THERE’S about to be a big shift in our family dynamic that I’ve been both looking forward to and dreading for the last five months … I’m heading back to work early from my maternity leave and Stew will take on the role as a stay-at-home dad for three months.
I’ve had a lot of questions about why we’re doing something quite unusual, and it’s not a decision we’ve taken lightly … but it is one that we feel will be best for the future, so I thought I’d write about why our plans have changed quite dramatically.
It all started back in June when I saw an advert for a job I’d been hoping would come up for quite some time. I’ve been a journalist and news editor for eight years, and it’s a job I’ve had a love/hate relationship with, depending on the circumstances of each day. It is what I thought my long-term career would be as I love interviewing people, planning the next day’s paper and the buzz of breaking news, but ultimately it’s not a field that makes for a decent work-life balance, and since having Santi I’ve really felt the strain.
Before my maternity leave, which was intended to be 10-12 months long, I was an assistant news editor, working various types of shifts which meant I could be leaving the house before Santi got up, or getting home after he’d gone to bed. Stew was left to do tea, bath and bedtime most nights, which wasn’t fair on either of them. It’s only recently that he admitted he did at times feel like a single parent, which makes me feel terrible. Throw in regular 12 hour Sunday shifts and I really felt like I was missing out on precious time at home, I was exhausted, and knew things would only become more difficult with two children.
So when Ezra was just six weeks old I found myself making a presentation in front of four people at an interview for a part time public service communications role. The timing was hardly ideal, but this position is one I’ve had in the back of my mind for several years and had only come up once in around five years. To cut a long story short, I was offered the job … but it was now a full time role. After agonising over pros and cons for days, phoning HR and maternity helplines to find out what my rights were on changing jobs during leave, and losing a lot of sleep, we decided together that I should accept. There would have been no question about it had the position still been part time, but my concern was that Ezra would be too young to start nursery full time at six months old. I was only prepared to take it if Stew could have a few months off, which he was happy to do.
There were a few moments when we thought it would all fall apart as his HR department looked into shared parental leave, career breaks and ordinary parental leave, and at one point I was actually convinced neither of us would be here to look after the boys. But thankfully it worked out just in time and it’s all actually happening … tomorrow.
I’ve been asked a lot how I feel about going back to work early, mostly by other mothers who helpfully add “I could never do it” or “I’d never let my husband take my leave”, and to be completely honest I’m terrified. Every night feed I agonise over my decision and whether it will turn out to be the right one. I’m not ready to spend days apart from Ezra and to see Santi only during evenings and at weekends. I slipped so quickly into being on maternity leave and have loved having quality time with the boys … having that cut short is not what I expected.
I don’t feel like I’ve made the most of these six months, and Ezra certainly doesn’t have the social life Santi had at this age. I only managed to sign up to one course of Sing and Sign, and for various reasons have missed more classes than we made it to. The only positive about not going to baby groups several times a week is that our time together has been really chilled. I’m so much more relaxed this time around and I think that has rubbed off on Ezra as he’s happy to spend afternoons in front of A Place in the Sun or watching Santi play trains.
I’m worried that I won’t cope in work, that I’ll be permanently exhausted – even more than I am now – that I’ll find it too difficult getting to grips with a new role. I’m worried that Ezra will miss me, that Stew won’t be enough during the night feeds as he’s used to my cuddles and he’ll still need me to get up several times during the night. I’m worried that Ezra will turn out to be a thug because Stew will watch Jeremy Kyle rather than Lorraine on plus one. But most of all, I’m worried that I’ll forever feel guilty that I went back to work when he was just six months old.
So why am I prepared to take on the mother of all mum guilt and start a new full time role? In a nutshell, the work conditions at my new job are so much more suited to family life – 9-5 hours plus flexi time, bank holidays off, pay increments, and more importantly a job I think will make me happy. I’m really excited to get to grips with my new role, and to find out how it works being “on the other side” and dealing with the media. It would have been madness to turn it down and return to my previous position where I could go days without seeing Santi, even if it would have given me more time at home now.
My new mantra is “short term loss for a long term gain”. I’m confident that come next May when my leave would have ended I’ll know I’ve done the right thing.
I also think we’re in a really nice position that Stew gets to spend time with Santi and Ezra that fathers usually miss out on. I don’t know any men who have taken additional time off, shared parental leave, or who have stayed at home when their wives return to work. Thinking about it, that’s quite sad. They miss out on things like weaning, the first attempt at crawling, and just being there for the day-to-day things that make parenting what it is. It must be really hard to get home each day to an excited wife telling them about a new milestone they weren’t there for just because it’s traditional for women to stay at home. Yes I’ll be the one missing out this time, but at least it’ll be Stew witnessing Ezra’s firsts and not staff at nursery.
Not only will Stew now get to organise soft play dates with Santi’s friends (he’s borrowing my mammy group until March), teach Ezra how to wave and clap, and go for walks to the park or the wetlands, but he will also get to experience how hard it actually is to be at home with two children 24/7. Hopefully he’ll see that some days just getting everyone dressed and out of the house between demands for juice and nappy changes is enough to drive you mad, that brothers have some sort of pact that they will only cry at the same time (and try to out-do each other), that they’ll never ever have coordinated nap times, and that there’s a reason why food isn’t ready – or even started – by the time he gets home from work.
I’m lucky that he’s a hands on father and doesn’t shy away from any parental responsibilities, but even the most hardened of parents will tell you that being at home with a baby and toddler can be intense and require immense patience. So Stew’s new mantra is “pick your battles” – one that’s got me through more than one difficult afternoon!
So there you go. Maternity leave round two is over, and it’s back to work with a bittersweet feeling – I’m so happy to have been given the chance to take on my new job, but as ever the timing could have been better. Let the next chapter begin…
Oh, and someone keep an eye on my Facebook page … Stew has been let loose with the password so it might go a bit wild!