My wife and I have always been impulsive. This is possibly because we were friends for years before we got together and it took her emigrating to the other side of the world for me to realise that I was madly in love with her (inconvenient, I grant you). Because of this, there has always been a sense of catching up for lost time in our relationship and, once we finally did get together, we had our feet firmly pressed to the accelerator pedal — moving in at 6 months and pregnant in less than a year. The fact that we made the decision to try for a baby while drunk in a Wetherspoons should tell you all you need to know about our approach to decision making but, luckily for us, that gin-fuelled decision is the best we have ever made.
After Oscar (Oz) was born, I took the usual 2 weeks off, then headed back to my job as a cookery book editor for a big publisher. Steph (my now wife, then girlfriend), rolled up her sleeves and got stuck into the far more challenging role of not only keeping our bundle of joy alive and thriving, but also establishing routines, surviving on a few hours’ sleep a night and keeping herself sane in the process. She was a natural, and pretty soon we were those awful smug parents who had a baby that slept 12 hours a night. Even I hated us.
For my part, I’d get up with Oz in the morning and leave Steph to grab a couple of extra hours’ sleep, then head to work and enjoy the highlight reel of my son’s day that would steadily ping through to my phone as the hours ticked on with all the tantrums, nappy explosions and hours of desperate coercion to convince him to sleep cut out. Then I’d return home and take over for bath time, stories and bed. Basically, the best bits.
I can’t remember which of us first suggested that me turning freelance could be the solution that we were looking for, but it made sense immediately.
We’d always planned that Steph would go back to work after 9 months. We live in central London and the rent is astronomical but, as the time approached, the thought of putting Oz into nursery became less and less appealing. We had a spot reserved for him at a great (read: expensive) nursery and we knew it was going to be a struggle to make ends meet, but we couldn’t see an alternative. And yes, before you ask we simply weren’t (still aren’t) ready to leave London, despite how much sense it would have made (still makes). My job didn’t pay enough for Steph to stay at home and there wasn’t scope at her work to look at flexible hours to try and find a balance.
I can’t remember which of us first suggested that me turning freelance could be the solution that we were looking for, but it made sense immediately. My industry uses freelance editors all the time. I knew that there would be work and my current job as maternity cover was coming to an end so I stopped looking for in-house positions and made the leap while Steph reluctantly headed back to the office.
I think it’s important to say here that while the decision that I would take over the bulk of the childcare while attempting to freelance from home made perfect sense, it was by no means an easy one. For either of us.
Though Steph generally enjoys her work and was craving adult interaction beyond the inevitable baby chat, she had spent the last 9 months spending every day with Oscar and stepping back was a huge wrench. “I will hate you at least some of the time” she said one day, with the brutal honesty that first made me fall in love with her, “but I’ll try my best to hide it”. And, for the most part, she has.
In the early days I could get everything done at nap time, a few hours in the evening and at the weekends… but as time passed and my business started to grow, so, inevitably, did my son.
Now I’ve always been a pretty involved dad — adept at nappy changes and bottle feeds, a dab hand at one-handed buggy pushing, a little too committed to dramatic readings of Room on the Broom — but nothing prepared me for the switch to being the number one carer for a small child. Slightly anxious and craving dialogue with someone who could answer back, I spent much of my early days on the phone to Steph with a list of panicked (and often unfounded) questions and queries. This came to a head when Steph’s boss took her quietly to one side and told her that I needed to limit my calls to lunchtimes and real emergencies. Apparently outfit approval did not qualify.
My general approach to parenting was slightly more whack-a-mole than Steph’s, especially when you factor in that I was trying to pull in a wage at the same time, but, in truth, Steph had done a lot of the hard work for me. The routine was established, so I just had to follow it and, as long as I didn’t deviate too much, we muddled through just fine.
As time passed, I started to relax and enjoyed spending more time with Oz – it felt like he was learning new things every day and it was amazing to see that first hand. I soon learnt how important it was to get out of the house (daytime TV is not your friend!) and had a few local hangouts and a regular routine of classes to attend. It can be a bit daunting being the only dad at a baby massage / singing / sensory class, but once the mums figured out that I did have a baby in tow and wasn’t a (complete) weirdo, they were generally pretty welcoming and more than happy to show me the ropes – these days I can wind the bobbin up with the best of them.
I feel lucky every day that I have a flexible job that allows me to be so involved with my son’s upbringing and a partner who recognises just how hard being the one who stays at home can actually be.
As for work, in the early days I could get everything done at nap time, a few hours in the evening and at the weekends, plus we had a great support network for the times I needed to attend meetings / photo shoots etc. (I might be in the minority, but I mean it when I say ‘thank god for mother in laws’!) But as time passed and my business started to grow, so, inevitably, did my son. His naps first dropped to two a day, then one and the hours that I was having to work in the evening / weekends increased from the occasional few to midnight every night and all day every weekend. Something had to change, and so, at 18 months old, we put Oz into nursery 3 days a week. The 9-month buffer had given me time to establish my business and we were much more confident about being able to meet all our commitments at the end of the month.
That was 18 months ago and we haven’t looked back since. Oscar — who loves nursery by the way — has recently turned 3 and has a baby brother due imminently, so it’s all going to start again very soon, which is equal parts exciting and daunting. There have been ups and downs along the way, and I’d be lying if I said that things were perfect. Steph feels a sting every time that Oz gets hurt / upset and calls for me first, or when she misses a milestone and I stupidly forget to get the camera out and record it, and I still struggle with the isolation of working on my own so much (and what I wouldn’t give for some after-work drinks once in a while) – but on the whole we have found a balance that works well for us as a family.
As a father who takes the lead with childcare, you will always get people who talk to you like you’ve made some kind of sacrifice or ask if you’re ‘babysitting’ your own child, but the truth is that I feel lucky every day that I have a flexible job that allows me to be so involved with my son’s upbringing and a partner who recognises just how hard being the one who stays at home can actually be. Plus, who really enjoys drinking with their colleagues anyway?
Photograph by Emma Savage.