It’s hard to imagine what we did before the Internet.

It’s  hard to imagine what we did before the Internet.

Not just how we managed, but what we actually did. The amount of time we spend nowadays either with our thumbs at the ready staring into a smart phone or gawping at a screen makes you wonder how we filled the time before we became ‘connected’.

On trains for instance, where the Moscow State Circus could be performing in the aisle and we’d no longer notice, what did we do before we were devoted to our devices?   Did we look out of the window more, talk to each other more, take more walks to the buffet car? Or just think a bit? Or heaven forfend, relax?

Children generate similar questions. So much of your time as a parent is taken up either chasing about or thinking about the smallest members of your household that it leaves you flabbergasted that you could ever have managed to fill 24 hours without them.

And then a hazy memory of exactly what you used to do to pass the time pre kids appears in your head and is soon accompanied by a wistful look on your face.

The truth is that as a species one of our greatest strengths is our capacity to adapt to incredibly quickly and subsume change into our lives at such a speed that the past which didn’t include them fades from view at a rate of knots.

I found myself wondering the other day for instance how we’d cope in our family without the naught step. It’s a relatively recent Supernanny induced phenomenon which has become the discipline method of choice for millions of parents at lightening speed, rendering many other methods redundant or even repugnant for many in the case of corporal punishment.

Its a simple idea that carries with it an awful lot of power if you are two – exclusion being at its core of course rather than some fear of staircases themselves. What did we so without it? In fact how did our ancient forefathers cope when it came to discipline I got to thinking?

Threatened with the sabre tooth tiger? Exclusion from the cave?

Well, it turns out that disciplining on a regular basis is itself a relatively recent parental task – because for centuries children just weren’t put in the unsuitable situations on a regular basis which require them to ‘behave’ or be constrained. By which I mean cars, supermarkets, classrooms, chimney breasts and china shops.

A fact which seems blindingly obvious and tremendously insightful all at the same time.

And how did I discover this piece of knowledge which will hopefully remind me not to expect my children to act like adults and to avoid resorting to the naughty step if they fail that impossible ask?

The Internet.

How did we ever manage without it?

Twitter @mark_r_woods

Praise be! A Bank Holiday Monday where by and large the sun shone.

Praise be! A Bank Holiday Monday where by and large the sun shone.

For parents of small children the first flush of summer brings with it a host of opportunities and challenges.

Often first up there’s the traditional hunt the paddling pool game. The loft, the garage, the cupboard under the stairs – each is upturned in an attempt to discover the garish, damp lump of plastic that you neatly folded (scrunched into a mound) and carefully put away(shot putted) last August.

After drawing a blank in all three locations a vague memory of a puncture and hapless attempts to repair it comes into view and you conclude that it went to the tip which means having already mentioned the PP words put loud and started a tidal wave of excitement you need to go shopping.

Pool inflated and water inserted its  everyone outside – after we’ve been through the sun cream ritual of course.

For little beings with relatively small bodies it feels like it takes millennia to properly put sun cream on a toddler.  You move the ultra high factor cream cheese around them again and again in a vain attempt to rub it in before eventually, on the very brink of exhaustion, you give up and send them out to looking like they are about to swim the channel.

The usual mixed messages around the threat posed by wasps is often next up on the first sunny day of the year menu.

“They are more scared of you than you are of them” you lie. “Just ignore them and they will ignore you” you hear your increasingly high pitched voice trotting out as the stripy blighter continues to attempt to extract jam by menaces from your al fresco lunching little one.

Then you crack and try to smash the thing to death with the Argos catalogue before being chased round the garden by it shouting “don’t worry baby, don’t worry.” to your now hysterical child.

But all of these are but sideshows to the main event which is the tackling of the long put off potty training. The modern wisdom around this milestone event is to withdraw the nappy when the weathers good and let them run free in the garden, praising them to the nines every time they do the roses a favour.

Which sounds straightforward except for the fact that for a reason which I do not fully understand every toddler that has ever toddled the planet will do two things when it comes to non nappy poos.

Firstly they will only ever oblige when you aren’t looking, meaning locating the offending article before it becomes a well trodden pootastrophy of epic proportions  becomes vital.

And secondly you’ll almost always find that they have delivered their parcel in one place and on place alone.

The paddling pool.

Twitter @mark_r_woods

There’s never any shortage of advice on how to bring your children up.

If its not people like me writing books on fatherhood it’s a constant stream of studies and surveys either tweaking what we already do, or completely debunking it and calling for a return to the old days and old ways.

Take something as seemingly straightforward and certainly fundamental as putting your baby to bed. In the very recent past swaddling, despite being good enough for the infant Jesus in his manger, has gone from all the rage to verging on outrageously irresponsible.

Similarly whereas babies of my vintage were often put in our cots on our tummies, the advice now is absolutely to avoid that at all costs, with links having been found to the cause of cot death.

Weaning? Start weaning at four months was the call, four months, definitely four months. Ah, no, sorry, six months, start weaning at six months and not a moment before.

Of course no one sets out to bamboozle new parents, but such is the pace of things these days the hue of perceived wisdom changes almost daily – and that’s to say nothing of the cultural differences to which we are all now exposed thanks to the smaller planet we inhabit.

Last week for instance pulitzer prize winning scientist Jared Diamond, who has spent 50 years living and working with ancient New Guinea peoples suggested that we would all be better off if we carried our children facing outwards rather than inwards.

The theory goes that if children, even from a very early age, can see more of the world around them they they will grow up to be more confident and self assured. All of which makes sense and is made even more interesting in terms of a father’s role when you take into account further research which suggests that men are much more likely to carry their young children facing outwards than their partners are.

Mobile phones, plucked and feathered chickens, even an escalator I saw not long ago all come with instructions these days (stand on to go up/down) – but alas babies do not – although it feels like its only a matter of time before they begin to come out with a beautifully designed graphically led user guide attached to the umbilical chord.

So perhaps we need all this advice to help us avert parental disaster?  There’s always lots to learn of course, but on the odd occasion it feels like we should give ourselves a wee break; our total colonisation of the planet would suggest that despite our many other shortcomings  as a species, we are pretty good at this procreation malarky.


Even the most stoney hearted republican amongst our number must have felt their facial muscles twitch into life when they heard news of the royal baby

Hearing that anyone is expecting – especially their first child – always makes me happy. It’s hard to explain why, it’s not like the future of the species hangs on every conception – quite the opposite some would say.

It must be more to do with knowing just how elated, overwhelmed and full of joy the lucky couple are about to become – not to mention exhausted, under prepared and full of coffee.

Antenatal classes, the labour room, the journey home, the first night, the first bath, the first Christmas – to say your initial few moments and then months of being a parent is unforgettable is a bit like saying you’ll feel a touch tired during it.

Having interviewed scores of new Dads for the books I’ve written on fatherhood I can safely say that every one of them, even the most cynical, stressed, ego maniacal  specimens had the wind knocked out of them by the sheer magnitude of what they had helped made happen – and the scale of the job that now faced them.

Of course Kate and Wills are not your everyday couple and may well benefit from help and support that goes beyond a shepherds pie from the woman opposite, but babies don’t give a monkeys about status and protocol and have a funny way of levelling all sorts of playing fields.

The way this royal  news came put though was anything but standard. Almost to a man jack we hold back telling our friends and all but the very closest family about early pregnancy and for good reason. The chance of miscarriage or other complications are significantly higher before the 12 week mark is reached.

The fact that Kate’s debilitating morning sickness and hospitalisation meant that the Palace sought to nip mounting speculation in the bud by taking the unprecedented step of going public pre 3 months will no doubt cause worry for the couple.

Those early weeks are fraught with nerves and trepidation at the best of times, without having every second played out to literally billions of people. Short of live streaming the scans on YouTube and putting the grainy image in Instagram it’s hard to image a more public pregnancy.

Even the amount, texture and colour of the Duchesses vomit is being debated in minute detail and it can only be a matter of time before a souvenir sick bag is available to buy online.

But what’s done is done and we all know now, so if collective prayers, thoughts and best wishes can achieve anything at all, things will turn out just fine – because royal baby, any baby, every baby – everyone loves a baby!

The move from the cot to the big bed is always a tricky manoeuvre.


First you need to decide when to do it.

Our eldest made that an easy decision by vaulting out of his hitherto secure crib and hopping down the landing in his sleeping bag sporting a cartoon style bump on his head and a chipped baby tooth.

If you haven’t spawned a jail breaker  though its tempting to keep them where you know they a) sleep and b) can’t escape from for as long as is possible and/or spatially decent, whichever comes first.

After surviving the months of sleep deprivation the very notion of changing the bedtime routine, even slightly, can be enough to bring on parental panic. If they move early enough the mischief centre of their little brains is still lacking a spark plug or two and they don’t clock that past the safety barrier lies freedom and miraculously just stay in bed.  A few months later though and they are all over the potential an open bed holds in terms of bedroom play and wanderings further afield – even to the mystical and alluring lands of downstairs after bedtime or mummy and daddy’s room in the dead of night.

It can be a trying time, a throw back to the sleepus interuptus of old and somehow this reprise feels more brutal and debilitating.

As with many of parenting’s painful passages though its just that, a passing moment that despite how deep a cut it inflicts at the time, is gone in a relative flash.

In fact it’s the passage of time itself that masks what the move to the big bed really represents, especially when it’s your youngest making the transition.

If there’s anything sadder than dismantling  a cot for what could be the final time in your patenting life I’d like to know what it is, then ensure I never experience it.  For many it’s a moment for celebration of course, a line in the sand that means the  baby phase of father and motherhood is behind them, much like the final nappy change does or carting the changing table to the charity shop.

But if you’re not sure you want to say goodbye to that time of your life, to being needed with an intensity and purity that you’ll almost certainly never experience the like of again, it can create a moment of brief, but deep emotional melancholy which, lets be honest , has at its heart much more to do with catching a glimpse of your own mortality than it does with any undying love of Sudo creme.

Perhaps we’re not quite ready for the big bed yet ehy?

As parents we see every day just how resilient children are

As parents we see every day just how resilient children are.

Their capacity to adapt to new situations outstrips ours by a considerable distance. In fact despite the gooey, soft reputation they have, kids can actually be icily pragmatic in ways most of us adults would need a stiff drink to replicate.

Despite all of this empirical data   though it is our job, our duty it seems as parents to worry ourselves into a festering mass of stomach knots about how our little ones will cope when change comes their way.

Coming out the other end of a house and school move I can hold my hand up very high indeed to having burnt some serious wattage of emotional energy fretting about how our two would cope with the upheaval – upheaval we had caused.

Having managed to miss the start of term our eldest met his new classmates two weeks into term – DON’T PANIC DAD! But I did.  What’s more two days in and my worst fears seemed to be coming true.

“Who did you play with at lunch time son?” I asked, trying desperately not to sound that interested in the answer.

“No one, I sat on the blue seat where you go if you are lonely and eventually someone came over to play.”

Daggers, clay mores, full length scaffold poles, the lot, all slam into the chest region as a brave face is attempted. By me of course.

He’s fine, and the next day he comes home with stories about Megan and Will, new friends made, old friends forgotten with indecent but very useful haste.

Of course what all this really means is that it’s us who are allergic to change not them. The lions share of our worries in this direction projected onto our children and away from their true home.

As we age we seem to be able to cope with disruption less and less, finally yearningfor the kind of routine that Gina Ford et al prescribe for babes in arms.

Often then, it’s our children’s time to start worrying about us.

Preparing to become a father tips

Preparing to become a father for the first time is an unforgettable moment in your life and supporting your partner through her first pregnancy is key. Here’s a few tips to do just that from someone who made a mistake or two.

Let’s cut to the chase, money worries often dominate the thoughts of many a Dad to be – and with some cause.According to various pieces of research, parents in Britain spend an average of £13,696 in their baby’s first year, once childcare and loss of earnings are taken into account. Even with many Mums going back to work after 12 months or so, the average baby spend for the second year weighs in at £4,305, and £4,998 for the third year. In fact the average cost of raising a child from birth to the age of 21 has been calculated to be £186,032. That’s £738 a month. Every month. For 21 years!


If the anticipated costs haven’t given you a headache, Couvade syndrome might. Phantom Pregnancy as it is better known has been documented throughout the ages and some studies put the number of expectant Dads who suffer from it in some shape or form as high as 65%. The condition presents itself in men with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, back pain, toothache and exhaustion. For many the symptoms are pretty subtle, a spot of weight gain here, an unexplained ache or pain there. Other men though have full-blown mirror pregnancies, having exactly the same symptoms at exactly the same time as their wives.


Along similar lines there was a time, not all that long ago, when leaning into your partner’s tummy and talking to your unborn baby was seen as being right up there on the pottiness scale with Prince Charles’ debating with his dahlias. Now though, scientists are pretty convinced that the baby is capable of learning to recognise the voice of not only his mother-to-be, but his father-to-be too, as well as pieces of oft-repeated music.  So get chatting to your child right now, it’s never too early to start the indoctrination process toward your football or rugby club.


As you get nearer the big day a birth plan is a written record intended to be read by the midwives on duty when you go into hospital, of how your partner would like her labour to play out. Some people structure them chronologically: early stages, transition, delivery etc; others write theirs issue by issue: pain relief, favoured positions, feeding the baby.  As for whether you need one or not, the very act of thinking about and writing the birth plan together as a couple, means that you both focus on the potential issues that may arise at a time when you can think clearly and at least go some way to addressing them mentally.  For that reason alone it’s got to be a list worth making


We will leave your role in the labour room for another day but rest assured once your baby is born your first experience of childbirth will never leave you. Shocking or sentimental, traumatic or transformational – the memories of the moment you became a father and what your partner went through to make that happen will live as long as you do.  No matter what friends who’ve been there tell you ahead of the event, no matter what you see on the television or at the movies and no matter what you read, nothing even gets close to how you will feel.  Cherish every moment of this day and the days that follow it as you burst with pride for your new family – it really is life at its most real.


101 Pregnancy Tips for Men by Mark Woods is out now. Twitter @mark_r_woods

There’s nothing quite like having a four year old in the house to make you realise how little you know

There’s nothing quite like having a four year old in the house to make you realise how little you know.

‘Daddy, how does the microwave work?’ is a perfectly reasonable and on the surface of it very straightforward question to ask.

But after saying the words radiation and ping a lot I soon realise the answer is essentially beyond me.

As it is for the combustion engine, laptop and even the common or garden dimmer switch.

All too often I find myself restating what something is, as a poor substitute for how it actually achieves what it does. A technique which is always met with an exasperated response along the lines of:

‘Yes I know Daddy, but HOW does it make the light less bright? HOW?

I can’t remember my Dad not knowing how something worked. If he wasn’t sure he’d strip it down, lay it out and reassemble it. Nowadays I struggle to think of anything more complicated than a pair of scissors which I could explain the inner workings of.

As a child I distinctly remember being enthralled by the first car I got into which didn’t let an unused seat belt just dangle limply inside it, but somehow sucked it into a secret compartment, ready to be pulled down again when necessary.

As for the first automatic car window I encountered, or – drumroll please – TV remote control I had he joy of pressing, it all seemed like sorcery – and I’m 36 rather than the 63 year old I’m sounding like.

But when you are born into a world where pausing live TV is old hat and an IPad can allow you to investigate the surface of the moon, it takes a lot more than an disappearing seat belt to generate awe.

Just as for my mother the Prestige pressure cooker is and always will be at the very forefront of the technological revolution, so what I view with wonderment is being left behind as soon as its out of its box.

And as the rate of change gathers even more pace one thing alone is certain – children’s questions are set to get even harder to answer.


The 1970s seems to be all the rage at the moment – which from memory is more than it was at the time.

For the Chopper riding generation like me the latter part of the decade evokes memories of space hoppers, swingball and if you were lucky the occasional wagon wheel.

Tank topped cliques aside though those years also saw the tentative beginnings of a social shift that has impacted directly on fathers and allowed them to be present at the most profound moment of their lives – the birth of their children.

Up until then in the vast majority of births the only males allowed in the delivery room were the occasional doctor who daned to make a fleeting appearance and the baby if he turned out to be of the male variety.

But as Starskey and Hutch turned into Cagney and Lacey things everso slowly began to change and soon a trickle of fathers-to-be permitted into the labour ward turned into a torrent.

Now-a-days it’s estimated that less than 10% of UK births happen without the male partner in attendance – which is a very big shift in a very short space of time.

Not everyone sees this as a positive development of course. There will be some men I’m sure, who when gripped with tension and by their partners vice like hand will curse the pioneers of the 70s who made ducking out of the delivery an unusual course of action rather than the norm it had been for generations.

But not many. Without exception every Dad I have spoken to in the course of writing my books on Fatherhood have said that despite the emotional and psychological toll being present at a birth can take, they wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The reasons they gave were two fold – they wanted to show solidarity and support, to be there for their partner as she battled towards the most extraordinary achievement of her life, but also because to choose to miss the arrival of their child seems an unthinkable act, the discarding of a precious moment, never to be retrieved.

One man though, childbirth specialist Michel Odent, even went as far a year or two ago to suggest that a mother-to-be’s labour can be longer, more painful and more complicated when a man is present because she senses his anxiety, which in turn changes the crucial hormonal balance she needs for the task in hand.

Its quite a claim and there’s no doubting that anyone, man or woman, who needs more looking after than the labouring mother they are there to assist needs to take a long hard look at themselves, but in the main Dads in the delivery room feel like they are there to stay.

And we’ve got our bell bottomed brothers to thank for getting us there.

Patience may well be a virtue but you can’t buy it on Amazon

Patience may well be a virtue but you can’t buy it on Amazon.

I know, I’ve tried.

In a world where loading that great labour saving device the dishwasher has become for many a task requiring Herculean doses of focus and fortitude there’s little argument that while we may not be sure what we want, by jingo we want it immediately; if not sooner.

Then there’s the impact the digital revolution is having on our ability to wait for something which takes longer than downloading an app.

All of which combines to create a generation with perhaps the lowest patience threshold since records began – for whom news is 24 hour and food is fast.

All this speed and convenience is meant to buy us the time to enjoy life, to do more of the things that matter and less of the things that don’t.

The reality though can be very different – at least where im concerned it seems. The time I gain is all too often spent trying to do more stuff, which translates into actually doing much less.

As the Blackberry winks at me on the side for instance I’m powerless to resist and find myself embroiled in emails when I should be on the floor, rolling around with my two boys – playing cars rather than playing ground ups.

There’s always one more thing to do though, one more email, one more job. But speak to parents – and especially fathers – who’s children have long since flown the nest and they all speak with one voice when they warn you not to let their childhood pass you by.

I’ve yet to hear one of them say they wished they had sent more emails in their life or attended more meetings and yet i still feel myself slipping inexorably down the same path at times.

Perhaps the one thing that could save our generation from getting our priorities skew wiff is the fact that children these days know exactly what’s happening when Dad responds to the beep of the phone rather than to them – and they aren’t afraid to point it out!

What they crave more than anything, despite all the wild and wonderful toys on offer, is the time and attention of their parents and do you know what, their impatience for it might just bring me to my senses the next time I feel the need to leave the Lego for something which feels like it just can’t wait.