6 months of Heaven or Hell?

My story of being a stay at home dad by Greg Hart (@gregharts)

When my partner first mooted the idea of sharing her maternity leave I must admit my first thoughts (refusing to believe the ‘it’s a full time job you know’ peeps) were 6 months off, hell yes. Now don’t get me wrong I know the first 6 months are not the same as the second six and I take nothing away from the dedication and hard work that our little one was at the start, but in my mind i was thinking how hard can it be? They don’t need much I thought, a bit of milk, some sleep and a little interaction now and again. My pre-conceived perceptions of what the reality of looking after a 6 month old would be like were limited as I assume most new parents’ are, but I was certain of what I wanted it to be like – cricket in the sun (preferably without the snide comments from other members), lunch and afternoon drinks at the local with friends, watching movies at the local baby cinema screenings and generally having fun. What was there to think about?

My half of the paternity leave would be during the spring and summer, after the routine and scary newness of it all had been conquered by my partner – I responded with a definite and naive yes. Money would be a issue yes, but that was probably the only real negative I could see. So membership to the cricket purchased, multiple discussions with my boss who I know was not wholeheartedly pleased about the idea (she had three out of five members of her team going on maternity / paternity leave at the same time) but who, as we work for a large multinational with plenty of processes in place for this sort of thing, knew that she had no option. Reality bites as they say and as the fateful day approached my bravado at work was countered by a slight trepidation at home. We seemed to have been given a baby who refused to go to sleep, had constant colic / acid reflux / whatever the current internet diagnosis was for a grumpy / unsettled / normal baby. Had I made a monumental mistake? Was I stupid for thinking that it would be a fun six months off work? It was too late now. And only time would tell.

Five months of my six have now past. Far quicker than I would have liked, and I can wholeheartedly say that no it’s definitely not been a mistake, in fact it’s been one of the best times of my life right up there with my seasons snowboarding and travelling the world. Don’t get me wrong it’s not been easy, and I would never belittle the effort and energy required to be a good parent. The key I found was getting Eloise to take a nap or two during the day. This took a couple of weeks of serious effort, waiting outside her door for the screams to start and then settling her again, repeating the process countless times over the course of a couple of weeks until she got the idea. Those naps saved me. Even when she was more settled at night, and I was less knackered during the day, they allowed time to do the chores or more likely have a bit of me time, alleviating the incessant attention that babies seem to demand.

The lack of money has been a eyeopener. Things were not too bad for the first 3 months with statutory pay being used for treats for us (or me, depending on your point of view), but once this ran out and we were living on the one wage things were tight. Having to budget and think about where our money gets spent was something I hadn’t done for years although I’m not entirely sure that buying the reduced, but premium items from the meat and deli counter was the best approach to saving money.

As much as I love her, El has been frustrating at times. Using a laptop is tricky when you have a nine month old trying to wrestle the computer out of your hands or randomly tapping the keys when you type (my excuse for any spelling mistakes in this piece). The painful and total lack of respect for my hangovers (although I am sure I’ll have my opportunity for payback on that one, eventually). And I have to admit that I’ve gotten a little cross when all she wants to do is destroy my wonderful DUPLO creations.

But overall I would never have given up the time I’ve had with her. I’ve seen more of the surrounding countryside and coast than I have done in the previous 15 years that I have lived in Bristol. I’ve got to see El grow from the helpless baby that stayed wherever you put her into the crawling, pulling up little person with her own personality. I’ve seen more of my family than I have done in years (and my in-laws!), and seen the joy in their faces that she brings. I have become a better person because of her. Would I do it again? As much as I love her and my time off, probably not another child, but I’ll certainly look at taking my 12 weeks of parental leave before she goes off to school – she should be old enough to learn to snowboard by then.