Janet. He has written the Philadelphia pop-culture blog www.flatcircleblog.com since April 2017. You can follow the Flat Circle on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

John has a great perspective on pop culture, and I thought it would be interesting to hear about what a guy who doesn't have kids thinks of sitcom dads versus how I might view them. It turns out that funny is funny is funny. While this is by no means comprehensive or ranked, it is a highlight of who has made a lasting impression on us. See who we love below, and then leave a comment about what sitcom dad has always been your favorite!

Honorable mentions to Philip Banks, Carl Winslow, and Frank Lambert. And a million others. We didn't even try to touch cartoon dads.

Phil Dunphy - Modern Family
Phil Dunphy Funniest Moments - YouTube

Andy: Here’s what I love about Phil Dunphy. He just loves his family. A lot. His character’s entire POV is that he would do anything for them, but that he’s also a klutz and scatterbrained, so things don’t always work out. I can completely empathize! It’s refreshing to see a dad like him on TV that is cherished for wanting to be a more involved dad, and that, while he rides a Segway and owns a magic shop, he isn’t your traditional goofy dad like that can’t take care of his own kids. He’s big on providing for them, on finding new ways to hang out with them, and on soaking up every moment of childhood. Honestly, it’s unattainable! But cool to see, and hilarious to watch.

John: It’s interesting that the character of Phil Dunphy is in the same series as Ed O’Neill, who probably portrayed the worst TV Dad of all-time in Married With Children. Within a generation, O’Neill went from a series that showed a trainwreck, salt of the earth family to a show that depicts an anti-nuclear family. A raunchy series like Married With Children probably would not be on network television today. That series ran from 1987 to 1997. Modern Family would not have seen the light of day on a big four network in 1997, which was also the same year that Ellen Degeneres came out on television.

Tim Taylor - Home Improvement
Electrical Safety by Tim Taylor - YouTube

John: Tim Taylor was always the dad who tried too hard. There was always too much power, but all of his efforts came from a place of love. He wanted to provide the best, biggest thing for his family (often to his own detriment).

A consistent formula of Home Improvement was that Tim Taylor would run into a situation from an unthinking, too-masculine perspective. Eventually, his misdeed would lead to a conversation with his neighbor, Wilson. Tim would think about it, grunt, and try to correct his mistake through compromise. Sometimes the plot would be reversed and Jill Taylor (played by Patricia Richardson) would find herself in a similar situation.

While those stories are exaggerated, I find this to be a very real portrayal of family growth. It is so easy to be wrapped up in your own perspective without taking someone else’s into consideration. One storyline that I find to be interesting is Tim’s struggles with Jill’s transition into becoming a psychologist. Even though he does not react well, a change in a partner’s status can be a very real thing that threatens relationships. Neither Tim nor Jill is perfect or idealized and I find that to be refreshing.  

Andy: I’m really glad you picked Tim Taylor, as I grew up watching this show and it was one sitcom my whole family enjoyed. I agree with what you’re saying here: Tim often came in stubborn and even sexist when he was faced with a situation, and he’d need an outside reminder. Jill trying to be a mom and hold down a career is a perfect example, and in hindsight, what a great storyline to put out there. They didn’t try to make it seem like Jill was in the wrong. Or that Tim would just automatically go for it. That's not to mention when Randy had that cancer scare and Tim had to let his guard down so that his son could feel OK being scared. Or a classic clip like the one above when he's trying to pass on his knowledge to his son, which was his way of showing affection. Now, in recent years, Tim Allen’s brand of comedy has veered much harder into the conservative/Republican territory. Maybe that was him all along. But when it came this show, all were welcome to grunt along.

Jesse Katsopolis - Full House
Uncle Jesse's Mother's Day song - YouTube

Andy: You’d think I’d want to talk about Danny Tanner. But I have a tougher time to relating to him - he was a widow with three daughters (and a childhood friend who, um, lived with him into his 40s?). Jesse? I get him. He has twins, like me. He has a beautiful, talented wife, like me. And he was trying to balance being a dad, making money, and finding time for music. In my case, I find time for doing comedy. Jesse represented a different kind of dad. A father who may not love the idea of, say, changing diapers, but still jumps right in. A guy who, as an uncle, held a birthday party in a mechanic’s garage for his niece. A guy who spent one entire episode trying to get his infant twins to say “Today is Mother’s Day” because he wanted Becky’s first Mother’s Day to be special. Sure, he messed up a lot, and sometimes had tunnel vision without thinking of consequences. But he did have a great head of hair!

John: It’s funny that you picked Jesse Katspolis. I probably haven’t watched Full House in 20-25 years and I always think of him as an uncle instead of a father. I think some of my perceptions are from John Stamos coming off as someone who relishes the bachelor lifestyle. I have a weird lasting image of Full House. There was an episode where the Tanner family was invited to be on stage with the Beach Boys at the Rose Bowl. Even at the time, I remember thinking that if I was at the concert I would be thinking “Why is this family on stage with the Beach Boys?” For some reason, that episode has stuck with me as being one of the oddest things that I have seen on television.

Louis Huang - Fresh Off The Boat
Fresh Off the Boat "Asian dads" (4x09) - YouTube

John: I love how Louis Huang tries to bond with his kids. He may be the most caring father on television right now. He wants the world for his children. Louis yearns to be the cool dad who is best friends with his children as they grow up.

Louis wields unwavering optimism, which is a stark contrast to his wife. From a television perspective, his character’s dynamic with Jessica Huand is interesting.

Both Louis Huang and Murray Goldberg (from fellow ABC comedy The Goldbergs) are reversals of the typical sitcom dad. In both instances, The Goldbergs and Fresh Off The Boat cater to the mother as being the more outlandish character. Even though Jessica’s storylines can be tiring, the approach remains refreshing. The dynamic of the mother being the primary originator of comedy is an unusual approach that we may see more of over time as sitcoms become more balanced.

Andy: I haven’t had the chance to watch this one, but I do appreciate that ABC is making a commitment to show different points of view and different family structures. Won’t it be interesting in 10-15 years when teens who are watching these shows with their parents now eventually become parents themselves? Because beyond your own parents, pop culture is what you lean on for references. The more variety, the better.

Andre Johnson - Black-ish
Andre Jr. Insults Compilation - Blackish Episode 15 - YouTube

Andy: I had never seen a dad like Andre Johnson before, which I guess is the point — there aren’t a lot of black dads on sitcoms throughout television history. You’ve got your Cosbys, your Banks, your Winslows, sure, but the fact that you can probably name them all speaks to how little representation there is. I only recently got into Black-ish, and I’m so glad I did. It’s hilarious! Andre is constantly trying to remind his kids of their culture, which is not something you see on sitcoms too often — a POV about the importance of showing your kids where they came from, with frank conversations about race woven into slapstick comedy and pop culture throwaway lines.

Basically, every episode has some angle on what it means to be a dad in the modern world! And in his case, I love that they are realistic. He’s involved and loves his family, but his flaw is that he often tries to swoop in and solve everything (sounds like most guys, right?) without thinking things through. They don’t have his wife nag him like you often see in a sitcom. They are equal partners in parenting, just with very different methods.

John: ABC has a block of family sitcoms (Fresh Off The Boat, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, and Black-ish) that depict a diverse group of families. Black-ish is a unique show for the reasons you mentioned. Of those series, Black-ish brings political and social discussions into its scripts most often. Dre is definitely an overbearing Dad who frequently has to learn to take a step back every now and then. The show does a very good job of balancing those moments between himself and the mother, which is very real. Instead of the same parent constantly reining in the other, both have their moments where they have to do a little mutual evaluation.

Andy Griffith - The Andy Griffith Show
Andy Griffith Show - Opie's Allowance - YouTube

John: The Andy Griffith Show is dated when you compare it with television in 2018.  While The Dick Van Dyke Show challenged the status quo on multiple levels, Mayberry, North Carolina is milquetoast and ignored many cultural shifts of the time. The Andy Griffith Show’s premise was based on nostalgia and depicts the whitewashed television I tend to associate more with an earlier period, yet the series ran until 1968.

Andy Taylor, however, is a unique character relative to his contemporaries. He was a single father trying to raise a young boy. While Taylor was the smartest guy in town, his status as a single dad allowed him to avoid the “man of the house” parenting narrative that so often beleaguered family sitcoms of the time.

One recurring theme of The Andy Griffith Show was an emphasis on knowing right from wrong. Taylor consistently wielded a strong moral compass as a police officer and father. He also avoided the slapstick Dad routines that frequent family sitcoms. That fell to his deputy, played by Don Knotts.

Andy: I had no idea that series ran til 1968! I think Andy Griffith is the quintessential sitcom dad when it comes to “dads who teach moral lessons.” That’s who you think of. I wonder how a show like that would do today. Compared to Andre Johnson from “Black-ish” - aside from the fact that “Black-ish” would NEVER have been made 60 years ago - both are focused on dads who are big on teaching moral lessons. But the style is dramatically different.

Thanks for reading our list! Leave a comment below about what we missed, and please make sure to share this post! Special thanks to John for putting this together with me - give him a follow on Twitter. Also, if you haven't yet, make sure you take a look at the sneak preview for my upcoming book, The New Mom's Guide to New Dads.

 

 

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What's it like having three toddlers? How do you go about having two involved parents? How do you get a guy to be more active in parenting? I answer all that and more. | instafather.com

What should a new dad know about parenting? How do moms get more involved? Why did you put highlights in your hair in college? (Everyone was doing it, OK!?!)

I’ve got answers to your burning questions about fatherhood and all things #dadlife in advance of Father's Day! I was thrilled to do an Ask Me Anything session over at amafeed.com all about parenting. So many questions came in after my session was done I thought I'd answer them here!

What is the best way to educate men who believe that fatherhood is being a breadwinner and bringing money into the family with no other obligations?

I’ve got two parallel thoughts on this one, depending on what the situation is.

The first is that you marry who you marry. If your husband has always been super traditional, has never shown interest in anything that doesn’t directly relate to him, and has a dad who never played with him as a child and spent all day at work, yeah, you might be in for it. But you knew that, right? Just the same, if you have always made your career a priority, have always wanted a family but never been keen on taking care of kids, and came from a family full of female breadwinners, it would be a lot to ask you to change everything you know.

There are many wonderful families who keep that traditional model in place - dad works, mom takes care of the house. If you are expecting a 50/50 split, my hope is that you have made that clear from the start so that the two of you didn’t get married assuming the other person would drastically change.

But what if none of that is happening? What if there’s nothing that should be holding him back? Let’s say it makes the most sense for him to keep his job and you work less to take care of your kid. But he also now just assumes that since he has a job, he can wipe his hands of any other responsibility. That, of course, is not how it works. There is no world in which a job (unless you’re like an FBI agent or a trench digger or something) is going to be that much more exhausting, especially mentally, than taking care of a newborn baby. That’s what you need to emphasize. You are not saying that what he does at work doesn't count. It matters! And you aren’t asking for him to entirely run the household, too. But when he gets home, you need to be able to tap out for a bit. And on weekends, you both need to take breaks. Otherwise, you are going nonstop - babies and toddlers do not believe in paid leave.

Money is a huge part of the equation, but only part. If he says that because he is making money, he doesn’t have to do anything else, ask him if money changes diapers. Or does the dishes. Or puts kids to bed. No? It doesn’t? Then him making money can’t be the only thing he contributes. If you are not earning any money, I know that can be more difficult than if you are still holding down a part-time job. But realistically, if he wants the best of you as a mom, he has to give you a chance to recover.

What should parents do when they disagree on a decision regarding their child? How should they resolve that situation?

Rock paper scissors.

If that fails, figure out what the disagreement is truly about. Is it how you are potty training or is it more about a fundamental difference in how you want your child to turn out? It’s one thing to argue about the merits of going no diaper for a weekend. It’s another if one of you insists on potty training this weekend, and the other wants to wait until the kid naturally picks up what to do. One parent wants to push their kid to achieve on a timeline, and the other believes in letting kids progress on their own terms. Can you see how that can spill over to how you want them to perform in school? Either method could work, but it’s helpful to know what you are really arguing about. If it’s not a big deal, then one of you will need to drop it because it’s not worth the argument. Pick your battles.

Why do you think men and women have such different approaches towards parenting?

You could take the end of that question and make it about a lot of things: “toward relationships… toward money… toward sports … toward The Bachelor.”

We do things differently. And thank God, right? I am really thankful my wife is around to give a different viewpoint and different approaches. For single parents, that’s a lot of pressure! You have to be the expert on everything and see all the different angles.

Rather than worry about the differences, embrace them. If the mom is more nurturing and the dad is more

How different was it having twins compared to having one kid at a time?
Jim Gaffigan: Mr. Universe - 4 KIDS - YouTube

Jim Gaffigan has a great joke about this. “You know what it's like having five kids? Imagine you're drowning. And someone hands you a baby." That’s how it can feel sometimes when you go from one kid to three.

We have gone to Target and had people stop in their tracks and stare at us, holding hands the entire way across the aisle, and look with the same mix of reverance and confusion you would offer if you saw a unicorn riding a bear.

Coincidentally, a unicorn riding a bear is not that far off from what it's like taking more than one toddler to Target. Have we abandoned our cart and left the store. YOU BET.

With twins, the diaper changes seemed endless in the early years. My wife, a superhero, nursed them both for months on end; it was almost a surprise to see her with a real shirt on. And at night, as soon as one baby goes down, the other way wakes up. When someone says they know what it's like to have twins because they had "Irish twins" - two kids born a year apart - I want to laugh in their face and then hand them my kids and leave.

So yeah, it's different! One kid means you can put all your focus into them. That doesn't always mean it's better. With more than one, you stop worrying about the little things. You don't have time for it. You get much more economical with your time.

 I also get to see my son take care of his “babies.” And I get to soak in the girls playing with each other. And of course, there are the matching outfits.

It’s not apples to apples. It’s apples to a circus.

The New Mom's Guide to New Dads

Read a sample chapter of my upcoming book, and sign up to be the first to know when it's released!

Check out a sneak peek! What is the key to successful co-parenting?

It depends what you mean. Co-parenting is often the term people use when they are talking about a divorced couple who has a child together and so they need to figure out how to split up parenting duties/sharing time with their kid. I don’t have that background, but for those I know that are dealing with that, communication seems to be paramount. That and keeping the needs of your kid above anything else. I'd love to hear what has worked for you, if that's your situation.

But if you mean splitting parenting duties up 50/50, like how my wife and I approach it, it’s all about expectations. She doesn’t hope I get involved. She expects it. Setting a low bar leads to low output. But in the end, it’s still on the dad to rise to the occasion. It can be very helpful for a mom to say “Here’s what I need/here’s what would be helpful.” But dads can and should just jump in and figure it out on the fly. It’s not like there is a manual. Just start doing things. Nobody would allow moms to just sit around and say "Nobody asked me to do anything! Why's that my job? Now go get me a beer!"

Do parenting books actually help when they're so different with so many techniques? How can parents decide which is the right parenting style for them?

Let me use an answer similar to what I said for a similar question in the earlier AMA feed.

Any parenting book is, at its core, a review of what has worked for that particular family, and then they show you how you can get similar results. Just like a financial advice or a relationship book, not every technique will work with every person. My wife and I like to use the envelope method to help save money for certain big financial goals. At least I assume that's what we do. I hand her money and she says she is "putting it in the envelope" but the more I think about it, I'm wondering if these envelopes are real. Hmmm. 

Some people research each of the popular parenting styles and pick one, almost like you're going to Subway and are choosing a sub. That can work - you weigh pros and cons. But the thing you can't ignore is that parenting is a natural extension of who you already are. Parenting styles can be less about finding an approach and more about being acutely and painfully aware of what you are good at and, more importantly, not good at. How does what you want to do impact your kid? How does your approach balance out what your partner is good at and wants to do?

My wife is super patient and empathetic. I'm very optimistic and go-with-the-flow. Depending on the situation, one of us might be a best fit. My wife really dislikes being up late at night, and I don't mind it, so getting up with the baby made more sense for me while she made sure to get up early in the morning so I could sleep. She's better at calming our kids down. You don't have to be everything to everyone.

It's just as important to know what you don't want to do. We didn't want to "cry it out." We didn't want to spank. We didn't want to be quick to punish. We didn't want to put our kid in a bouncer all day. So, while those are many of the qualities of "attachment parenting," really, it's just a set of criteria that happened to reflect what came natural to us. We don't wake up each day saying "Time to start attachment parenting! Come here, children. The attachment has commenced."

You see what works or doesn't work, and then you adapt. Please adapt. Don't be rigid or you will drive yourself crazy. We were too loose about nap time with our son (letting him lead us on when he wanted to sleep). That resulted in many long, long afternoons. We had to be stricter with our twins, and that worked.

Has your wife ever asked you to become more involved in parenting? Did you think you were doing enough before she asked?

I don’t remember my wife ever saying “You need to pick it up, slacker.” She did such a smart thing early on by constantly bringing me in on decision-making and information gathering with our firstborn that it was natural for me to be fully involved, even if I'd be the first to admit she is the one who keeps everything working.

Still, I never feel like I am doing enough. That’s not false modesty. That’s coming from a guy who watched his wife push three babies out of her body and then feed them for a year using that same body. There isn’t a good way to even that out.

Want to read more? Check out my full Ask Me Anything feed on involved parenting and fatherhood. And if you have a question, hit me up!

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My advice to my son now that he has turned five. | instafather.com

Dear Elliott:

I am not one to understand quantum mechanics. I barely can follow the time jumps in Outlander, or Back to the Future, for that matter.

So please allow me to confused as to how you, a newborn baby just born yesterday, are now five years old and going to kindergarten readiness programs.

That's not how time works.

But here we are. You're now five. You are no longer a toddler. Actually, based on the fact that you're in the 87th percentile for height, you're more like a 3rd grader, but whatever. Dude, I cannot believe how big you are. I mean it. Some days you come down the hall at 5:30 a.m. and not at 7 a.m. like dad asked super nicely but we'll just forget about that for a second, and I can't believe how much space you take up when you sprawl across the bed.

And by sprawl I mean immediately cling on your mom's body like you are trying to get back inside the womb for a permanent residency.

Elliott, I love you so much that it scares me sometimes. Your mom and I get scared, in fact, just watching the news and seeing other boys and girls get shot at because we know there's nothing we can do to protect you. That might seem like a heavy thing to say to a five-year-old, but then again, in the fall you'll be going to school and now school is a dangerous place to send a kid. I don't know, man. I don't have any answers. 

But you still have an entire summer ahead to just be a kid. You play so hard that you start sweating about 2 seconds into any activity. You have so much fun sometimes that you just start shouting at nothing because you're excited. You get so pumped to play with toys that you could have single-handedly saved Toys'R'Us from bankruptcy through sheer force of will. Also, Toys'R'Us is going out of business. Sorry.

Honest Talk With You for Your Fifth Birthday
  1. I always know when you have put your finger in your nose and then put it in your mouth. You are not slick. Please go use germ stuff. Thanks. No, really use it. I can tell when you don't use it. Don't ask how. Dads are smart.
  2. Two years ago, I looked back at what I wrote a year before that: 'I wrote this last year: "When you turned one, I was so proud of you because I thought you were the best one-year-old and I couldn't imagine how you'd get better. What an idiot I was for not believing you'd be even more amazing the following year." What an even bigger idiot I was for not realizing you'd be even more hilarious, curious, loving and cool in your second year.' Last year, I wrote, "Well, I'm a grand idiot for not realizing the best was yet to come. Your third year was even more full of laughter and imagination and creativity and empathy." Let's just assume each year dad is a big idiot. You are getting more and more awesome.
  3. You spent seemingly every day since you turned four thinking and planning your fifth birthday party. Your mom and I are so happy that, against all odds, the weather held out and you had an incredible day. A lot of people love you very much and showed up. You won't understand this now, but you need to value each and every person who takes time in their day to say "You are important to me." 
  4. Speaking of which, although you kiss your mom's butt too much, and I mean that literally, I do adore how much you love your mom. You love her so much! One day that'll transform and you won't be as affectionate, so we are soaking that in now. I still love every single time you hold my hand. Even if your hand got a lot bigger.
  5. I do not know how you got so good at Legos. You might be a genius.
  6. I do not know how you can not flush a toilet and then look at me and tell me that it was your sister's fault when she wasn't in the room. You might not be a genius.
  7. Your twin sisters are now three years old. You still call them your babies. I hope you do the same when you are all grown ups. Never stop taking care of them, dude.
  8. Your mom and dad are professional comedians, but we can't ever make anyone laugh as much as you make yourself laugh when you say the word "toot" as a non-sequitor. One day, we hope to reach your level. And toot is a funny word, to be honest.
  9. Dad has come a long way since the days when I had a tough time controlling my emotions and stress on your worst days. Even then, I still have moments of snapping. You are quick to forgive. And even if dad seems mad for a minute, I love you completely. That never, ever changes. Sometimes, dad needs to pull a Daniel Tiger and count to four.
  10. I have never seen any soccer player talk to his coach as much as you talk to yours during practice. You are very big on providing updates on anything you are doing.
  11. Things you can do since your fourth birthday: Get your own water. Use the toaster. Use the remote. Write your name easily. Things you cannot do: Wipe your butt. Have the ability to hear sound after the phrase "Elliott can you...". Stay still. I'd say overall, you're doing great.
  12. You say very funny things: Me: Elliott, what do you want for your birthday?
    You: Peace and quiet.
  13. Five, Elliott. Five more bites of veggies.
  14. I'm sorry for all the times I was too tired to play or look at the thing you built. I love you for asking. 
  15. You don't realize this yet, but mommy and daddy do a lot of different jobs in part to make sure you have everything you could possibly need to thrive and be happy. But more importantly, we like doing the jobs we have. It's possible to do both. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
  16. I love how we play the game of you pretending you don't like to watch Sesame Street and yet completely stopping what you are doing to watch the entire episode. 
  17. I can't fathom how you are going to kindergarten this fall. You are more than ready for it. But every parent of older kids says this exact thing: "Once they hit kindergarten, it goes by in the blink of an eye." All of them say it! All of them! I don't want to blink and miss it. But I also love seeing how you grow. 
  18. What started as an occasional sleepover in your sisters' room has become a nightly trend - your old crib mattress on the floor at the foot of their beds so you can sleep with them. They love it, and I think you do, too. One day, that'll end, but when you all hit your 30s, remember that stuff. That's a bond that doesn't break.
  19. We have come a long way since those colicky nights and endless nursing sessions and hours of driving you around so you'd fall asleep. You don't have a rocking chair in your room anymore. You get dressed on your own. But you're still my baby boy. Forever.

The New Mom's Guide to New Dads

You can get a sneak preview of my upcoming book! It's all about helping moms understand what dads are feeling and experiencing (and maybe not sharing as much as they should) in those first few years of parenting.

Check it out!
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Updated!

"What should my husband check out or read before our baby arrives?"

I get that question a lot more these days. It's cool because it's nice to be thought of when people are looking for answers to fatherhood questions! It's also kind of funny, since more moms than dads read this site, by far; every week I hear from a mom who says she passed on a post to her husband to read. Hey, whatever works! I appreciate it either way.

I strongly believe there is no such thing as a parenting expert - we're all just trying our best, except for the Duggars, because wow. Still, there are great new father resources out there that can help you (or your husband) feel prepared and confident going into fatherhood.

I'm really happy I get to put together posts and resources for new and expecting dads, but there is so much to cover and I'm just one voice. Below is a list of outside resources I trust and have found valuable* , plus a few that are, to put it bluntly, garbage advice. Bookmark this page - I'll update it as I come across great content! And you can always share it with a new dad in your life. Think I missed something? Let me know.

* I received no payment for these recommendations

Here's what I've relied on for new dad advice:Dude, You're Gonna Be a Dad!

"She's pregnant. She knows that. You know that. And her 152 baby books tell her exactly what she can expect." Exactly! This book for dads fills in the gaps. Really enjoyed reading this, as John Pfeiffer dispenses advice on what a guy can do through pregnancy to help his partner.

Cool feature:  The book doesn't assume you're an idiot, which is a nice touch. There are lots of new dad books out there, but when I was an expectant dad, a lot of them seemed like I only cared about watching football and drinking beer and maybe I could fit the baby into my life.

Happiest Baby on the Block

Written by Dr. Harvey Karp. This goes through the 5 S's. What are the 5 S's? They might just be your key to surviving late nights with a newborn. I swaddle, shush, and swing a lot in particular, and although it's not foolproof, these techniques really did make a difference. This is prime stuff for guys, as dads can do any of these as easy as moms. Are there other methods of dealing with crying babies? Sure, and you'll find experts lined up swearing their way is the right way. I'm just saying this one worked, and I think it also reinforced bonding with my son in a way some other methods (crying it out) don't.

Cool feature: There's a movie that is basically the same content, so watch that if you're short on time. 

Dad's Guide to Twins (Also, Dads Guide to Raising Twins)

Joe Rawlinson, who wrote about twins for my site, speaks from experience. If you're having multiples, A) God help you and B) Check out his guide. There's plenty of practical, actionable advice, such as what kind of stroller to get and how to bottle feed two babies at once. As a guy, I like the fact it was more hands-on and less about the experience of twins - I wanted to know what to do, and this helped get me mentally ready.

Cool feature: He offers specifics on what baby gear is twin compatible.

Web MD Pregnancy App

Unlike regular Web MD, which will tell you that you've got rectal cancer if you list "cough" as a symptom, this app was straightforward, easy to use, and had cool visuals for what the baby looks like inside your wife's belly. Week by week, you can see what progress the baby should be making, and there are nice features such as a contraction timer and Pregnancy 101, a resource of FAQs about pregnancy. My wife and I would check this app each week to get excited about what our kids were doing at that stage.

Cool feature: It lets you specify if you're having multiples and adjusts the info accordingly.

Evolutionary Parenting

If you or your wife are really dead set on breastfeeding your newborn, using a doula, doing a homebirth, skipping circumcision or any other similar parenting styles - organic? crunchy? natural? whatever you want to call it - this site, created by a psychologist, has got what you need. I find it to be reasonable in how it approaches controversial topics, and at the least, you can feel more informed.

Cool feature: Research rebuttals. Basically, knocking down whatever you just breathlessly heard on Good Morning America.

Scary Mommy

There's an overwhelming amount of content on here about what it's truly like to be a parent. It's frank, honest, and some of the titles are just hilarious ("Why do kids suck at sleepovers so much?"). I think the site motto is spot on: "Parenting doesn't have to be perfect." Although the site has mommy in the name, there's lots of good stuff for dads - hey, they even let me write for them. Good page to add on Facebook, as they post often.

Cool feature: They do a solid job with categorizing their content, so you can find posts specific to your interest.

Bad Ass Breastfeeding

If your partner is going to breastfeed, you really, really would do well to know what she's going through, what problems she might face, and how you can help. Breastfeeding can be a really transformative, powerful thing - there's food coming out of your wife's boobs! But it's also difficult. Sometimes, it can seem impossible (as it did for us at one point). If or when your partner hits the breast milk wall, it helps to have some kind of understanding so you don't just say, "Well, that sucks." This site covers it all with resources and posts from moms who have been there, done that.

Cool feature: A certified lactation consultant answers reader questions. Almost guaranteed your wife will have one of these questions at some point. (Get ready for the word "supply" to be used every day.)

MomLoveBest

There are so many mommy bloggers out there. It can be overwhelming. If you're trying to get the mom's point of view - and you should! - go for those who don't make everything in absolutes (Life is not a Buzzfeed post full of "only's" and "best's"). For example, I love MomLovesBest.com's sleep guide for pregnant moms. I can tell she did her research and it's so thorough! She covers everything from pillows to positions. Do yourself a favor and read this.

Your Freaking Parents

Although I'm not great at it even now, it's kind of silly to not tap into the knowledge of your parents about how to deal with all of this. They may not realize that putting the baby on its back is considered the safe and only way to do it these days compared to when they did it, but they do know what it's like to go into labor. They do know what you might expect emotionally. They do know what challenges you might face. And they did a decent job raising you, right? Just don't discount the experts you already have in your family. Still, make it clear from the get-go that you are doing things the way you feel is best. Don't feel like just because your mom did it one way, you and your wife should try to do it the same!

Cool feature: They saw you naked a lot and can still hold a straight face.

Couples Who Have Kids

This is a guarantee: If you ask couple friends you have who recently had a baby in the past year or two what to expect about having a baby, they will talk your ear off. They are dying to talk to someone about it. But don't fall into a trap! What worked for them, what went wrong, what doctor they had that sucked ... none of those things necessarily would be the same for you. You should soak in whatever they can offer, but, just like your parents, if you try to follow every piece of advice you get, you will drive yourself crazy and your wife will start stabbing things.

Try asking this: "What do you wish you knew then that you know now?" Or "I'm excited to be a dad but I have no idea what to do. What was the thing you struggled with the most off the bat?" Beware the friends who remember newborns with rose colored glasses (If they say their baby slept all night right from the start, they are bullshitting you) or who are super jaded about it (If "the worst" ends most of their sentences, slowly backpedal).

Better yet? Offer to watch their baby for a few hours in a low-pressure way. That can be done by doing it while they do other chores around the house - the stuff they've been dying to do but don't have the hands to do it - or maybe have them take a long stroll or go workout at a nearby gym. That way they are there if you need them, but you can get a feel for taking care of a baby. One of the things I hear from guys the most is that they've never even held a baby and are terrified they will break them. Well, for what it's worth, I barely held a baby before my son was born. It's amazing how quickly you learn. But in hindsight, it would have been awesome to do a little babysitting to dip my toe in the baby tub.

Cool feature: You're helping them, they are helping you.

Other noteworthy resources: I've also used Parents.com and found it to be reliable with an exhaustive amount of content on anything and everything with babies on up. Weelicious is great if you're a culinary type and want to make your baby meals when the time comes. 

Good social media accounts to follow for dads:

I'm listing Instagram accounts because I've found that's one of the easiest ways to connect with dads, but they all do Twitter/Facebook too.

Dad or Alive - If you're gonna do the stay-at-home dad route, or if you'd appreciate seeing content from a guy who used to work for Adam Sandler and Chelsea Handler, this is your guy. Check out his site for lots of entertaining fatherhood stories.

Dadlifeclub - Good for motivational fatherhood posts. Also, the guy behind it just released a book about his experiences as a dad and what you can learn from it.

My Kid Can't Eat This - Hilarious. Maybe not as much when it happens to you, but while you're still in the pregnancy/newborn phase, you'll go "I can't believe their kid won't eat that." And then later on you'll say, "Oohhhh that's why." If there's one unexpected thing that'll be added to your life because of a baby, it's humor. Lots of humor.

Dadlifebrand - They do dad challenges (asking you to do this or that activity today with your kid), offer motivation, and showcase *ahem* awesome dads.

Avoid these pregnancy/parenting apps and sites:
  • Baby Bump App: Only read this if you want to be pandered to in the worst way possible. One example? They regularly include advice for dads. Great! Except they must assume dads who use the app really, really don't want a baby, because the advice is usually "Try to ask your wife about how the pregnancy is going so she knows you're interested." No joke, that was the advice... for the 7 month milestone!
  • Forums (Baby Center, What to Expect): Pregnancy/Baby forums are where facts go to die, fear mongering goes to thrive, and your neurotic worst fears are born. Everyone has a worst case scenario. No one has scientific data or researched-backed answers or rationale thinking. Stay away. That goes for your wife, too.
  • Facebook posts of friends with kids: I say this as someone who often posts about my kids. You need to beware. It's very easy to see what a friend is posting and take it as the truth for better or worst, as if that's the real baby experience. It is not real. You will have friends who constantly whine about what the baby is doing to them. You will have friends who only post photos of their kid smiling and clean. Both are not realistic. Don't get anxious either way. Parenthood can't be summed up that succinctly.

The New Mom's Guide to New Dads

You can get a sneak preview of my upcoming book! It's all about helping moms understand what dads are feeling and experiencing (and maybe not sharing as much as they should) in those first few years of parenting.

Check it out!
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What I want to tell my former NICU twin girls as they turn 3 years old. | instafather.com

Dear Hannah and Quinn:

It is not unnoticed by me that I'm writing you a birthday letter a week past your birthday. As any toddler parent knows, the days of being on time for anything are gone. Being on time is for people who haven't spent 17 minutes searching for one shoe only to discover it's been in the car seat the whole time.

So much has happened with the two of you since you turned two. 

Hannah, you're potty trained now! Kinda! Mostly! In fact, the day we tried you just figured it out and peed on the potty no less than a dozen times in four hours, as you quickly figured out the M&M bribing system.

Quinn, you have turned us into those parents who keep telling anyone who will listen, "Our daughter is so smart!" But seriously, you have long been identifying letters like a Sesame Street character vying for the Letter of the Day solo. We cannot claim credit for this. Let's just go ahead and credit Super Why.

I don't know if it was easier or harder on me when you turned 3 compared to last year. Three is so firmly entrenched in toddlerdom. Three means daddy has to pay for you at Infinito's Pizza. Three means absolutely no one is mistaking you for babies, and in fact, the only person who calls you babies right now is your brother and I hope he calls you "my babies" even when you're 32. 

When you turn 2, though, you can wear 24-month clothing and mommy and daddy can still pretend you're a baby. No longer. Babies do not pee on the potty. Or know how to operate an iPhone and take photos of your nostrils. Or have elaborate backseat discussions about, well, mommy and daddy can never quite figure it out but you two know exactly what's up.

I wrote this last year: "I started writing Instafather waiting for you both to come out. Ever since then, you give me reminder after reminder of all the challenges dads face ... and why it's all worth it."

This still is very true! The years are passing quickly, but I could still give you every visual detail of the hospital rooms mommy stayed in waiting for weeks on end for you to arrive. You do not need additional reasons to say nice things to mommy, but don't ever forget that she waited patiently in one bed for you with no end in sight because that's what you needed to be healthy. And, as you've noticed, mommy is a very active person, so this was like asking an improv actor to stay on topic. Mommy has done more for you than you'll ever know.

Sometimes, the days are full of hair-pulling, crying, and whining, and that's just dad. I am quick to say sorry if I've let my frustration get the best of me, but I also know soon enough a sorry won't cut it and some words and actions won't be quickly forgotten. I promise to keep doing my best. If you could also promise to not ask for 378 cups of water at bedtime, that would be cool, too. People ask daddy all the time what it's like to have twins and I try to be very honest and say it's tough. It is SUPER tough, and that's considering you both are dreamboats. (Now, sure, I have said under my breath that one of you is being a real a-hole tonight, but we both know you were.) I also make sure to say to those people that I wouldn't have it any other way. Twin three-year-olds sounds like a sitcom plot.. actually, I think that was a Full House plot... but that also means you make us laugh a lot, too.

Sometimes, the days are so good that I can't believe you get to be my kids. Have you even LOOKED at yourselves? The two of you and your brother are all so adorable, but what I love most is how often you are so kind. Quinn, I've never heard a toddler say "Thank you" as much as you do, partly because you say "Thank you" for any nominal gesture. Your voice is so cute and girly and like it came right out of Central Casting that I hope I never forget the way it lights up my face. Hannah, you are so hell-bent on helping sometimes that you get mad when we don't let you, say, carry in all the groceries despite the fact you weigh under 30 pounds. 

Both of you are so unique that you are quickly becoming twins in shared birth date only. It's like I get the best of both worlds for daughters. 

Now, let's be clear: Right now you are in full-on Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy Mommy mode. Mommy and I are sure that, given the option, you would crawl back inside her. That can be tough for daddy, not so much because I feel "less than," but because not only does it mean mommy is rendered useless as she pries you off like a giggling blonde wetsuit, it means I can end up just being more of a hindrance than anything else. It won't always be like this, and thankfully you still are both quick to hold my hands and cuddle up on the sofa and hug me tight every day. But, and this may surprise you, mommy does not have to be the one to put your socks on. 

Quinn, there are some days I still end up telling somebody about your near-death experience, and it's both so distant to me now and yet I can visualize every single detail. The thought of you turning three, then, makes me so happy. You are a fighter who happens to wear ballerina dresses 42 hours a day. Seriously, it's almost like you were born to be three. Every person should have a Quinn.

Our preemie girls when they were in the NICU. - Instafather.com

Hannah, I am already so confident you are going to be an amazing, charismatic, everyone-pays-attention-to-you adult. I'm hoping by that point you don't make everyone pay attention to you by yelling "I do it myself!!!!!" to no one in particular and stomping out of the room, but to be fair, I've worked with people who basically do the same thing. You already are such a daring, joyful, empathetic kid. Good God, I love you.

It's telling that with every month I think of you less and less as two twin girls who were in the NICU and just my two daughters who are growing up. Don't think for a second, though, that mommy or daddy will ever forget how vulnerable and tiny you were in the NICU, or how your entire hand fit on the tip of my finger. Daddies don't forget those things. 

Your older brother is headed to kindergarten this fall, so in many senses, you will be the only toddlers left after years of the three of you doing everything together. I know you won't understand this yet but enjoy every single moment. And call out for Daddy sometimes. I'll always answer.

Happy birthday, Quinn. Happy birthday, Hannah.

Love, 
Dad

 

 

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While my son's "scary" face might not scare you, childcare costs certainly can. Here are four tips to help reduce them and an idea of what others are paying. | instafather.com

I engaged with an online troll about childcare costs recently, and it led to me polling friends to get a sense how much we're all spending on childcare. If you haven't waded into the childcare waters yet, or want some reassurance that it's normal to spend the equivalent of two BMW payments a month on a 9-pound human, keep reading.

In this case, a woman posted on LinkedIn that she was sad to see an unemployed mom lose out on a job offer because she needed flexible hours to help take care of her baby. That sucks. Not all jobs can do this and employers aren't obligated to do so, but you kinda hope in a modern society, bosses realize that making life easier for working parents pays back in spades.

Anyway, a troll posing as a working professional bluntly commented that people shouldn't have a baby if they can't afford it. (You'd almost assume a 20-year-old dudebro made that comment, but it was a woman who, according to LinkedIn, is a professional interior decorator. I would have guessed plumber considering how much shit she was spewing.)

I don't even know where to begin with that mindset. I didn't realize we started living in a society that believes you have to be wealthy to have kids; don't even get me started on the argument against paying for children's health insurance coverage.

But Ms. Troll does have one legitimate point: When you have a baby for whatever reason (IT'S NOT OUR BUSINESS TO KNOW!), the baby is going to be expensive.

They don't make cheap babies. You know how sometimes you've got an Old Navy budget, sometimes it's a Gap budget, and sometimes its a Banana Republic-and-not-even-the-clearance-rack budget? 

Babies only come in Gucci budgets.

Culprit Number One: Daycare

I got our annual daycare invoice for tax return purposes.*

* God, if I ever for one second forget I am a full-fledged adult, it's sentences like that. Also, moments like telling my son I just turned 35 and he said he "can't even count that high."

It cost $9,000 to send our three toddlers to daycare just three mornings a week.

It's a wonderful daycare with wonderful teachers and our kids love it, and we recommend friends use the same place. Money well spent! But, still, um... money.

It made me wonder what others are spending. A few polls of other parents with young kids (as it's much more expensive having a baby/toddler in daycare) and dozens of dad bloggers gave me the answer, and the 50 responses I got back up what national surveys reveal.

How much is it going to cost to send my baby to daycare?

You can expect to pay about:

  • $10,000 per baby
  • $14,000 total for all kids you send.

Many daycares provide a discount for the additional kids, although, no, despite the 15 million jokes I've heard, twins are not Buy One, Get One. So, in black-and-white, I can see that I have dozens of friends spending five figures a year for childcare alone.

"This thread makes me want to get sterilized. Oh god." - Recently married non-parent looking at my daycare cost thread

The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies has similar info. The average center-based daycare cost in the United States is $11,666 per year ($972 a month), but prices range from $3,582 to $18,773 a year ($300 to $1,564 monthly... living in a city will get you). Think about that. As Care.com put it, nearly one in three families report spending 20 percent or more of their annual household income on daycare.

It's not like you can go cheap on daycare.

They do Dateline specials about daycares like that. Do. Not. Skimp. On. Daycare. 

"Great, Andy. We're about to have a baby and now you need us to come up with $800 a month?" 

I know that's daunting. And I know we're not even talking about diapers, clothes, formula, check-ups if your insurance sucks .... are you hyperventilating? It's OK! WAIT! OK, better? Deep breath.

Four Tips for Reducing Your Daycare Costs and Maximizing Your Childcare Dollars:

An NPR poll showed that nearly one-third of parents who pay for child care say the cost has caused a financial problem for their household. I can't believe it's only one-third! But still, if you know two other sets of parents, at least one of you is freaking the f#&@ out. The other two are looking for more wine, please.

Let's take that deep breath now, as we all laugh at our former selves stressing about being broke when we didn't have a baby around. Silly us. OK. Let's think this through. You can make this work. Here are ready-to-use strategies to cut costs on daycare and babysitting:

  1. Use the benefits you have through work. My work offers a Dependent Care FSA. It's a pain in the butt, yes. You've got to download forms, keep track of your balance, submit for reimbursement, and so forth. What do you get for that? Pre-tax funding for daycare. It's like having a big 30% off coupon! Sure, 30% off coupons are usually more fun - Kohl's makes every coupon seem like a lottery ticket, and sometimes it's like Kohl's is paying me to shop - but it's real savings nonetheless.
    The trick is you need to know in advance how much you'll spend on daycare, because it'll be taken out of your paycheck and you're locked in for the year after you enroll. Honestly, since you never "see" the money, it's not as painful as you think. The first year, you can guess a little low, and then after that, you should have a good grip on it. I know people who squeeze out every dollar through this, and it saves them hundreds of dollars each year if not more. If you're not sure if your work provides this option, talk to HR. The money can be used for daycare, before and after school care, summer camp, and even babysitting. Once I submit my form for reimbursement, I get the money set aside in the FSA direct deposited in my account, like some magical money fairy.
    Some employers offer a daycare right at work, but I'm guessing you already know if yours does. One dad I talked to said he saves probably 50% on daycare costs by using his employer's center. If you had the option of switching to a company that has that available but can't pay you quite as much, you'd still come out ahead, right? 
    My wife got a part-time job teaching spin at a gym in part because it means we can use their child drop-off service for free when we're working out, saving us $45 a month. Also, she does it because my wife is a super human, but that's another topic.
  2. Think beyond the standard daycare option. Word-of-mouth matters a lot when it comes to choosing who will watch that little angel of yours. That's how we found our daycare, which ended up being reasonably priced and our kids love it; without a recommendation, we never would have known it existed, and then you're doing Google searches for "Daycare baby cheap educational please help very tired".
    But it's not everything. A nanny who comes to your house might be the best option — you're not paying for overhead like you would at a daycare center, and you know your home is secure. Or a private sitter for drop-off, which can be much most cost-effective and offer more personalized care.
    We've had good experiences with private sitters, but you'll want to go above and beyond in making sure their house is baby-proofed to your standards, not theirs, and that they appear to have a long-term commitment to this. You don't want to be scrambling to find a daycare overnight. Referrals matter greatly, too, as does a confirmation that they won't suddenly take on 10 more kids and your baby is effectively in a zoo.
    Finally, there is the friends & family option. All of my nephews get cared for this way from grandparents. So many people I polled said that without a mother or aunt or friend watching the baby, they wouldn't be able to pull it off. If this is remotely an option, even if it's temporary, do it. We basically had my in-laws living with us for a long stretch after the twins were born. Without that, we would have been screwed, although that also meant my in-laws got to watch me in a severe sleep-deprived state mumbling to myself. Just another Tuesday, Andy!
    If you haven't yet had a real talk with someone you know about this option, start broaching the conversation. No one is obligated or owes you childcare; that's a lot to ask of someone. But it would be foolish to not heavily investigate the option! Many people will say "I'd love to take care of that little baby!" Few people mean on an ongoing basis.
  3. Plan for all the expenses in childcare. Stuff that might come as a surprise: You still have to pay for childcare when the daycare is closed for holidays (otherwise, their workers wouldn't get vacation time). You can get charged if you are late to pick them up. You should also consider that there may be times when you need to pay for a babysitter when your regular daycare isn't available, so, yeah, you're paying freaking double on those days! Finally, are there any recurring fees for food? What if you forgot to send enough diapers? If you need to change your schedule?  Figure out the true cost, not the sticker price. Then figure out how much one of you would earn in a given month. If you'd save more by not working (insane, right?), then...
  4. Have the stay-at-home parent conversation. I had had more than a dozen parents say they became stay-at-home-dads or stay-at-home moms because financially, it made no sense to keep working. "I couldn't afford to go to work if I wanted to"; "Anything I earn would go to daycare - not a joke"; "It's hard having an hour to see each other some days, but it's absolutely worth it."
    I can sympathize with that last comment. My wife quit her full-time administrative job in higher ed when Elliott was born nearly five years ago, and switched to a part-time teaching career. We're very fortunate she had the degree in place and the background to make such a switch. Coupled with some flexibility in my marketing career, we've cobbled together a schedule with me dropping off the kids in the morning, her picking them up and watching them in the afternoon, and me watching them in the evening when she goes to teach. It saves us thousands of dollars and gives our kids more face time with their mom. Not everyone can make that work, I totally get that. And, as I pointed out, so many guys are electing to be the at-home parent. Don't assume it's gotta be the mom. 
    Likewise, assuming you can work from home and take care of the baby is... well, I don't want to say it's impossible; I know a great couple who are entrepreneurs and parents of a baby, and make it work with some creative scheduling. But I'm sure they'd say that it's misguided to think the baby will just sleep or nicely feed from a bottle while you quietly sit at your lapthahahahaha I can't even imagine that happening. Good God. I'm just saying, there are certainly some jobs you can do from home while taking care of a newborn or a toddler, but counting on it all to work is not wise. It's better to have a back-up plan. Maybe you get a nanny for a few hours a day while you work upstairs. Maybe you work in the evening when your spouse is at home. The key is you have to be flexible and patient. Some bosses will let you work from home a few days a week, and you can work around the inconvenience enough so that it's feasible to be a productive employee and still be an attentive parent. You won't know unless you ask. 
    Ever since I became a dad, I have needed bosses who understand that I need an adjustable schedule - dropping kids off at daycare, switching the car for the van at daycare pickup with my wife, running home when someone has thrown up because someone is always throwing up. In return, I make sure I am ultra-productive in the hours I'm in the office. But I had to change careers first. I was a newspaper reporter, and the news doesn't care too much if you have to run home to take care of the kids. So there needs to be realistic expectations: Can your job be more flexible? Do you need to have a conversation with your boss (any boss who isn't a complete jerk should understand the long-term benefit of you stressing less about daycare costs and in being flexible in your schedule, so long as it doesn't impact your work or slow down the team)? Is it possible for you to switch to part-time for six months and come back to a full-time job afterward? You won't know unless you ask.
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What's that weird cough your kid has? What is stridor? Why does everyone keep saying croup? Am I cool? I can't help you on the last one, but I've got answers lined up for croup and stridor after our toddler got it this week. | instafather.com

 

How many colds have you had in your life?

Eleventy billion?

That's still less than the average toddler. Little known scientific fact: Toddlers always have a cold. They get them from daycares and ball pits and playgrounds and terrorists. 

The big difference? A cold might mess up your week. But with infants and toddlers? Getting a common cold can get much worse, really fast.

If you're in any parenting text chain/Facebook group/cult, you've likely seen a frantic post from a parent wondering what to do with their sick kid. The giveaway? "Sounds like a barking cough."

That, my friends, is croup.

Croup, despite common belief, is not crappy soup that you sent back because it's bland. Croup is an upper respiratory infection that "obstructs breathing and causes a characteristic barking cough." It can come with a fever and hoarse voice and usually occurs in children ages 6 months to 3 years. It usually occurs a few days after the start of a cold and is worst at night.

My kids have had croup before. Forgive the pun, but it's barking cough is worse than it's bite. You know what? Don't forgive the pun. I don't need your forgiveness. Anyway, croup usually goes away on its own in 3-5 days, according to information from our doctor*.

(* As with all medical things, it's best to get information from doctors and nurses and not Facebook comments. Have you seen the dumb things people say in Facebook comments? That's how you want to diagnose your kid? From the same place where your uncle posts conspiracy theory memes? For this post, I'm using info that came straight from medical professionals and my direct experience.)

17. Stridor - Lung Sounds Collection - YouTube

What stridor sounds like

Stridor? That's worse. My 2 1/2-year-old toddler, Hannah, got croup and stridor over the weekend. Stridor causes difficulty breathing. It's a harsh sound like your kid is sucking in air.

Imagine my poor toddler, barking like a sad seal and trying to catch her breath. And then imagine that this all happened within a matter of hours. After a restless night where we had hoped she'd get better, we called the on-call nursing hotline with our doctor's office.

They recommended 20 minutes in a steamed up room. If that worked? She'll be fine. If not? A trip to the emergency room. No pressure, steam. God, I'm killing it with puns today.

Anyway, I stuck my kids in a room with the shower and humidifier on. We had it going nice and hot like a fitness club sauna but with less elderly nudity. The steam didn't work — she sounded bad.

(Guys, I'll be really candid here. My wife and I don't take respiratory stuff lightly. Our other twin daughter almost died because of respiratory distress when she was a baby. This wasn't nearly as serious, but when you're going to the same hospital for similar issues, it feels more intense. Nobody wants their kid in the ER, but with us, maybe even more so.)

What we had hoped at the start would be a quick trip to the doctor the next day ended up being a marathon — an all-day stop in the ER that led to an overnight stay in pediatrics as Hannah wasn't responding quickly enough to medication.

In her case, doctors tried to relieve stridor with breathing treatments and oral steroids (We had it mixed into applesauce! They evidently had never done that before. That's how we roll.). The breathing treatments were similar to what I got as a kid growing up with asthma; fun fact - I had moderate asthma growing up that, as it turns out, seems to almost entirely have been caused by me not knowing I was allergic to cats! Cats=lung murder

It took more than 24 hours in the hospital getting treatments for Hannah to start breathing easy, which meant we could breathe easy. Hahahahaha just kidding toddler parents never breathe easy because toddlers are insane. But, you know. Easier. And we realized that we hadn't known much of anything about stridor. I'm hoping this post gives you a heads up in case you're facing the same thing. It's going to be OK!

What should you do if you think your baby or toddler has something more than just a cold?

Here's some things to keep in mind as a new parent with a kid who sounds like they have breathing difficulties:

Croup - YouTube

What croup sounds like

  • You're not being crazy. Your main job is to help protect your kids. Nobody else is going to be as good of an advocate as you are. So if you think your daughter's cough doesn't sound great and you want to get it checked out, get it checked out*! With respiratory issues, it's better to be on the safe side.
  • If your child's rib cages are really sucking in when they are breathing, that can be a dangerous situation. If this is occurring or if they have a bluish tint in their skin or fingernails, seek medical help immediately.
  • Call your doctor if your child:
    • Has new/worse trouble breathing
    • Has dehydration symptoms like being thirstier than usual
    • Seems very sick or is hard to wake up
    • Has a new or higher fever
    • Has a cough that is getting worse (This was our clue)
  • With croup, the cough comes at nighttime and has a barking sound to it. It really is a case of "you'll know it when you hear it." My son had it before, and he was mostly fine during the day and at night sounded like Sea World.
  • Things you can try at home first, according to a nurse: Steam (humidifier or shower does the trick) and getting cool, fresh air can do wonders if breathing seems difficult. Yes, that seems like contradictory advice. I swear sometimes doctors just say "Um, give that a whirl?" If those methods don't work, call your doctor.
  • It's a viral illness, so yes, your other kids can get sick. HOWEVER, every person responds differently so it's not a given he or she would get as sick. One baby might just have a runny nose, and the other one might end up in the ER; we've had that situation.
  • Little kids get croup and stridor because they have smaller airways. That's why you don't hear about grown-ups with this. Good thing, because adults would complain a lot more.
  • Crying and coughing can make croup worse because you're agitating your airway, so it can be a bad cycle for kids. Keep them calm.
  • Can you prevent croup? Well, like most things, it's all about handwashing and keeping your kids away from sick kids. Good luck with that! But common sense is your guide here. Oh, and your family history can make your child more susceptible to croup, so congrats to your genetics on screwing them over one more time.

* I'll get on my soapbox for a moment and shout THIS IS WHY ALL KIDS NEED HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE. No kid should have something like stridor and not get treatments that would make them feel better within a day because their parents can't afford the ER trip. We're fortunate to have excellent health coverage and already met our deductible this year (hello, three toddlers) so this trip was essentially free. We shouldn't make parents and guardians have to decide.

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What if we're thinking of manliness all wrong? If you think the only way to be a real man is to fit into some stereotype of tattoos and beer and grunting, think again. Fatherhood? It's built in manliness. | instafather.com

I have never, ever been a manly man.

To be very clear, I have always been quite aware of this. Growing up I didn’t do “guy stuff” well; I never rode ATV’s, didn’t hunt, didn’t watch pro wrestling, and I was a skinny, glasses-wearing nerd before being a nerd was cool.

As an adult, I never liked beer, never got into MMA, didn’t know much about cars, never got a man cave or wanted one, and generally always had more female friends than male friends because most of the time I’d have a difficult time bonding with guys.

My brother would be a much better example of “manly man.” When something breaks in my house, he’s the first person I call. Without ever receiving formal training, I’ve seen him completely take apart our dryer that had stopped tumbling, fix it, and put it back together. I know how to use the dryer. These are not equal skills.

He can fix most anything, drive a stick shift, change his car oil, and have lengthy conversations about tractors and agriculture. He has big, strong hands and a permanent tan from working outside all the time. 

I’m on the other end of the spectrum to the point you might be surprised we’re related. I spent college doing musicals. I enjoy clothes shopping. I will openly watch “Grey’s Anatomy” (and play a fun game with my wife of “Is this a sex-pisode?” by listening to what kind of music they use). I can do some basic car repairs — learning how to replace air filters has saved me a ton of money — and am not a complete idiot with tools, but no one will call me a “handyman.” I love watching and talking about sports, but more about the behind-the-scenes transactions and the stats. I have a beard, which took me 49 years to grow. I have dainty writer’s fingers and being in the sun too long makes me burst into flames like a pasty supernova.

My brother is absolutely a manly man. He also happens to be a pretty great dad and person.

What's the definition of manliness?

What I’ve learned since becoming a dad is that I can be a manly man, too, and still be very aware of Meredith’s latest drama while wearing a bow tie and reading Jezebel. Being a manly man, hell, even just being a man in 2017, doesn’t have to mean what we all grew up thinking it meant. It’s not “Mad Men.” 

You can be a manly man and have tattoos and drink whiskey and love Rambo. You can be a manly man and do none of those things. Because as it turns out, it's not a series of activities and body types and hobbies that defines your manliness.

It's how you act that makes you a man.

Have you been trying to figure out what manliness is when you're up to your ears in diapers and bottles? Being a dad can add to the confusion. You’ve been told for years everywhere you look that manly men-types shouldn’t be expected to do much as dads, you know, because they gotta bring home the bacon or something.

They should get praise for doing basic things like changing diapers and watching the kids (“Oh, is dad is “babysitting” tonight?). That being an involved parent is, on some level, not what a “manly man” does because that means choosing your kid over going out to a sports bar, or sometimes choosing your family over your career progress, or spending weekends taking your kid to birthday parties rather than spending time in your man cave. As if it’s an either/or proposition.

I’m only representing one dad. But for whatever it’s worth, I can tell you that I never feel as manly as I do when I’ve got my toddlers crawling all over me, or when I’ve got all three in our “walking train” holding hands as we go through a parking lot, or when I have them run toward me to give me a hug.

I could work on an oil rig. I could play for the Steelers. I could shave with a hunting knife while fighting Chuck Norris with a boa constrictor I caught with my bare hands. And that would still not make me feel as manly.

You don’t have to be a dad to be manly. Any guy can treat others with respect, look out for those less fortunate, and leave the world better than when they entered it. A glance at the news shows you how badly we need men to behave better; women aren’t demanding perfection, they are asking for us to behave the same way they are expected to behave.  And by the way, you don't deserve praise for not being a d-bag around women, the same way you don't deserve it for watching your kids.

Being a dad, though? That’s built-in manliness if you’re willing to embrace it.

Taking your baby out on your own and knowing you’ll figure out how to make it work. Being in charge of bedtime or getting your kid ready in the morning. Talking about your kid with others with the same excitement and enthusiasm you 

Being a guy is confusing. Being a man shouldn’t be.

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Four birthdays in and I'm still learning something new every day as a dad. Here's some honest talk to my four-year-old. | instafather.com

Dear Elliott:

The best representation to describe what life has been like since I wrote you a letter on your third birthday is the fact that I am writing a letter for your fourth birthday a month late.

Daddy doesn't know where all the time goes. Most of it, I assume, goes into watching "Frozen" or finding whatever toy you have lost. But mostly, I mean that you aren't even close to the same toddler I had last year. In more ways than mommy and I can count, you are a big boy now. We are already getting a little teary-eyed thinking of you going to kindergarten, which at this point next year will be a matter of weeks away.

I love you a ridiculous amount. I'm celebrating Father's Day this weekend, and YOU are the reason I first got to call myself dad. I talk about you all the time, and I have photos of you everywhere. I also talk about the show "Black Mirror" a lot, but that's because it's the best. You gotta watch it. Well, not now. You are a kid and it's messed up. But eventually.

It must be strange and confusing for you sometimes when I say how much I love you, because you know in the past year daddy has had some tough stretches with anger and frustration. He found out a lot of other mommies and daddies do, too. What's difficult to explain to you, dude, is the very fact I love you so much directly can cause the most frustration — I would do anything for you, and that means having to balance priorities and let go of control. Daddies who pride themselves on getting things done don't know what to do when that's not the goal anymore. Daddy had to realize that on many days, it is enough being your dad — getting you dressed and fed, reading you a story, playing with you, and answering a million questions is in and of itself a productive day. I'm sorry for any day when I acted otherwise. 

What I love, though, is that you are quick to forgive and even quicker to love. You are the best.

So, as always, it's time for some candid conversation.

Honest talk with you for your fourth birthday
  1. A year ago, I looked back at what I wrote a year before that: 'I wrote this last year: "When you turned one, I was so proud of you because I thought you were the best one-year-old and I couldn't imagine how you'd get better. What an idiot I was for not believing you'd be even more amazing the following year." What an even bigger idiot I was for not realizing you'd be even more hilarious, curious, loving and cool in your second year.' Well, I'm a grand idiot for not realizing the best was yet to come. Your third year was even more full of laughter and imagination and creativity and empathy.
  2. After your fourth birthday party, you had me walk around the neighborhood with you so you could give away your birthday balloons to any kids you saw. Why, I asked. "Because people like balloons," you said. I will remember you doing that for the rest of my life. It was the purest kind gesture I've ever seen.
  3. You are dead set on being a "big boy." You want to know "how many days" until you can do something, like watch a movie with fighting in it or ride something at an amusement park. It's hard to explain to you now, but don't be anxious to be a big boy. Being 4, before you have to think about school or tests or schedules, is probably one of the best ages around.
  4. Your mom and I are really glad you are potty trained, and you've pulled off some minor miracles holding it in the car while we're stuck in traffic. You've also done the exact opposite while standing beside the bathroom. You don't always make sense.
  5. Almost every day, you hide when I get home from work so I have to find you. I think that's the best.
  6. When you say "Daddy, come find me!" while we are looking at each other, I am wondering if you think that by being the hider, you have a cloak of invisibility.
  7. I love how you write your name.
  8. You are so great with your twin sisters, even if they probably drive you crazy sometimes by wrecking your toys or crying over nothing (because it almost always is over nothing). Your mom and I couldn't have asked you to be a better big brother.
  9. One day you won't think the ultimate insult is adding the word "poopy" to something. Today is not that day.
  10. Your mom and I get very worried sometimes when we are watching the news. It's because we get worried that the world you grow up in won't be as nice as the one we grew up in. But we'll work very hard to change that ... that's why we do that voting thing we talked about.
  11. Some kids have the terrible two's. Or the terrible three's. Honestly, you were pretty great for both. You might have spoiled us. Your youngest sister might make sure we get our share.
  12. I still regret telling you that the little green light on your ceiling is from a smoke detector in case there is a fire. You are still convinced a fire is going to break out at any moment. #dadfail
  13. I would burst into a room on fire for you.
  14. When you ask "How many more bites?" at every meal, I'm wondering if you'll eventually realize the goal is to eat all of it and not achieve a certain level of obligation.
  15. You like to smile by putting your top teeth over your bottom lip. It's adorable.
  16. I take your photo a lot with your sisters when I drop you off from school. One, because you're all usually in a good mood and no one has stains (yet). But also because it's a good way to track how much you've grown. And you've grown too fast.
  17. Why do you love watching those YouTube videos of people playing with toys? Nothing happens. Literally nothing.
  18. It's kind of scary for us to think how much will change by this point next year, as you'll almost be done with daycare. I've been dropping you off at daycare for so long that I'll probably be reduced to a puddle when I don't hear "Schoooollll!" from the backseat as we turn onto the daycare street. 
  19. Every day, no matter my mood, no matter your mood, no matter what happens out in the world, no matter what, I love you. A big boy amount.
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