Six months is a long time in the life of a one year old, but for a thirty-something year old, it goes by in the blink of an eye. The times may be relative, but after a month back at work following my paternity leave with Eddy, I’ve realised that the impacts may not be – in fact, they may be inversely proportionate. Eddy isn’t going to remember that I spent six months at home with him, but I will remember it for the rest of my life. I hope with all my heart that Eddy will benefit from the time we spent together, that he will value me more as a parent, that he will somehow implicitly understand that his mum and I have done our best to have a balanced approach to raising him… But I know with certainty that I have benefitted from the time we spent together, that I value him even more than I did at the start of our time off, and that I am more committed than ever to being as much of a part of every aspect of his life as his mum is.
It’s been hard working out what I wanted to write about when I wrote about my time off with Eddy. That’s partly why it’s taken me the best part of a month to turn my mind fully to this and put sentiments into words (though in truth, that’s also a lot to do with the challenges of two parents newly balancing two full time jobs, nursery, a home to manage, a life with our son, a life together and some time apart – but that’s for a future post). Previously I have written about the wider societal benefits of a more sharing approach to early-years care; the impact on children; how it may help with equality; how I think it will benefit Eddy… any or all of which might have made interesting things to look more deeply into as I rounded up my time off.
The problem with having lots of possible things to write about is knowing how to focus, zooming in from the whole socio-political landscape to the personal intimacies of one person changing a baby’s nappy for half a year… so I decided to do what I do best, and make this all about me. I’d ideally like to make it all about Eddy – parenthood must have changed me! – but he’s yet to respond to my requests for a comment on what he thinks he will gain from spending more time with his dad.
But I have a better idea of what I have gained from spending more time with him.
I don’t think I should be too scared to admit that before my time with Eddy, I was a bit scared of him! I suspect that a lot of dads (and quite a few mums) feel the same – babies are ultimately irrationality, and their tantrums can seem as uncontrollable and powerful as a hurricane as you’re clinging on to them and pleading. Add that with the fear of simply not being sure what I would do with him all day and it’s fair to say that I approached paternity leave with a dose of apprehension as well as a lot of excitement. If I took nothing else away from spending six months with him, it’s the confidence that I know I can cope with pretty much whatever he might throw at me (these days sometimes literally) patiently, calmly and usually even happily. A fall and a bumped head, that’s ok, it’s day-to-day. Baby pooing on the floor in the lounge while the cat throws up in the corridor? I’ve got two hand haven’t I? An empty afternoon and a rambunctious rug rat – genuinely a pleasure now I know all of the fun things Eddy and I can do.
That gets into another area that has changed since March – I think Eddy and I are more able to enjoy each other’s company now. A big part of that is because he’s (relatively) a lot older now. He’s far more able to play – usually on his own, but increasingly ‘with me’ now too. The fact that he has become ‘clingier’ can be recast as him being more aware of the people he is with, and therefore more able and keen to interact with them. He is without doubt more fun now, and more able to have fun. He’s able to do things as opposed to only having things done to him – that is challenging a lot of the time, but spending the period where he grew into that with him has allowed me to understand his evolution far better than I think I otherwise would have done.
It’s only since I came back to work that I realised how much more physical life at home with Eddy is than being at my desk-bound, cathode-ray tanning office – I reckon that on average over the six months I was off, I walked around two hours each and every day, and was on my feet for perhaps four or five hours. Almost the exact opposite of my normal sedentary daily life. There’s a different, deeper, and much more satisfying kind of tiredness that comes with spending an active day on your feet compared to the mental tiredness that office work generates. I find myself now mentally tired, and with newly sore eyes and head from staring at a computer all day, but less able to drop off to sleep as my body isn’t tired out.
Returning to work has also allowed me to think about what skills I have honed at home can transfer to work – so far, thank Christ, I’ve not needed to change any nappies or spoon feed any one on the office – but although I have always thought of myself as being quite patient and an effective time manager and multitasker, I wouldn’t have lasted for more than a few days with Eddy if I hadn’t got better at both. Managing to fit loads of tasks together into a structure that almost looks like a day, keeping Eddy happy, snatching seconds to make dinner, or change the sheets, or more rarely, write a blog, have refined my day juggling and life hacking to the extent that work getting thrown my way at 1645 is frankly easy in comparison.
In realising and rationalising putting Eddy into nursery, we’ve talked a bit about the importance of socialisation for him – he’s a really active, busy baby, who generally likes other people, is interested in his surroundings and loves to engage with the world. So although it’s tough at first, we think nursery will be good for him as he’ll get to experience a whole range of things we wouldn’t easily be able to provide for him alone. Similarly, I think I needed to come back into the world a little bit when I got back to work – to return to society almost! If you’ve read the blog, you’ll know that Eddy and I were far from reclusive, but going out with him, mostly meeting other parents and having one obvious thing in common dominate the conversation isn’t the same as the engagement, chat, and lord forgive me, the banter that you get in a work environment, and although I hadn’t fully realised it, I had missed it.
I’ve blogged before that one of the factors in Katy and my decision to share the time we have with Eddy as equally as possible was that we were keen to continue the equality that exists in other areas of our relationship into being parents – but before I started I wasn’t sure I would be able to back up my words with deeds. I didn’t know if I would be ‘good enough’ for my own satisfaction that Eddy wasn’t losing out by not having his mum with him. Over the time we spent together, I think there were times, particularly in the early days, when I was still learning, where I wasn’t good enough. But apart from one or two crises of confidence, I am generally happy to think that I have managed to be an able, engaged, loving, fun, physical, emotional parent to Eddy over the last six months. Parenting isn’t a competition, and even if it was, it isn’t objectively measurable, but I’m confident that although I am a different parent than Katy, usually, I am as good a one. Usually!
That is something that I wouldn’t have said six months ago, and it gets back to the first point I made –I realised while I was away that confidence plays a huge role in being a good parent, and having an immense, immersive experience very early in Eddy’s life has given me far greater confidence as a parent than being a weekend and evening dad would have done. I needed that full-time role to develop the confidence. Others might not, but I think more than anything that’s the most important by-product of my leave, because it will hopefully develop into a lifelong relationship built on trust, love and confidence.
Since coming back to work, I have been telling people that I’ve been surprised by how easy my return has been – and that’s genuinely true. But it has genuinely surprised me given how much I loved my time off. Thinking about returning, I had expected that the same impact going on a long holiday has on me would happen – I’d dread going back for the last week of the holiday, spoiling it to a degree, then spend the week or two after getting back day-dreaming about life-changing choices like moving abroad or changing careers, before settling down and getting on with it. Knowing that coming back after three weeks is harder than after three days, I assumed coming back after six months would be exponentially tougher. But it wasn’t.
Perhaps six months is ‘enough’ time, perhaps because I’m working four-day weeks and still get to spend a lot of time with Eddy, or perhaps because I do enjoy being mentally as well as physically challenged and having conversations about something other than sleep patterns, teeth and poos it’s easier. But I actually think that although they are all factors, the biggest reason I’m feeling good about being back is that my time off allowed me to reassess my priorities, think hard about what matters to me and how to adjust my life to emphasise those things, so that although I am back at work, Eddy, our family, my relationships and my own interests are at the heart of my life still, and I am now better than ever at managing all of the other things so as to give them as much as myself as they deserve and I want.