Ah, the internet; so much to answer for. The democratisation of media for one.
In my very limited experience of blogging, becoming a parent does not a good writer make. In fact, one of the main reasons for starting this blog in the first place was the lack of quality being pumped out into the parenting arena of the blogosphere. So much poor writing, so many dull lives; or so it would seem…
Stuart Heritage is a regular contributor to the Guardian and up until very recently, used to write a column for them called Man with a pram, which is massive lolz. I spoke to him about negative comments online, whether documenting your parenting actually helps or hinders, and his new book, which is all about sibling rivalry.
Why did you start writing about being a dad?
The paper asked me, which was nice of them. I wrote a couple of features for the Family section of the paper – one about a scare we had during pregnancy and one about the birth itself – and they did so well that they asked me to write about fatherhood regularly. Obviously the unspoken answer here is that I’m a shrieking narcissist who believes that his life is far more interesting than it actually is.
The online parenting community can be particularly virulent in their criticism. Why do you think this is and what were some of the worst comments you received while writing your column?
Oh god, they’re such c*nts. Parenting is just one of those things that everyone feels they need to have an opinion on. The two main types of negative comments I received were a) ‘I am a parent and you are doing it wrong’, and b) ‘Humanity is a virus and children are a blight on society’. And, of course, I’m writing about my kid, so it always feels like a full-on personal attack. I should point out, though, that I’ve never had as much positive feedback for anything I’ve ever written either. There was a whole community (mainly of new parents) who got in touch to share their stories, and I’m still in touch with a lot of them, and I think that’s the real legacy of the column.
Your wife blogs as The Parent Crap. Does documenting your parenting like you both did actually help or hinder the process? I mean, didn’t you want a break?
It helped me a lot. It forced me to think a bit more deeply about my son and my relationship with him, and also it was a nice remove from the day to day madness of new parenthood. Having to take myself out of the melee once a week to order my thoughts for the column probably stopped me from having more than one screaming meltdown. The column was my coping mechanism for a long time. And I got paid for it, so hooray.
Stuart Heritage, Robyn Wilder and Herbie
So the Guardian have stopped your Man with a Pram column. Do you miss it? Have you considered becoming a daddy blogger now? I hear it pays well..
I miss it a ton. I understand why they canned it — there’s no money anywhere at the moment — and I’d only planned to do it for a few more months anyway, but the column felt like a series of letters to my son that he could read when he was older. Now that I’ve stopped doing it, I’ve got no way to preemptively rationalise all my crankiness to him. I’m not against the idea of daddy blogging in theory, but I’ve got barely any time to write stuff for free these days, and as far as I can tell the bulk of parent blogging is spent compulsively tagging brands on Instagram in the hope that they’ll send you free stuff. But maybe one day. Maybe when he’s 16.
Please can you share the best single piece of advice for new dads that you’ve learned over the past year and a half?
Just to be patient. Our son was born a year and a half ago, and I’ve only just figured this out.
I don’t know if it’s a male thing, but I’ve always had a strong desire to fix everything. If something goes wrong, I’d find the answer and see to it as quickly as I could. But you can’t do that with a baby. Why won’t he stop crying? Because he’s just been born, you idiot, let him get used to the world. Why does he always make such a mess at mealtimes? Because he’s a baby, you idiot, he doesn’t have proper coordination yet. Why isn’t he talking? Didn’t the Babycentre email say he should know 20 words by now? Because he’s learning at his own pace, you dumb prick, give it some time. Just be patient, stop panicking and wait. Most stuff will fix itself, but it’ll happen in its own time.
Given that you and your wife are journalists for national papers, I was a little surprised that you didn’t live in London. Is moving to the country once you have a child a no brainer or is there more to consider?
I’m going to sound like a dinner party bore here, but holy shit the places you can live in outside of London. The house we’re in now — a house, a full-on house with three bedrooms and stairs and a lawn, that we don’t share with anyone else — costs £400 a month less than the mangy, cramped, bug-infested Zone Three shitheap we rented in London. The deposit we’ve saved for a house would only get us a miserable no-bathroomed studio flat in London. Our son gets space here, and quiet, and parks. Moving out of London was a brilliant decision. There isn’t as much to do here, but I hate all people and things, so that’s fine.
You’ve got a new book coming out about your brother. What’s the synopsis?
Don’t Be A Dick, Pete is a biography of my younger brother. He’s my exact opposite — boisterous and loud and unpretentious and into wrestling — but I also see a lot of myself in him. I moved back to my hometown from London right before my wife gave birth, and found myself having to fit back into a lot of the old structures that I ran away from a decade ago, and the book is an exploration of that. Which makes it sound a lot more serious than it actually is. It’s basically just me calling my brother a knob for 300 pages.
Finally, who are your favourite writers when it comes to parenting?
My all-time favourite at the moment is Josh Burt, who has a parenting column in Coach magazine, which infuriatingly doesn’t end up online very often. But he’s always funny and heartfelt and clearsighted. And sometimes he tweets screenshots of what he writes, if that helps.