I found writing last week’s blog a bit too structured and restrictive, so this week I’m going to write something a bit more free-flowing. I’ll still talk about what I did with my time each day and throughout the week, but hopefully draw some connections between the activities and experiences I’ve had.
After feeling quite tired on Friday, by Monday I felt rested. Having my partner around to talk to and help look after Erica made a huge difference. So I’m starting the week in good spirits.
I’d planned to go to the children’s centre in the afternoon for an interactive music session – but they made a mistake on the timetable and the session didn’t happen! So I had another day without much adult interaction. We went for a bit of a walk instead, which helped. But at this point I was definitely craving conversation with other adults. I’ll take anything. We can talk about children… or not… preferably not. I’m not sure how much longer I can sit on the floor and talk about what teddy’s doing, and what noises the pots and shaker are making. (This typically takes up around 2 hours a day – along with holding Erica’s hands while she “stands up”).
By the end of Monday, I knew I had to take more action to get myself out the house socialising with other adults and babies. I sent a message to the mums from our NCT course. They were all busy… but one of the dads (who I get on with pretty well) had the week off between jobs, so he was looking after their son. Perfect! We made plans to meet the next day and go to the local café for the parent baby group.
To provide a bit of balance for Erica, I went to a stay and play session at the children’s centre in the morning. It was quite a busy session with children of all ages up to 5 years old. There were no dads there and I felt all the mums looking at me as I walked in, took my shoes off and sat on the soft mats in the corner. It took Erica 10 minutes or so to settle in to a different environment, but then she was getting all over the place.
We went to the book corner and there was another male carer there. He was a child minder. The only person to talk to me (other than a 4 year old girl who told me about all the toys she had at home). He was friendly and supportive of me being there. We had a good chat about the children’s centre and the activities in general.
Then it was straight home for lunch and cleaning before my friend came over with his son. When my friend arrived, it became clear that he was in a similar place to me; after two days of caring for his son he needed to get out of the house and speak to other adults. He’s a very socially aware man so we’re on the same page with most gender issues. He realised that having a small person around restricted what you could do with your time and that generally men have a slightly easier time of going to work, taking scheduled breaks, checking your phone on the train etc… just some genuine alone time. As well as men carrying less of the cognitive load.
My friend suggested going to the pub for a “quick one” before the cafe (it was 1pm). I found this a bit odd. I’m not much of a drinker, especially in the daytime when looking after an 8 month old child. It seems like the least appropriate activity. Anyway, I agreed. He then pointed out to his son in the pub that it wasn’t a place babies, and put the dummy in his mouth.
I was pretty surprised by this. It made me think that perhaps some men don’t know what activities to do with babies? Or perhaps they feel they don’t fit into the traditionally offered activities? But the pub seemed like my friend saying “this is what I want to do, and you’re not going to stop me”. I think it’s very unlikely you’d see many women in the pub during the day with their 8 month old child. Possibly a fundamental difference in expectations of how time should be spent.
We went to the café for a couple of hours. There was a good mix of mums and dads and I got to chat to some nice people. One woman couldn’t quite believe Erica was a girl and thought she was called Eric! Possibly because she was wearing trousers, and they weren’t pink. Erica’s often mistaken for a boy, and where possible I don’t correct people because I find it interesting to see what they say and do. It’s amazing how quickly she can go from being “big and handsome” to “pretty and gorgeous”.
On Wednesday, we went into London for a day out. We went to a couple of art galleries before meeting a friend for lunch. I took Erica in the sling and wore a backpack loaded with baby supplies (snacks, formula, clothes, nappies etc…). I prefer the closeness and freedom the sling gives. After the first gallery we got on the tube and Erica feel asleep. I lay her on some soft seats at the next gallery to give my back a much needed rest!
By the end of the day my back was pretty tired. I need to lie on the floor and stretch it out. Still, no regrets about taking the sling!
We met my friend for lunch in a very baby friendly (but overpriced) café near Bank station. My friend (who has a daughter pretty much the same as Erica) said that seeing a baby in his break helped him to de-stress. And I definitely found talking to another person I know well, about something other than babies, a relief.
My mind hasn’t been on work at all since I started my leave but I sometimes think about how much more “Intellectual value” I had two weeks ago. People would ask for my opinion on things, I’d help them solve problems. It now feels like that isn’t a part of my personality anymore, even though I know it hasn’t gone away.
I believe a big part of raising children is having a strong sense of emotional awareness and compassion – skills that aren’t that removed from my work. I think in society in general, these skills are undervalued and thought of as unimportant, especially with men. But they’re a tricky thing to develop and use. They have to be constantly turned on, and that can be tiring.
On Thursday, we joined a walk from the children’s centre. The weather wasn’t great, but I really wanted to get outside. This time, I took the pram to give myself a break. I didn’t know what to expect from the group. It turned out to be all 50+ year olds (they really should make information about the activities more clear). I don’t think they expected to see a baby, let alone a dad with a baby. Still, I think they appreciated having a little one to coo over. I think it gave them something positive and different to focus on.
I’ve omitted the day-to-day activities that I’ve been doing. I cooked dinner everyday because my partner was getting home from work around 6pm. I generally did the washing up the next morning. I managed to vacuum the flat and put on a load of washing. I also did the weekly shop on Friday (I definitely need to online shopping now Erica wants to grab everything around her).
By the time it got to Friday, I was definitely lagging and feeling worn out. I think it was a combination of doing a lot of the work around the house, having to think about food and care for Erica, as well as interacting with her for several hours a day. I’m also probably not used to having my sleep disrupted for at least an hour each night. I asked my partner how she was feeling after her first full week at work. She said she felt great. I had to bite my tongue, but my initial reaction was “I’m glad you feel great, I feel quite crap”. I told her that I was feeling worn out and decided to talk about changing the situation later when it wasn’t instant reaction.
On Saturday, we had another birthday party (this isn’t normal for us by the way). We were staying in a hotel for the night. I’d packed Erica’s bag the day before. It took priority over my own, and as a result I forgot to take my shoes. I also managed to lose the hotel key when we went out (we had two though, so not a major problem). These accidents opened up a conversation between me and my partner about how I was a feeling. It wasn’t that straight forward, and it was difficult to express to my partner that I wanted her to do a bit more to help at home without her thinking she was failing.
After a couple of over reactions from both of us we had a more measured conversation and agreed to take a few steps to ease the load on me – like some quick dinners my partner can cook when she’s home, or ones she can prepare the night before.
In all of these conversations I find myself checking my thoughts to make sure I’m not looking at it through the filter of patriarchy. Am I just another man who resents having to do some housework? Am I being unfair on my partner expecting her to contribute more? I can’t know for sure and this makes me think long and hard about what does it really mean to be equal and how can it be achieved. Things change so much at home and in life in general that surely there’s not one constant solution. I think it’s more about being honest with each other and flexible in your role. Not shying away from tasks because of your gender.
The party started at 7pm, so we fed Erica at the hotel before putting her in her pyjamas and heading to the party. We were hoping for a repeat of the previous week. That didn’t happen. Erica was quite tetchy / tired. We alternated comforting her every 15 minutes or so while the other person had a drink or some food. By 9pm, she was asleep and we were able to dance the night away until midnight.
We had an easy-going Sunday. We went for a walk and then headed home. My partner has Monday off work to make sure she has enough time to rest after the weekend. She’s got loads of accrued holiday to use, so why not.
At the end of this week I feel a lot more confident in my role as a parent. I’m much more comfortable with the approach we’re taking to care for Erica, and that I’m doing the “right thing”… most of the time. I’ve enjoyed this week and feel like I am building a relationship with my daughter. The majority of the time I feel happy and positive, but of course there are times when I’m tired, my back hurts, my hands are dry from washing up and I don’t want to clean anymore. I think it’s a relatively small price to pay though.
I’ve got a few things lined up for next week, so I feel positive about that too.