Our Week as Working Parents

I’m a stay-at-home dad, but I also freelance from time-to-time. I am pursuing social media & writing work, as that offers family friendly flexibility, but when I am offered work in my old TV stomping grounds, I tend to accept – especially in the run up to Christmas.

I was recently offered a longer stint than normal, and that included a full working week. We had never gone a whole week as working parents before.

Please forgive the indulgence of this post. I know this is the norm for many families, but it took a bit of adjustment and juggling to make it work for us.

Before we got started, there was some prep to be done.

Stage 1 – Childcare
Our daughter attends pre-school at nursery 2 ‘school days’ a week, so ideally we want to place her there, but they are getting increasingly popular. It turns out we can place her there for all but one day. I then contact a childminder who we used a few times in the past, and she is fine to look after her that day. Phew.

Stage 2 – Scheduling who does pick up & drop off

Ideally, I would do drop off in morning (8am), and my wife would do evening pick up (by 6pm). However, she has an even on one night, and is away on a business trip for another, so I need to do those days.

Anyway, we figure out our schedule, and away we go.

Day 1 – Dealing with a sick kid

Disaster! It’s Monday morning, and the kid is poorly. She’s been up half the night with a bad cough and cold.

We agree the kid is too poorly for nursery. My wife had arranged to work from home anyway, so she volunteers to keep her home with her while I head off to work. We still have to pay the sixty quid for daycare of course.

I am able to leave the house exactly when I need to, public transport all fine, and I arrive at 9:30 on the dot as planned.

I try and leave early to give my wife a bit of childcare-free time. Out the door an hour early at 5 is better than nothing, so will be home an hour earlier than planned.

Nah. On each leg of my 3-stage (plus walking) commute, there are delays and cancellations.  My 1hr 40 journey home takes an hour longer.

I get in to find daughter still up which is lovely, but because she passed out for a nap earlier she isn’t sleepy now, nor for the next hour – which is full of frustration as we try and settle her to sleep, eat dinner, and unwind – but we end up winding up each other more.

Finally down, my wife and I eat lukewarm pasta, drink cheap wine, and watch The Antiques Roadshow – the easiest show to agree on.

Day 2 – The morning childcare and commute run

The kid is well enough for childcare, and I need to do the drop off as my wife has a fixed appointment. Today os childminder day, who offers more flexibility so we can do a 7:30 start. We need to leave the house at 7:10 to arrive for 7:30 drop-off, then I can make 7:59 train to get me to work in good time.

Before we leave the house, the kid insists we read a book that features her Star Wars fave Ahsoka (a book she couldn’t find the night before and was a source of some upset). Normally I’m less compliant in these circumstances, but not wanting to get her day off to a tearful start (we haven’t used this childminder for over 9 months) I agree. We leave the house late at 7:25.

So, I rush with her to the house (opposite direction from train station of course) only to exacerbate her cough and understandably upset her. We slow down and am resigned to missing train.

The knock on effect, with subsequent delays is that I am in the office 2 1/2 hrs after leaving the house. My boss (who I’ve worked for a lot in the past) a) isn’t there, and b) isn’t that bothered as long as the work gets done.

My wife is doing pick up, and I stay in office 6pm+, just to get on top of things.

But tonight, the journey home works out fine – door to door in 1hr 50, including a supermarket dinner flyby.

My daughter should be asleep by now, but yet again isn’t. We suspect that she had sugary stuff at the tail end of her time with the childminder.  She doesn’t settle down to sleep until 8:30 – an hour later than normal. It was nice to see her, and after cuddles from me her wind down is mostly her alone in her room, chatting to herself so not too much disruption. My wife and I dine on supermarket pizza, cheap wine, and only manage to watch the 30 min Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver in Sky+ before sleep beckons.

Day 3 – While the wife’s away…

This one is going to be tricky. I need to do nursery drop off and pick up. I also have a shoot for a client I am overseeing, so I need to be in by 9:30 for 10am start. I book the kid in for early start (which costs extra of course) – only I get it wrong and my wife can do drop off. Luckily this early drop off suits her and I can leave even earlier too, important as a) aforementioned shoot, and b) I have to leave office 2 1/2 hrs early to ensure I make the pick up from nursery in time (you can book for later, but they charge per extra 15mins).

An insanely busy day, I leave 10mins later than planned, so I miss my bus which has potential knock on effect. But in the end I get to nursery for 5:30.

My wife is away overnight for a business trip, so it’s just me & the munchkin. We have early bath, then watch a Batgirl cartoon while she eats a dinner of ham and raw carrot (her choice). She would’ve had an early dinner at nursery.

Stories, milk, and cuddles before bedtime. At 7:30 I’m downstairs a eating a Heston Lasagne for 1 (over priced, over caloried, over flavoured), enjoying more cheap red wine, and Netflix (Orphan Black). In bed by 10. Or 11. The kid woke once in the night, crying for mummy (awww) but a quick cuddle and she was back to sleep.

Day 4 – Working late

Another busy day ahead, but start time is more fluid. I do 8am drop off (as wife is away), and everything goes fine from drop off to transport and I get to work at a reasonable 9:45.

I have to leave office early for an event I am working on in central London, and will be there late so won’t see my daughter until Friday morning.

Turns out I’m working VERY late, and don’t get home until after 4am.

Day 5 – Flexible working

Getting home the same time that I usually get up (I’m a 4:30-5am riser) understandably disturbs my routine a bit.

Full disclosure: I have epilepsy, and the main trigger is sleep deprivation – so working until early hours like this is not taken lightly, and my wife and I know what I need to prevent a seizure, which is basically to get uninterrupted sleep.

The spare bed has been set up in the front room, and with earplugs in and sleeping pills at the ready should I wake up early, I get enough sleep to feel confident I won’t have a seizure.

My wife and kid are long gone out the door when I get up past 9. I told my boss the night (morning) before that working form home would be the best option today. Not only would I be in late (because of working late) I would have to leave early as my wife has an event on so I need to do nursery pick up. My boss is fine with this, and I manage everything I need to oversee workwise from home (with others in the office helping out). I wilt badly as the afternoon progresses.

When I pick up my daughter from nursery, she is in tears – which is very unlike her as she loves nursery. It seems the week of childcare and disrupted routines has finally taken it’s toll on her, and she is emotionally and physically exhausted.

It’s kind of how we all feel.

Working Parent vs At Home Parent

While it was a big adjustment for us, it was exactly that – an adjustment, not something that we couldn’t adapt to.

For peace of mind when this happens again, I probably think we should have someone in place who can do the nursery pick up at short notice should public transport let us down. There have been many times when my wife has been delayed because of this, and if we were both in the same boat then we need someone local to do pick up.

Flexible working. This is a catch all term, that includes options for mobile/home working, flexible hours, and understanding bosses. Without these, this week would’ve been impossible. And flexible working works both ways, so can be advantageous to employers too.

I also have a greater appreciation for my wife’s perspective. She sometimes reflects that feels she is missing out  on aspects of our daughter’s development. Knowing what happens during the week and weekends, I know this isn’t the case at all – but having spent a week hardly seeing my daughter during the day, I know how she feels.

There’s no easy solution to balancing work and parenting, and while it’s lovely to be home with the kid, this time next year she’ll be at school – and the extra money sure comes in handy. :)<

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Do We Need to Stop Talking About Working Mothers?

Working mom, Working mum, working moms, working mothers, work life balance
‘Working Mom’ by Ran Zwigenberg. Photo used under CC license

Whenever there’s coverage of mothers in the workplace, it’s never long before the topic of how they cope with the competing needs of their children and their job comes up. What’s wrong with this? It’s a narrative that’s only ever applied to working mothers, and rarely – if ever – working fathers.

On the BBC series Inside the House of Commons this week, one of the featured MPs was a busy mum who juggles the demands of her job with the needs of her family. As the listings described the scenario: “Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott… seeks to balance new parenthood with politics.”

I am not denying Ms. Willott’s very real struggle between being a parent and an MP (and Deputy Chief Whip), but yet again, the search for this ‘balance’ was presented as an issue only for the working mother. While we did see the involvement of her partner, where was the male MP also struggling in the same way, having family dinners in his parliament office, dropping off his children at the House of Commons nursery, or leaving his crying child with an aide so he can dash off to the house for an important vote? Maybe he doesn’t exist. Maybe society’s expectations of working mothers are different from those of working fathers.

This was yet another example that feeds into the myth that when a mother is working, childcare is her responsibility. That the need for flexibility is the preserve of the working mother, not the father. That mothers struggle to maintain a work/life balance in a way that fathers don’t.

This week there was a report about the rising costs of childcare in the UK, which is indeed a big problem for parents. Yet I kept reading how this was an issue for working mothers or mothers returning to the workplace, never about fathers.

My wife has a full time job, and I freelance as well as being home with our daughter. In any discussions I enter into about work, the cost of childcare up at the top of the list when determining the feasibility of me taking on the job. The issues around flexible hours and an understanding that I may have to be absent when my child is sick are also important for my employer to know, because I am the primary caregiver to our daughter.

Why We Need to Stop Talking About Working Mothers

I don’t understand why are we always framing any discussion about childcare, flexible working, balancing the demands of home and work, with ‘Working Mothers’. These issues are not exclusive to mothers – they are parenting issues.

As a father, I find it depressing that people think dads don’t care this much about their children, that we too don’t lament the lost hours we could be spending with them when working. But as a parent of a daughter, I find the sexism of this prevailing attitude towards women in the workplace far more depressing.

It’s an attitude that is especially toxic when there are employers that would prefer not hire a mother, because they think that it’ll be too much hassle. It’s an attitude that fathers rarely encounter.

I am not seeking to diminish the emotional stress and logistical hassle of being a working mother. Despite not being a mother, I understand it completely.

I just think we need to stop talking about working mothers, and start talking about working parents instead. These are issues that affect us all and problems for us all to deal with.

What do you think about the way working mothers are perceived? Is being a working mother different than being a working father? Please get involved by commenting below, joining the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.

Labour’s Paternity Leave Policy: Is it even a step in the right direction?

Stay-at-home dad, bottle feeding, paternity leave,
Feeding my daughter during her first month

A Labour government will double paternity leave for dads from two to four weeks, and increase their weekly paternity pay to ÂŁ260 – over ÂŁ100 more than present. No doubt this move will be tagged as anti-business by Labour’s opponents. But is it as pro-family as it seems?

I was lucky that I spent the first 6 weeks home with my daughter. I can’t imagine not having spent that time with her, and I feel for other fathers who wanted the same but weren’t able to.

While this Labour policy may seem progressive, reflecting the reality that many fathers want to be at home with their newborn too, I feel what it’s really reinforcing is that after 4 weeks a man’s place is still at work while a woman’s is at home with the baby.

There are many reasons why fathers decide to become stay-at-home dads. In our case is was a combination of me really wanting to be home with our daughter; my wife’s desire to return to work and maintain her career; and a feeling that I might be better suited to being home all the time with an insatiable grub that lacks basic conversation skills. The fact that my wife also earned more than twice as much as me was not an obvious influence, but perhaps it made our decision easier.

What I think families need more than a simple increase in paternity pay and entitlement, is support to make these type of flexible decisions that are right for them, for there is no one size fits all way of parenting any more. While for some couples the mother being home full-time is what’s wanted, others (like us) would prefer have the dad home in those early years. Many couples would like to both be working as soon as possible. The financial hit would be harder on some rather than others, so that too would affect decisions.

Far more progressive is the Shared Parental Leave system that comes into force from April, where parents can share the majority of the mother’s 52 week leave entitlement between them, in theory letting the couple decide which one of them is to become the primary carer. One of the biggest stumbling blocks with this is that many women have generous maternity packages from their employer that are far in excess of the Statutory Shared Parental Pay of £138 per week.

I remain unconvinced about Labour’s proposal, though I am sure it will lead to more fathers taking time off to be with their newborn. The IPPR, who came up with these proposals, believe take up will increase from 55% to 70%. That sounds optimistic, but I guess we’ll see should we have a Labour government come May.

I believe that the level of pay is really a small part of the reason for the low numbers taking paternity leave. For parents who had no interest in the father being home, their feelings will remain unchanged. Many men feel that their employer would look unfavourably on them taking leave, that their job cannot be interrupted, or that it will hurt their career. They too will remain feeling the same way about paternity leave.

The policy seems rather outdated next to Shared Parental Leave in that it assumes the father will return to work after 4 weeks while the mother is home with the baby. If Labour really wanted to encourage more men to become stay-at-home dads, or women to become working mothers, then I think they should really be building upon the Shared Parental Leave system, perhaps finding a way for mums and dads to share an employers parental leave system.

So is Labour really trying to be progressive? I am reminded of the free childcare/early education for three year olds. The 15 hours of free childcare per week, notionally intended to encourage at-home parents back to work is now seen as more of a rebate to middle class families. They would be paying for the childcare at nurseries anyway but now get a term time fee reduction. I have a similar feeling about these proposals, that it’s intended to be a nice little financial present for those families who would have probably used paternity leave anyway.

This feels less about a policy helping families, than a headline to help persuade disaffected supporters to vote Labour in May. But at least a few more dads will get to spend time with their newborn like I did.

 

What do you think about these paternity leave proposals? Please get involved by commenting below, joining the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.