Things I’ve learned about parenting

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Ben Werdmuller

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In the grand tradition of tech people barely doing something and then turning around and giving advice as if they’re experts, I thought I’d write up some of the things I’ve learned being the parent of a three-and-a-half-month-old baby. If you’re about to be a parent, you might find this useful. If you’re already a parent, you might disagree with me. And if you don’t want to have kids or think that being a parent is a long way off for you, this might reinforce your position. As always, your mileage may vary.

It’s jazz. Jazz musicians watch each other carefully throughout their performances. There are rules that dictate how they hand off to each other, and what they play when they do — but so much is also responsive, emotionally driven, and expressive. You can be very informed; you can learn techniques; you can build routines. But the number one lesson is to listen to what your child is telling you, implicitly and explicitly. Just like everything else in life, if you try and play rote from the textbook, you won’t do well. The core skill in parenting (and most things) is empathy.

Gadgets are a crutch. There is, of course, a whole industry of people trying to sell you things to help your baby sleep or make them smarter or healthier. We have a Snoo, a kind of robot crib that responsively rocks your baby to sleep. I thought it was miraculous until one day we didn’t use it and he both fell and stayed asleep just fine. There are white noise machines and apps to quantify your baby’s feeds and diaper changes. All of it just increases your anxiety and gives you a reason to think you’re a bad parent (often so you can buy more products from the app developer). Again: the rule is to be attentive to your baby.

The advice changes and will change again. The advice parents were given when I was a baby is not the same as the advice we’re given now. Older parents look at swaddling, for example, with horror: you’re straight-jacketing your baby! Newer parents (I think rightly) think of letting babies cry it out as tantamount to abuse. Some advice was right; some was wrong. The advice we’re being given this year is guaranteed to be outdated ten years from now.

Influencer parents are the devil. There are always people who try to make their living looking like perfect parents online. It’s also always true that every baby is different and different parents have different difficulties. Just…

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Ben Werdmuller

Writer: of code, fiction, and strategy. Trying to work for social good.