When I started my six months of shared parental leave in November I had grand plans to blog and tweet it throughout. After all, I was doing something relatively rare – there are not many men who work part time and take months away from their careers on multiple occasions to look after children – and I was sure that people would be interested in reading about it. The timing was perfect, with numerous mainstream and social media articles on flexible working for dads having appeared in recent weeks, culminating in Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement of his plans to take two months of paternity leave. It seemed like a great opportunity for me to talk publicly about something I feel strongly about, and a topic with a real groundswell of popular interest and enthusiasm. I was confident I would be able to find a few hours here and there to do some writing.
Now, only three weeks into six months of leave, it’s fair to say it hasn’t quite worked out like that. Already I feel totally drained. My enthusiasm for doing anything other than watching Gogglebox or browsing Facebook in the precious few minutes I have to myself on an average day has gone. I feel more exhausted than at some of the most stressful times in my career.
I wasn’t naive about how difficult full-time childcare would be. I spent four months looking after our first baby whilst on additional paternity leave in 2014, and have been sole child-carer for a day a week since switching to part time work nearly two years ago. I knew the arrival of a second child was going to make it harder, but didn’t believe it could be as hard as a grueling day at the office battling awkward clients, office politics, a to-do list growing by the minute, and bookended by a long commute in and out of London.
The reality is that it’s a different kind of hard. My ‘normal’ job is mentally taxing and stressful at times, but even on busy days there are moments of respite: a seat on the train, a walk in the sun to the sandwich shop, a corridor conversation with an old colleague, some praise from your boss or the satisfaction of a job well done, and ultimately the promise of an hour or so with your feet up in front of the TV at the end of the day.
Relentless is perhaps the word that best describes childcare. Pretty much all your time is spent following them around fixing the havoc they wreak, whilst also trying to keep them fed, entertained and away from danger. You can’t go to the loo without one of them having their fingers in a plug socket, choking on a grape, strangling themself on a window blind cord or toppling a heavy bookcase. For every job you get done there is a little gremlin nearby busy undoing it. No sooner have you cleared up the harder-than-concrete Weetabix stuck to the kitchen floor than the giant box of Lego has been emptied down the stairs, finger paints are smeared over the walls, the sofa cushions have been transferred to the garden, and the contents of your desk drawers are in the kitchen bin.
There are no weekends or bank holidays; not even evenings or nights. No lay-ins, duvet days or sick days. You can spend an hour and a half hushing the baby to sleep, only for it to wake thirty seconds later at the click of the stairgate locking. It takes multiple sittings over several days to watch a 60 minute TV show. It is rare that both children are asleep at the same time, but when you luck out your first priority is to get some sleep yourself, after which there is a kitchen to tidy, bottles to sterilise, laundry to sort and online grocery orders to place. And if there is time remaining after that then there is Christmas shopping to do, MOTs to organise, bills to pay, home improvements to make, tax returns to file. It leaves little energy or time for anything else. Old hobbies and interests, once my raison d’être, have fallen by the wayside.
Whilst this might sound like a bit of a moan, I’m not ready to pack paternity leave in, send the kids off to nursery and return to work just yet. I’m optimistic that things will become more manageable. We now have a spare bedroom, meaning that both sets of grandparents can stay and babysit from time to time. Although I’ve never been one to live my life to a timetable, I’ve accepted that routines are probably a good idea and have plastered the kitchen walls with flipchart paper spelling out our daily schedule on an hour-by-hour basis. Perhaps it reminds me of work a little. There have been a few moments of desperation (at one point last week all three of us were in tears), but we’ve also had some great times; the highlight being a wonderful day out in Brighton last week, just daddy and the boys.
So my blog is not quite dead yet. It’s just on life support until the next time both children are asleep, the dishwasher and washing machine are humming away, the kitchen is tidy and the bills have been paid – whenever that might be.