Today we share a blog from dad David Isom, he shares an insight in to his experience of shared parental leave.
A dads honest account of parental leave in his own words.
In a few days’ time, I return to work after what will have been 11 weeks of Shared Parental Leave. Truth be told, at this stage, I expected to be quite excited about going back. I was teased before I left work in June that I was about to go through the hardest 3 months of my life. I believed it. Early thoughts of playing golf with my retired Dad every other day were well out of the window!
The First 8 Months
During the first 8 months of my son’s life, he had been a real Mummy’s boy. I didn’t need more than the fingers and thumbs on my hands to count the number of times he’d settled and fallen asleep on me. What was I going to do when he got over-tired and upset? How was I going to settle him without a magic boob to call upon? Did I really have to put him in the car and go for an hour’s drive every morning and afternoon, just to make sure he had his naps?
The first month was fine. There was an overlap between me finishing work and my wife, Tracey, going back. We had a beautiful week in Scotland and our first ‘real’ family holiday to Tenerife, where Jamie predictably stole the hearts and the attention of every holiday maker and member of staff on the resort with his cheeky smile and chilled out nature. Tracey was always on hand to take on the responsibility of getting him to sleep when he needed it, whilst I got more involved in feeding him as we really gathered pace with weaning him off the milk. There was definitely an added tiredness with all-day childcare; I started to think that commuting to London every day wasn’t such a bad thing – at least it provided some “me time”. But we were having such a good time as a family, our baby boy was growing healthily and somehow getting even more happy than he’d always been, and I had completely switched off from work. I may as well have been retired.
When we returned from Tenerife, it was no longer than a few days before Tracey was back at work, and Daddy Day Care was about to step up a notch. The earlier questions returned, and my wife’s nerves about leaving him for a day grew as strong as ever. Nothing to do with leaving him with me personally, I hope! Lucky for me, I had Jamie’s Grandparents on standby to help (and buy me lunch), and plenty of friends with kids who were mostly around during the week. Planning outings to ensure Jamie had plenty of time to sleep in the car wasn’t difficult, but it wasn’t really necessary, either.
Remarkably, the first day on our own, he fell asleep as easy as his Dad might after a night at The Venue. Resting his head on my chest while watching BabyTV (parenting skills), I used selfie mode on my phone camera to have a look at his face, amazed that he’d drifted off with no fuss at all. And so it continued – every morning, around the same time, and often in the afternoon too. Plenty of reassuring photos taken for Mummy, and plenty of sport on the TV. Being on Paternity Leave for The Open was magical!
There became a lot less pressure around planning days out, so things were incredibly relaxed and fluid. It wasn’t long however that his crawling became quicker and more persistent, he suddenly became an expert climber, and had energy to burn. Days spent indoors were a no-go, it was knackering. Outside of nap times, he just doesn’t stop and needs constant engagement. You couldn’t even put him in his playpen – within 5 minutes he’d be standing up and trying to reach through the gaps for wires, curtains, wet wipes, or anything that looked as though it might be in reach. Staying in was much harder than getting him ready for a day out, packing a bag, changing him on the move, keeping him topped up with sun cream, and desperately hoping there are highchairs where we’re going. I’d even go against every grain in my body by choosing to walk around Bluewater Shopping Centre in the summer holidays. Hell.
The first couple of weeks alone with Jamie were quite tough, as I got used to a routine that Jamie was already well into, but still a lot easier than it could’ve been. The difficulties were probably well masked by the novelty of it all, and the fact that he’s just the best kid in the world.
As my own confidence grew we would get out more and more. We’d do things that I never thought I would be doing – “Bopping Tots’ baby dance group, Woodland walks, socialising with Mums and their kids, all for the good of our little fella. The kind of stuff that I’m sure most parents – male and female – do regularly, but the kind of stuff that was completely alien to me and way out of my comfort zone! It quickly became normal, and always enjoyable. Jamie has met dozens of kids and their parents over the last few weeks, beaming at them all with his cheeky smile and being fussed over wherever he goes. Levels of pride go off the charts every time he gets a compliment, and every time he so much as smiles at a stranger. Don’t tell my mates, but I’ll actually quite miss doing some of this stuff.
By the time I’d had a couple of weeks with just the two of us, I felt like a pro. What about all the tough times that people I work with had promised me? I thought this was going to be the hardest thing I ever did! Nothing of the sort. Should we be lucky enough to have another, I’ll be doing the same with baby number 2, although I know it’s highly unlikely that they’ll turn out to be as easy as Jamie.
The hardest parts were arguably the evenings, ironically when Tracey got home from work. Subconscious expectations that I might get a bit of a break when she got home were wildly ambitious! You see, when I was at work and Tracey on maternity leave, there were times when I’d get home and be presented with Jamie with the fateful words: “here’s your baby”. I’d usually cook dinner too, giving the wife a nice rest to catch up on the Love Island gossip or Mail Online ‘news’.
Of course, expecting a complete role reversal was a little optimistic. I forgot about the 2 hour ritual to be followed when Tracey returned from work: take off make-up, wash hair, dry hair, straighten hair, vacuum hair, etc etc.
But I couldn’t do what she has to do overnight. For his entire 11-month life she has done it all. The feeding, the cuddling, the comforting, while I (allegedly) snore ignorantly through it. He is still a Mummy’s boy and probably always will be. I would be too if Tracey were my Mum.
As I walk into the office in a few days’ time, there will be smug colleagues waiting at the door to say “I told you didn’t I – you’re so happy to be back!”. They couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve got two chances left to win the lottery before that miserable first commute happens, and I’m going all in.
Daddy Day Care is great, and I want more.