Late last year something amazing happened. At the time, in a first world problem kind of way, it seemed a bit cataclysmic. Our youngest son’s nanny told us that she’d accepted a job as a teaching assistant. As this was what she’s wanted to do for years we were delighted. Internally there was however a bit of an “oh fuck” moment.
Initially we thought about looking for a replacement, however then we came up with an alternative plan and one I’m so glad we did. I went part-time. My wife now works three days. I work two full and two part days and our youngest goes to a lovely playgroup four mornings a week.
As a result some wonderful things have happened that I’ve wanted to talk about for a while, so here goes.
First of all, occasionally, both boys absent mindedly call me mummy. This is a compliment of the highest order in my opinion. Mothers are wonderful amazing things and if they see me as equal to a mum that’s probably the biggest accolade I can ever have. My mother gave up an incredibly promising career to look after me, all her own decision I hasten to add. I’ve always been more than grateful and almost overwhelmed by that gesture; in a way this is a way of saying thank you.
The boys seeing me this way does some wonderful gender stereotype resetting stuff which is incredibly important. In a society where women are often disgustingly objectified (how in the name of anything is Page 3 still a thing in the 21st century), breaking stereotypes is hugely important. For those of you who think this isn’t a thing, start your research by going to any toy/book shop and standing in front of the aisles “for boys” and “for girls” and then time how long it takes for you to become very angry. For those of you who that think the gender role definition happens later on, I had to defend my son from a bit of mild bullying at a toddler group the other day. He’s three. A girl was saying he couldn’t play with dolls and prams with his best friend, a girl, as “only girls looked after babies”. I’m proud to say there was a dad on hand who regularly looks after his son to dispell this myth.
Secondly, and this feels so trivial, I’ve got cooking again. Me and the boys can bake together (again resetting gender preconceptions). Our bakewell tarts are legendary, but it’s ok, we run them off.
Which brings us on to three; exercise. I noticed before going part time that I slept better because felt tired on days when I looked after the boys. I’m an insomniac and this is a big thing. Through the wonder of the Nike Fuelband I had the hard stats to prove it to. Forget your sedentary lifestyle behind a desk; run after small children for part of the week if you have some, you’ll soon find you’re getting a lot more exercise and better sleep, you’ll also be setting them a better example about health.
Fourth I’ve found myself thinking more and thinking further ahead. A lot of the time we all focus on the next day, the next thing. We’re so busy fixing things, launching things - but immediate things. Spending time with your kids makes you wonder more about the world they’ll inhabit, as a result you think a lot harder and further about the things you make. It’s been the best six months for me creatively I can remember.
There’s a fifth thing which feels incredibly important. I now know first hand the doubts that many women with careers have when they’re on maternity leave. There’s a tension you feel between loving every moment with your children and a fear that you’ve just made things very hard when you want to return to work full time. It hit me like a train about a month or two ago and I worried deeply about whether I’d damaged my “career”, about whether I’d ever get back totally to what I was doing at the level I was doing it before. I worried about “getting out of date” and keeping up. If you’re looking after small children during the day it requires superhuman efforts to read stuff to keep yourself up to date in the evenings. The way I sold it to myself was that it just didn’t matter. I’d have hopefully given someone I love a good start in life and that this time will never come again.
I’ve learnt all these things and gained amazing super powers. I can sing the theme tune of most programmes on CBeebies. I can cure many hurts and scrapes with a small magic kiss. I’ve also learnt that the best way to deal with a small child’s anger is often to wait till they stop shouting and then calmly talk with them. Grown up meetings would be better places with at least some of these learnings.
The final thing for now is that the boys will know me and I’ll know them. The only thing I’d want Google Glass for at the moment is to be able to capture moments in my days with them where a camera never seems to be at hand. I’m trying all I can to make sure I store these memories mentally so I can look back on them from time to time. They’re beyond priceless.
I decided to write this all today for two reasons.
Firstly I spent an amazing morning as a volunteer helper at my son’s playgroup. I prepared their snacks, washed up, stacked chairs, played with them, but most of all was present. A dad in what is often seen as a mum’s world. All the staff were really grateful for me being there, I was more grateful for the chance.
Secondly there’s a huge furore about a thing on Kickstarter which is pretty abhorrent in it’s attitude to women. I’m not going to link to it as I hope it’ll go away soon. We need to teach boys how to be around women, to treat them as equals and to cherish rather than objectify and trick and game. More than this we need to teach boys to become men who are equals to women in their actions. Men who get stuck into childcare, who do the hard stuff for their families and put their life and career on the line. Chaps, the only way to do this is to fight misogynistic behaviour where we see it and to lead from the front.