Since April, through a mixture of parental leave and part-time working, I’ve been the primary carer for our daughter. Tomorrow I resume (almost) full time office work so I thought I’d take a moment to write down some of the highlights of being a full-time stay-at-home Dad.
- Getting to spend extended periods of time in the company of my daughter, getting to know her, her getting to know me, and creating the kind of bond that could never have formed had I stayed behind my desk.
- Confidence – before I went on parental leave, I would need a list of instructions just to look after the little one for the afternoon. Five months of responding to a baby’s needs is a great confidence builder – and teaches you to improvise.
- Cooking – I’ve been doing lots of cooking – sometimes four meals a day. – and its been really enjoyable. I have tried my hand at loads of new dishes, but perhaps more importantly I have a few tricks up my sleeve for when there’s a tired hungry baby at the table and the cupboards are all but bare.
- Time outside – weather-wise I couldn’t have chosen a better five months to be on parental leave. Our baby seems to thrive on being outside, so I’ve been making the most of the opportunity to get outdoors. In the early days she’d only nap in a buggy on the move – never in her cot – so I’d walk some times ten kilometres in a day interspersing naps with playgrounds we’d find along the way. More recently things flipped, and she’d only sleep at home, but that just means we spend more time in local parks. The thought of spending winter indoors is daunting.
- Getting to know local people and the neighbourhood. Like it or not (for some people this is a surprise): having a baby immediately connects you to your neighbourhood and the people in it. I like it – I can’t walk out the door anymore without recognising a parent out and about. The funny thing about taking over as primary carer is that lots of people already knew our baby but had no idea who I was – luckily the little bean does introductions (see below).
- Seeing the world through a different set of eyes – this is quite a parenting cliché so I’ll just illustrate one small example of it. Our baby waves at complete strangers. She smiles at them and elicits a response. Before I know it, strangers are waving back, and I end up talking to people I never would have otherwise. For her there are no social barriers. People are just people, and they are all fair game for a wave and a smile – even if they are combat-ready paratroopers holding enormous machine guns doing security patrols of French train stations.
- Witnessing step-by-step developmental changes – it is amazing to have watched our little one become less little. The change over five months – from a sitting grunting baby to an all-waving furniture-surfing toddler with an ever-growing repertoire of gestures to communicate what she wants – has happened through so many increments. A highlight of these last few months has been being able to watch so many of these little changes happen.
- Time to think – all that walking around parks, hanging out washing and long lunchtimes have given me plenty of time to think – valuable time that I wouldn’t have had behind my desk.
- Time out from my office job – having had lots of time to think, I return to my office job with new ideas and ambitions.
Of course there have been low points. There have been some afternoons when I have looked at the clock at 2pm and wondered how I’m ever going to get to bedtime. Norro virus was the nadir. But you get through. Overall though, these last five months of parental leave have been fantastically rewarding.
I am delighted to see more parents sharing the parental leave. I now ask prospective Dads not if they are taking parental leave but rather how much. The question still comes as a surprise to some, but I hope that one day, shared parenting is the norm.