Rags to riches

Last week was my wife’s first full week at work since before Christmas. For me and the kids it meant a return to the stay-at-home dad routine that I had sort-of established back in early December but had since wholly forgotten in the frenzy of Christmas activities, enforced absences from home caused by plumbing and heating issues, and a much-needed family holiday. With the baby (and accordingly, me and my wife) now sleeping much better and our lives feeling more back to normal, I wasn’t too daunted by it.

It turned out to be a week of highs and lows.

Monday was straightforward: my toddler was at nursery, which tends to makes my job at home a little easier. On Tuesday, also free of toddler, I was brave enough to take the baby into London to meet a friend at what looked to be, from the outside at least, a decidedly child-unfriendly French restaurant but which actually turned out to be as warm and welcoming place and as enjoyable a meal as you could ever ask for. The experience of attempting and succeeding to do something ‘normal’ but ‘difficult with kids’ was enormously gratifying and confidence-boosting, as were the offers of help from strangers as I struggled to get the pushchair on and off crowded trains and up and down staircases.

Wednesday, however, was very different. I decided it would be best if the three of us entertained ourselves at home for the day, partly as I was awaiting delivery of a part for our still-broken central heating but mostly as I was feeling a bit lazy and the thought of getting all the cold weather gear on, packing the changing bag and heading off into town felt a bit too much like hard work. That turned out to be as poor decision: confined to the few parts of the house where our breath wasn’t visible, we ended up in a downward spiral of frustration with each other. By midday it became clear that we needed to get out, and in the end it was a hastily organised trip to Pizza Express which provided some welcome relief for us all.

Determined to avoid a repeat we spent Thursday at a children’s farm and soft play centre, which we all loved, and I filled Friday morning with some ten-pin bowling and arcade games (top tip: the demo modes are sufficient to entertain a 2 year old for thirty minutes without needing to spend a penny!). With a renewed sense of optimism we spent Friday afternoon back at home and ended up having a really nice time together playing with Play-Doh, building Lego models and watching a film. There was not a trace of aggro or frustration. In fact, it was probably one of the best few hours the three of us have had together since I started my shared parental leave.

Now it’s Sunday night and nearly the start of another five day shift. I’m sure that at least one of those days will be very good and one of them will probably be terrible, but if my experience last week has taught me anything I hope I can bear these few things in mind:

  • Highs and lows are normal. A bad day does not make you a bad parent, and it doesn’t mean that tomorrow is going to be bad as well.
  • Have the confidence and energy to try new things with the children, even if they are a bit daunting or seem difficult at first. People are often surprisingly accommodating and helpful when you take the kids a little further from the beaten track, and there are some really rewarding experiences out there.
  • A day spent at home needn’t be frustrating. It helps to have some activities planned rather than just going with the flow. It also helps to avoid getting too fixated on household chores just because you’re in the house.
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