Stuffing up is part of being a dad, so let’s talk about it

Sharing our parenting blunders is good for us - and actually pretty entertaining - Dan Colasimone writes.

Father comforting crying baby

As parents we all know that sinking feeling. The one down in the base of your stomach the moment you realise you’ve stuffed up … again.

Most of the time, thankfully, we underestimate the bouncebackability of our offspring, and everything turns out fine.

The kid moves on and probably forgets the whole thing. But in that moment, you feel like the scummiest person in the world.

There’s nothing worse than knowing you have this fragile, helpless, trusting creature relying entirely on you for its care and protection, and that you’ve dropped the ball and they’ve been harmed in some way.

I used ‘harmed’ in a loose sense; maybe you signed them up to a dud daycare, forgot it was dress-up day at kindy or allowed them to get addicted to a really, really annoying cartoon.

Or, to use an example I’ve completely made up and is no way based on personal experience, maybe you put the cool mist humidifier too close to your newborn’s cot and discovered when you went to check on her later the cot, sheets, mattress and baby were all soaking wet.

The opportunities to stuff up are endless, and it’s not the least bit surprising that we do it all the time.

We may have read a couple of books and received scattergun advice from every other parent within shouting distance, but we still basically have no idea what we’re doing most of the time.

Each day we face dozens, maybe hundreds of small decisions regarding the kid’s wellbeing. Personally, I reckon I only get about 70 per cent of those decisions right.

‘Oh, she’s wandered around the corner and out of sight. Should I go and check? Nah, there’s nothing harmful in there.’ THUMP! WAAAAH!

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And so on.

Every damn day.

To err is human, as some dude once said, so don’t hate yourself for it.

It’s easy to get absorbed in the little bubble that is your family unit, spending all your time together and only observing others through the perfection filter that is social media.

The best thing you can do when you feel like you’re failing at being a dad is to talk to another dad.

Tell your worst story. I guarantee he has one that’s just as bad, or worse.

It’s amazing how good it makes you feel to hear about the misfortunes of other people’s kids.

If that makes me sound like a sociopath, why don’t you try it?

Look, here are some I prepared earlier (by asking some fellow parents to share their stuff-ups):

• Paul and Meg: “We had no idea what was going on, our daughter had diarrhoea and was vomiting multiples times a day for about a week. It was only when we went away on holiday and the vomiting stopped that we put two and two together – she had made a habit of snacking on our poisonous indoor plant.”

• Freya: “There’s the time I positioned my bike in front of his to slow him down. Fell off and broke his elbow. But he’s fine. He mentions it a lot though. Usually to complete strangers.”

• Nick: “I put my child on an adult swing because she’s one and a bit and then pushed her and she didn’t hold on because apparently she doesn’t know what she’s doing and she did a back flip onto the ground. More her fault than mine though.”

Now don’t tell me you didn’t get some enjoyment from those stories. You sicko.

Just kidding – obviously the reason these stories make us feel better is because they make us realise we’re not alone.

Every single parent makes bad choices, forgets something they needed to do for the child, or drops them on their head from time to time.

And as long as the kids are – largely – OK, we can all have a manly chortle about it afterwards.

“Talk to another dad, tell your worst story. I guarantee he has one that’s just as bad, or worse.”

Oh, you want more?

• Lindsay: “I mistakenly overdosed my son on laxatives when he had toilet training issues. I was supposed to give him a square of chocolate laxative. Only issue was the square was actually four little squares if I had turned the chocolate over. So essentially he had four times the dose. Sh*t everywhere.”

• David: “When you’re looking after the baby on the bed only to fall asleep and wake up to a crying baby on the floor.”

• Giz: “I put my six-month-old down face-first in order to save the almost full bourbon can she knocked off the table. I was in pure shock afterwards. Even though she was totally fine – not even shedding a tear – I still feel terrible and have changed my drinking habits accordingly – I now only drink the cheap stuff.”

That last story is a brutally honest confession and a dad joke rolled into one.

Though it’s hard not to have fun talking about these terrible, terrible stuff-ups, the moral of this story is that communication is the absolute key to getting through the parenting wilderness.

The more you talk to other parents, the more you realise you’re all just winging it. Doing your very best, but winging it.

Talking to your partner is also paramount. Even if some of these stories are hilarious, we ultimately want to avoid hurting our kids in any way.

Mistakes are more likely to happen if you’re too tired to be looking after anybody, or if you’ve had a shit day at work and aren’t able to give your full attention to the task at hand.

That’s where you need to step back and ask for a bit of help.

‘Dearest, I am absolutely blitzed today. I might just have to have three beers and watch Big Bash for a while, if you don’t mind looking after our little angel?’ That sort of thing.

And you will get away with that as long as you are willing to keep an eye on your partner, make sure they are coping, and put your hand up to help out when they are not.

Anyway, enough of the actual advice. Here are some more funny stories … I mean, terrible, shocking stories that should serve as a warning to us all:

• James: “After a long-running debate about whether to put locks on the cupboard doors (we didn’t), Archie got into the cupboard and drank a whole bottle of dishwasher rinse-aid. We had a top-notch chat with the poisons hotline and the home doctor. Archie was OK, albeit off his face because there’s sooooo much alcohol in that stuff. Never again was locks on the cupboards debated.”

• Weronika: “Finishing up your kid’s sandwich or banana after they’d handed it to you to go on a slide/swing/etc is pretty dangerous – you can’t undo it and a tantrum is guaranteed.”

• Weronika: “Buckling the kid carefully in but not fixing the whole baby seat in and driving like that for a week.”

• Haysie: “Bringing our first newborn home for the first time, unclipping the capsule from the car restraint … and then dropping it.”

• Shane: “Accidentally put the straw in the last Milo box for my three-year-old son when he wanted to do it himself – lesson learned, you cannot un-straw a Milo box.”

• Wife of former Australian fast bowler, [redacted]: “Left husband with 14-month-old for the day. When I got back at 5pm I asked how it went. ‘He’s whinged non-stop, I don’t know what the hell is wrong’. Me: ‘What did he have for lunch?’ Husband: ‘…..Ummmmm’. Parenting 101: Feed and water your child every two hours.”


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