Friday, 1 August 2014

The Hairy Dad Chronicles #3: Daddy Day Care


Apologies for the unimaginative title, but I couldn't really think of a snappier one quickly enough.

So, our attempts at minimising our gender footprint also include the big one: childcare. This is the one that literally separates the men from the children.

Over the last twenty-one months we've tried to keep things as balanced as possible. Lou had six months of maternity leave from her job and was able to go part-time for another six and I was able to get a month off as a new father, combining holiday and my own statutory leave.

After the initial chaotic three months or so, where time felt close to nothing and sleep and feelings were fuzzy cousins to our reality, we settled into a routine of each of us looking after the little wizard every other night and me doing the bulk of the after-looking when I wasn't at work, while Lou watched over him while I sweated over a hot call centre. Noone got enough sleep and we were living against the clock, but it sort of worked. And Lou's parents helped out enormously, looking after him two days a fortnight, which meant we still had precious couple time and Lou could work.

We had fears about where our dollars would be coming from in a few months' time when Lou's job would be finishing, so when the opportunity for a full-time, permanent position came up in Leeds, we agreed the time had come to leave Manchester. Relocation, relocation, relocation. The job was considerably better than paid than what she was already on, and this opened a new door for us: a door we'd talked about for quite a while.

The wage I was earning was effectively the same as what we would be paying for full-time nursery care, and it wasn't a very expensive place where Jasper was spending his couple of days a week. It was a lovely place, but we felt we had a choice. We could try to carry on as we were, dropping the little bundle off and picking him up, with Lou somehow commuting the hour or so, and so on; orrrrrrr..... I could give up my work, we could move to Leeds and I'd look after Jabber full-time. Simplicity itself.

We talked about it a bit: my job was quite frustrating, I didn't really see myself progressing through the company, and Lou was sitting on some serious career tracks. It wasn't as though I was one of the country's leading neurosurgeons or a talented baker or a particularly enthusiastic traffic warden. And more "importantly", it would be a chance to walk some walk after talkng the talk for a while: some attempt at gender balance.

So, in January this year, the job was quit and I enrolled at Parenting High full-time. We were living "The Dream", but it was a dream with some dry, curled-up edges. Having been someone who spent most of his twenties and thirties unsure whether I could look after myself, it seemed a strange career move to look after a fifteen-month old creature. And here was something that I should have realised beforehand that still only dawned on me after a few weeks: I hadn't been trained for this stuff.

I know no one is trained for parenthood, I know. But this whole gender thing still has some teeth, I think. I can't pretend this is a universal truth and that every man is similarly poorly-equipped as I am in to take care of others; on the other hand, it feels as though there is a gender element to the whole preparation for life. That girls are encouraged to think ahead, see to the details and take care of business, while boys can explore and ponder their schemes for self-fulfillment. I've become more acutely aware of how others have seen to these details for me - and how often those others have been women. I've had to somehow make myself aware of what needs doing. So, that's a steep learning curve right there, which I've been clinging to despite enormous gravitational forces and my own incompetent fingers.

I don't want this to read like an excuse. I'm fully aware that as a grown-up adult, I should've been very much aware of what needed doing every day and who should have been doing it. I'm not sure how this happens, how these jobs become so invisible, but I want to try and disrupt the signal on the cloaking device for Jasper. Even if I don't feel like I know what I'm doing, by doing it I'll hopefully give him a positive example. And I'll make sure that I'll point out to him what needs doing as he gets older, so that he doesn't have even that excuse.

I'm pleased that I'm on the learning curve, that I feel I'm following my principles (which is a weird feeling to which I am not accustomed), but I cannot tell myself that a lifetime of applause and shiny medals awaits, because people just get on with bringing up families all the time.Just because I'm finally starting to grow up, it doesn't mean I can stroll about the world expecting my hero hugs. But I'm still pompous enough to have some ideas as to why we've gone this route as a family and I'd like to share these with you now.

The reward will hopefully be that Jasper sees things differently, that he feels more responsible for the details in his own life and takes care of things and other people accordingly. Hopefully, he will think that it's perfectly normal for a Dad to look after his kid all the time, which it is - really: even if it doesn't always feel like it. Conversely, the plan is also that he will be quite happy not to be the main breadwinner or blithely assume that his career will come first, take precedence over those careers of the women in his life.

Lou read some interviews a few months ago with women who had been confronted with the decision between childcare and career. She told me how fortunate these women felt that their partners had given them the choice between having a career or staying at home to bring up the children. Either of these options would certainly involve some sacrifice for the young families, not least fiscally, but it was remarkable to Lou that the third option of the husband looking after the child was not considered. Once the breastfeeding stops, it could be argued, there isn't much that the father shouldn't be able to do that the mother does: it ceases to be about anatomy but the culture and politics remain. In our case, the practicalties swung the role of primary carer in my direction.

The other thing which I've noted is the length of the "working day". Jasper generally wakes up between 6.30 and 8am, usually around 7.30. (We're very lucky that he sleeps as well as he does.) My day starts with his, as a rule. Our deal is that I also look after the house - the bulk of the household chores - although Lou still cooks frequently and will normally chose the menus for the weekly shop. After his lunch, Jasper sleeps for a couple of hours and I can get some work done - I'm also doing proofreading and writing CVs to earn our spending money - and then it's housework and keeping the littlun fed and entertained until he goes to bed around 7.30pm. Then, I often have proofreading or similar work to do for a couple of hours, soemtimes quite late into the night. I could be better organised and get things done quicker, but that's the shape of things so far. A full-time job of childcare and household chores plus a part-time job. All my sparetime is now monetised: the clock is ticking and it sits in the kitchen. I've no threshold to cross to go back to work; it's always at home.

Sounds a lot, and it can be knackering and a little alienating, but this is largely because I consider a job the kind of things that more responsible folk do when they get home from work anyway. It's another case of my dodgy mindset: why is doing a load of washing work? Everyone has to do washing. It's the assumption that I'm entitled to hours sitting on my broadening backside watching TV that's causing the problem.

Anyway, I must go to bed. This blog hasn't quite covered the points I wanted, I don't think. I may well have another attempt later in the year to undo some of this clumsiness. But part of the issue with my new role is that there's always something I could be doing with my time, something less self-indulgent.

Peace out.

Your pal in daycare,

Coc x

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