Look lively, Prince Harry, look lively… Mission: Fatherhood is go! Every new dad will have recognised the shock and awe written all over the beaming face of the Duke of Sussex last week when he announced the successful deployment – sorry, birth… – of baby trooper Mountbatten-Windsor.
But with Master Archie Harrison safely back at the Windsor base camp, the former Army captain can fall back on some of the skills he picked up during his ten years in the Armed Forces and on two tours of duty in Aghanistan, and apply some military precision to parenting.
Take, for starters, that familiar military drill: “Preparation and Planning Prevents Poor Parental Performance”. Without the six Ps, any mission is doomed to fail, and fatherhood is no different. I have no doubt that Prince Harry, as an exemplary Commando Dad, will have been prepared for his baby trooper’s deployment months in advance: making base camp safe and secure (I trust the £3million renovation of Frogmore Cottage was money well spent), stocking up on essential supplies, and so on.
I bet he even has his kit bag primed with all those baby trooper essentials – a few nappies, a changing mat, wipes, bags for the howitzers, a clean set of clothes and an empty plastic bag in case Archie has a particularly negligent discharge and ends up to his neck in it. Prince Harry will need to check and replenish his kit at the start of every day because his sanity will, at some point, depend on it – and he will benefit from a sense of routine amid the chaos.
But even with the best laid plans, things are set to be a little chaotic at Frogmore for the foreseeble. Which is where Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) will come in handy, a set of step-by-step instructions that help the armed forces carry out complex routine operations. Any military person understands the value of SOPs to ensure efficiency, effectiveness and top-quality outcomes. For Prince Harry, this will mean establishing routines.
A feeding routine is a great place to start. Although it’s too early for a feeding routine for Archie (he’ll need to be fed on demand for weeks yet), Prince Harry will need to make sure he and Meghan are eating well so they can cope with the sometimes gruelling adventures ahead. However, a sleep routine is also important for the whole unit: you should both get some shuteye whenever you can.
One critical thing to maintain in the armed forces is unit morale because without it, things can spiral downwards fast. A sense of humour is an essential weapon in the parenting armoury.
As a new dad, you will feel as though your unit is under simultaneous fire from several directions: sleep deprivation (more on that later), stress, well-meaning advice that can feel like a judgement – and, let’s face it, Prince Harry is going to get plenty of that. It’s important to keep smiling and remember the most important thing of all: a baby trooper just needs love, nutrition and shelter. Everything else is detail.
On this mission, you are allowed to learn from your mistakes – which is handy, as there are going to be plenty. During Army basic training, you quickly learn a complete set of new skills in a challenging environment. Day after day, you get things wrong because that’s an inevitable part of learning something new. The key to success is not to repeat your mistakes.
However, with parenting, what was so very, very right for your baby trooper the day before can sometimes, and without warning, become so very, very wrong. The sweet temperament may disappear. There may be crying involved – hopefully just from Master Archie. In these situations, Prince Harry can take comfort in the fact he’s still improving his parenting skills, not take an unhappy baby trooper as a parenting critique.
In this situation, as a soldier and a parent, it is useful to remember the Marines’ unofficial motto: “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.” Having completed a 20-week deployment in Afghanistan, where he served as an Apache co-pilot and gunner, Prince Harry will be well versed in this protocol – which will certainly come in handy when dealing with Master Archie’s first exploding nappy. If during an emergency change you just can’t reach the wet wipes, grab the nearest thing – a flannel, a monogrammed bathsheet, Meghan’s favourite towelling robe… – and never speak of your part in its disappearance.
Operating effectively under pressure means staying calm, which Prince Harry, as a veteran, will have down to a fine art. Pressure can come from a lot of places as a new dad: I don’t know how Meghan is embracing motherhood, but my wife found those first few weeks particularly stressful. The drive to care for her and my new baby trooper, in a completely new situation, felt like a huge pressure.
And it’s complicated by the not actually knowing what you’re supposed to be doing. If the people giving you constant and often conflicting advice get annoyed that you’re not taking it, what they’re giving you are orders. Remember, if it doesn’t work for you and the unit, ignore them.
On the subject of advice, I’m sure Prince Harry will have picked up some sound words from his brother, Prince William, who last week welcomed him to “the Sleep Deprivation Society”. It’s a lucky parent who hasn’t been initiated. Sleep deprivation is tough, and its effects can be very challenging, so Prince Harry will have to get to grips with nocturnal manoeuvres – that is, dealing with his baby trooper at night.
When summoned by a crying baby in the night, remember this is not a social event. Operate silent running, and keep talking to an absolute minimum. Be gentle, calm and quiet. But also be quick and efficient so that your baby trooper – and you – can be back in bed as soon as possible. Under no circumstances use the “big light”.
When your baby trooper is old enough, around eight weeks, introduce a sleep routine. But for now, you might want to set up camp next to Master Archie’s cot. I guarantee that you won’t get a good night’s sleep anyway.
One final word: I often remind new dads that you have an unbelievably short time with your baby trooper. In less than 2,000 days, Archie will be five and starting school; in less than 7,000 days, he’ll turn 18. Fatherhood is a privilege, and you don’t have a moment to waste. Enjoy every minute when you can.
Now fall out, Commando Dad!
Commando Dad: How to be an Elite Dad, by Neil Sinclair (Summersdale, £10.99) is available from Telegraph Books. Buy now for £9.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514. Details: commandodad.com
Will his time in the army help Prince Harry parent with military precision? Have any of the skills you've picked up in your line of work come in handy as a parent?
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