10 Aug 2022

Taking baby steps

The honeymoon period is over. Friends and relations have stopped cooing and showering you with gifts, and normal life has (more or less) resumed, except for the incontrovertible fact that you now have a baby.

As far as the rest of the world is concerned, you will be seen as an acceptable parent if you manage to minimise the amount of baby-related fuss you generate. People will be tolerant of a baby as long as it doesn’t intrude on their personal space or disrupt their enjoyment/concentration. So follow these simple rules when attempting to re-ignite your social life following the arrival of a baby, and you will be beyond criticism:

• Be flexible when you’re out and about. You may have elevated bedtime rituals to the status of a religious ceremony at home, but these arcane practices are not really appropriate in a social situation. Work on ways of helping your baby relax in a range of circumstances – a favourite cuddly toy, a comfort blanket, a particular music box tune that signifies sleep… If your baby’s sleeping habits are reasonably adaptable you may be able to prolong the period of ease and portability.

• Be wary about taking on entertaining challenges. Only contemplate inviting friends to supper when you’re confident that you have got the bedtime routine in hand. They will be deeply discouraged if they arrive in the middle of protracted, and sacred, bedtime rituals, which would certainly appear to indicate that food and adult company is a very distant prospect.

• Be vigilant. You may well have child-proofed your own home, raising precious glass ornaments to above waist height, locking away bottles of bleach, adding gates to the stairs and safety covers to your electrical outlets – but have your friends? When you’re in someone else’s house, your baby’s safety is your responsibility. Nobody else is accountable for potential accidents (although it helps if they’re at least aware), so watch out.

• Respect other people’s possessions. A crawling baby will inflict all kinds of disruption on a home and, while the chaos may not be life-endangering, a non-parent may find it distressing. Don’t just sit there, chatting happily, while your baby systematically removes all the books from the shelf in order to place them in a teetering pile. Your friend may well be having kittens. Monitor reactions, pre-empt the problem by finding a more suitable distraction, tidy up any baby-related mess.

• Always bring the baby’s toys. To minimise the amount of damage your infant does to your friend’s possessions, and to buy a little peace and quiet, always bring a small bag of ‘distractions’ when you’re visiting friends. A few plastic bricks, a couple of books, a cuddly toy, a rattle may just keep the child busy while you’re chatting.

• Always remove a screaming baby. All babies cry – for a painfully long period this is their only way of expressing needs and desires. But that doesn’t mean that everyone else has to suffer. Be very aware that – of necessity – you will build up an uncanny ability to block out your baby’s screams, but this nonchalance is not shared by the rest of the world. The safest reaction is to remove the baby as soon as it starts to cry; take it into another room, into the garden, outside the restaurant… It’s boring for you, but your friends will really appreciate your efforts to save their shredded nerves.

• Try not to mix up baby time and adult time. Bringing a howling infant to the dinner table when you’re eating with friends is going to kill the evening stone dead. Try and keep baby-related mayhem to the minimum, and absent yourself to calm the baby down. Your guests will understand and will appreciate your efforts.

• No baby talk. Everyone succumbs to highly embarrassing behaviour around a baby when they’re alone, but you must be aware that this is a social liability. Nobody knows how to react to a gurgling, lisping parent – baby talk is a strictly private vice.

• Take it outside. If you and your partner are frazzled and nerves are getting frayed, don’t start rowing about whose turn it is to change the nappy, prepare the next feed, take the screaming baby into the garden etc. in front of your friends.

• Sticky hands and snotty noses are common among small children, particularly toddlers. Try to keep them a safe distance from your friend's new cream trousers or immaculately ironed shirt.

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