The school summer holidays are here, which means that I’ve officially survived a whole year of being a stay-at-home dad. An awful lot has changed since last summer when I hung up my office shirts for the last time. There have been high points but there have been struggles too. Time, then, to spend a moment looking back on the past twelve months.
Leaving the world of work in July 2014 felt like an awfully big step, however we had no shortage of reasons as to why it was the best course of action for our family – you can read about them in one of my first blog posts. We had fallen into the trap of many families before us of feeling bound to both work but finding our family life was suffering badly as a result. Reorganising our family around a single breadwinner and a full-time carer seemed like a huge shift, as although maternity leave is similar in a way, we were flying in the face of social norms.
Daddy as chief child-carer
Let’s tackle the issue everyone automatically asks me about first and it’s also the reason why I created this blog. Being a stay-at-home dad is still a niche occupation in an area still very much dominated by women. Although not a common choice, for us it seemed the natural option. Our circumstances, from personal preference to career and financial all pointed to it making a lot more sense for me to look after Tilly and ShireMum working. Nothing about the past year has made us doubt our arrangement, although it’s not been without its difficulties.
Looking after Tilly without our own transport has meant that I’ve thrown us headlong into the local play group scene. A nearly entirely mum-occupied and orientated space, it has taken a while to find our place within it. It’s certainly true that dads aren’t welcomed into the same social groups as mums naturally are, an aspect that for some dads could lead child care to be an extremely isolating experience. Happily it’s not something that’s bothered me and after a year of being a regular on the play group circuit we’ve established friendships that should provide Tilly with play opportunities during the holidays.
Away from work
I’ve been interviewed a few times since starting this blog and many questions enquire about how I feel outside of the corporate world of work. Child care is of course different, very different from the work-a-day routine of meetings, projects and management. The fact it’s not a paid profession does make it feel less highly regarded by society but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s an essential role. After all, getting someone else to look after your child for the same hours would cost plenty and what’s more important than providing a child with everything they need to become a well-rounded individual.
As rewarding as engaging with your child is, it’s difficult not to harbour concerns about keeping your existing skills practised and brain exercised. It’s worth stating that full-time care of a toddler is extremely involved; from 6am to gone 7pm don’t expect to be doing anything else, with their lunchtime nap being used to salvage the house from the morning’s play.
Parents I’ve spoken to have tried a range of options to keep in with work; some opting for nursery to allow themselves a day or two back in the workplace, while others try to shoehorn some work in at the end of the day. Blogging is a wonderfully flexible occupation and being an internet marketer by trade is useful for keeping practiced in my trade too. Combined with self-taught courses to expand my skills, it offers a corner in the day for creative activity.
Surviving on a single income when your mortgage and other outgoings have been calculated for two wages can be a challenge. We cut back spending a lot and despite forecasting our outgoings found that we were just about breaking even when we had months of just spending on essentials. During bad months, such as around Christmas, we found ourselves digging deep into savings. Although our situation has now improved, we’re still a while off funded pre-school hours that will free up some of my time, so belts with remain tight for the foreseeable future.
The reason for taking all of this on is to give our daughter Tilly the best start in life. The amount she’s come on since we took her out of nursery and now has been incredible and it’s been a delight to share in so many of those moments. Sitting has become walking, climbing and running, while a word or two has become sentences, singing and narrative. Of course we’ll never know how she’d have got on in comparison had she remained at nursery but having one-on-one attention and interaction everyday has got to be a good thing in our book.
Sleep deprivation and other hard times
Along with the rewards and good times, caring for a toddler can also prove every bit as demanding as any other career you might choose to name. In my case, managing days of grumpiness when I’ve had a bare minimum of sleep have represented the greatest challenge. I’ve blogged about sleep issues on a few occasions as lack of rest has a real impact on being able to function. It’s well-known that two-year olds test boundaries and are prone to tantrums and dealing with this does undoubtedly benefit from having a clear head.
Now and next
Overall, the past year has proven a tremendously positive change for our family and has delivered a great deal of what we hoped it would with Tilly bounding ahead in her development with hitherto unseen confidence. Looking ahead, we’re on the cusp of some fairly monumental toddler moments. Potty training and the transition from cot to bed are all coming up over the summer with pre-school on the horizon for next year. Tilly is showing a lot of interest in subjects beyond her years, such as how things work and reading but there’s still some toddler basics to be mastered first such as sharing. Our plans for work and child care are working well and hopefully things will continue to improve as we head into our second year.
Have you faced challenges from your work and child care arrangements? Share your experiences in the comments section.
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