In this exclusive extract from his book, ‘No Sex, No Sleep’, Pat Fitzpatrick, guides us through dealing with the highs and lows of fatherhood
A friend of mine once told me the key to parenting is to remember that everything is a phase, and he’s got a point. By the time you are really good at changing nappies, they won’t need them any more. Just when you get a knack for making puréed food, the little tykes go and grow a set of teeth. Those hours walking around trying to wind them on your shoulder, well they just seem like an awful waste of time.
So what’s in store as your child hits three? Well, first of all, your two-year-old is now on the way to being a Threenager.
That’s a tricky business in itself. This is also the time for potty training. We’ve had mixed success with our two kids, mainly because we started the older one too early, as if it was some kind of competition.
This is also the time when you need to up your game on the discipline front or the kids will just take over the house. At last it’s safe to bring them to a restaurant, as long as you know what you’re doing. And you should get ready for the questions.
Lots and lots of questions. Let’s start with the Threenager and take it from there.
A Threenager is a surprise. Remember the three little words that kept you going through the Terrible Twos — It. Will. Pass.
That’s what you said when your toddler’s head nearly spun off because they had the wrong type of custard creams in Aldi.
That’s what you repeated when she cried extra hard in Nandos and almost set off the fire alarm.
It will pass. Your little girl will come through this and come out the other side as a little angel. This should last until about the age of nine, at which time all bets are off. I’ll take that, says you, I could do with seven years of angel.
And then, soon after her third birthday, your promised angel wakes up one morning and greets the day with, ‘I’m bored.’ What? How could you be bored?
Biddable. That’s the word people like to use about the post-toddler brigade. There is no point in trying to negotiate with a toddler. Your best bet is to keep firing rice cakes at them until they hit the age of three. At which point they will be biddable. At least that’s what you are told by people who have been through it.
These people are not wrong. It is possible to negotiate with a Threenager. The problem is that a three-year-old is a much better negotiator than you are. It’s like they did some kind of business degree over the internet and can get almost anything they want through the art of negotiation. As a result, you end Threenager 185 up boasting that you only gave three chocolate fingers to your Threenager. ‘Three?’ says your partner, wondering where it all went wrong. ‘Yeah, but he asked me for six of them and a helicopter,’ you reply, realising how stupid that sounds once you say the words out loud.
There are only two things guaranteed to calm down a two-year-old: One episode of Peppa Pig, followed by another episode of Peppa Pig. This gives her ten minutes to come back down from The Crazy Place, while you get to look up ‘sedatives for kids’ on your phone. It’s a time out for everyone.
The problem with all that Peppa is, by the time she gets to three, your daughter has a Made in Chelsea accent that she uses to boss you around all day, because that’s what Threenagers do for a living. Someone bossing you around in a cut-glass English accent — that sounds familiar. And then it dawns on you. You’re sharing a house with Maggie Thatcher crossed with Theresa May. It’s as weird as it sounds.
You’ll miss Peppa Pig though. Never mind that Daddy Pig seems to have all the intelligence of a cheap vacuum cleaner. (It hopefully means your kids will underestimate you as they grow up. That’s got to be a good thing. You’ll take any advantage going.) At least Peppa Pig was written so that parents could have a laugh as well. (Particularly at Pedro Pony. We love his work.) Peppa means you can enjoy quality time with your child and watch TV. What a result.
Until your Threenager grows out of it and wants to watch LazyTown. You won’t want to watch LazyTown with your child. Unless you want to spend half an hour every day despairing for the future of mankind. It’s that bad and you should prepare for things to get worse. The next step for your Threenager is to show an interest in those zany, high-school Disney comedies where all the actors are in their early twenties. There’s only one solution to that. A second telly.
Here is the golden rule of Threenagers. They are never wrong about anything. That isn’t something they think about themselves. It is an actual fact. Worse again, it is an actual fact that makes you feel like you are losing your mind. Which of course you are. Twelve hours’ parenting every day for the last two years means everything is lost, all the time. Your brain is so overloaded that you’re afraid to think about dinner in case you forget how to drive. Your Threenager, on the other hand, forgets nothing. It’s why they say ‘do you remember’ all the time.
This brings us to the second golden rule of Threenagers: Never promise anything you can’t deliver in the hope that they will forget about it when the time comes around. Not unless you want to be the first person sued by a three-year-old for breach of contract. Don’t worry, there’s an upside. Your hawk-like Threenager never misses a thing. So, go on, ask him where you left your car keys. Because he knows. And, let’s face it, you don’t.
One minute she’s singing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’. The next, it’s ‘All About that Bass’. There is nothing in between. In fairness, you taught her to sing ‘All About that Bass’ so your friends would get a great laugh when she sings the line, ‘We know that shit ain’t real’. (Oh look, she curses, just like her dad.) But it’s still a bit off-putting when a three-year-old asks you to move the dial on the radio because a song is boring. Particularly when that song is Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off ’. What, she’s outgrown that already? It’s like she skipped from two to seven overnight. That’s Threenagers for you.
Particularly when it comes to clothes. If you think boys are inclined to wear anything, then you should have seen the face on my little guy when he woke up one morning and decided he’d had enough of Spider-Man. There goes a whole drawer of long-sleeve tops, said we, trudging off to the clothes shop.
Still, in fairness to him, at least he tended to pick and stick with outfits for more than a couple of hours. His sister had a more short-term window. I’ve never been to a Lady Gaga concert, but I hear she does a costume change every half an hour. That’s quite a long time in one outfit compared to you, my little lady. This could develop into a full-blown nightmare if her mom was away overnight and I was left in charge of outfit selection.
You can read about it in my next book, Three-Year-Old Girls are Very Unpredictable. Here is a quick summary. My daughter and I agreed on an acceptable top and leggings combo for the next morning, just before I sang her to sleep. So far, so Capable Dad. In the middle of the night, the Evil Toddler Fairies came and replaced my daughter with a very similar-looking, but actually entirely different child. Which is why she woke up the next morning and asked me to dress her in the Elsa dress with curly tights. No, I didn’t know what she meant either. Obviously, I couldn’t ring my wife and ask for any pointers because that’s the kind of ‘men are useless story’ that tends to get legs on Facebook. (Ah look at the poor man, he hasn’t a clue.) So off we went through my daughter’s wardrobe for a game of ‘Is This What You Mean?’ I never knew she had so many clothes. Or that she could change her mind 27 times during a game of ‘Is This What You Mean?’ I got a crash course in her outfits when the wife returned home. I’d recommend you do the same, so you are ready to dress her when the time comes. Because, let’s just say, three-year-old girls are very good at crying out loud at their stupid daddy.
It’s traditional for little girls to ask their parents for a pony.
Here’s my advice. Give them a little brother. (They’re slightly cheaper.) You’d have to look closely to see the difference between a pony and a three-year-old boy. Both are fully capable of running around in a circle all day. They’re kind of smelly.
And more than anything else, they’re great fun. You see, that’s the main thing about three-year-old boys. You might never stop laughing.
Your bedtime routine changes over the years. Up to their first birthday they were often breastfed to sleep and my job was to sit there and do nothing. This isn’t as good as it sounds. Because this makes you the perfect choice when it comes to putting them to bed without a helping boob in sight. Actually, I think men are good at this; we can be fairly hard-nosed in terms of putting kids into bed and scooting out the door. (Or ‘heartless’ as my wife likes to call it.)
This is all just a phoney war, though. The real challenge is when you have to calm down a toddler or child enough to get them into pyjamas and then bed. Let’s just say they mightn’t want to. Like every other couple out there, we plodded through it until we found what works. So, here’s what worked for us, as the kids moved from age two to four.
Obviously, it varies depending on their age and how many box sets you plan to watch before going to bed yourself. Our two, aged three and five, go at 7.30pm. This gives us two hours of adult time, by which I mean stuffing our faces with chocolate and two episodes of Game of Thrones. (Or Made in Chelsea, if we fancy something less realistic.) A word for those who think that if you keep them up for an hour, they’ll give you an extra hour in bed the following morning. The word is ‘sorry’. It doesn’t work like that. Mess with their bedtime and anything could happen. Except for that morning sex you had planned, because your son still bounced into your bedroom at 6.30 the next morning. But we put him to bed an hour late, says you, wondering if you’d get more action by joining the monks.