I am a strong “manly” man. I am not going to cry.
It’s okay. She will love it. It’s good for her to play with other children.
Okay. Hands on the wheel. No more time to fret about this, must go to work. Must get on with my day.
She’s probably stopped crying by now, right?
That tortured scrunched up face I left in the baby room will be happily palming a banana into her face by now, right?
Turn on the radio, that will cheer you up: Brexit…Trump…oh, God! Off! Off with the radio!
The judgmental parent
Alright, I admit it. I have been a judgmental parent in the past.
I’ve seen many a social media post about the strife some mothers were going through as they neared the end of their maternity leave. When it became time for them to return to work, and their kid to start settling in at nursery, there has been no shortage of crying emjois on my news feed.
I sympathised (a bit) but I don’t think I empathised.
That lack of empathy has come to royally bite me on the ass.
As I expressed my emotions to my wife they were not met with a world of sympathy either. She didn’t cuddle up to me, there was no hand laid on my chest and she didn’t say “It’ll be okay. I know how much you’ve enjoyed spending time with the kids these past months.”
Instead she hearkened back to when the roles were reversed. When she was at home with our first born, our son, and I was deploying for months on end. Back to the time I told her I’d be gone over his first birthday and Christmas and that she would have to go through the settling in sessions and the emotions of returning to work on her own.
In that first year my wife had, for the most part, singlehandedly raised our son without compliant or concern. So when she opened up about the sadness she felt as maternity was ending I doubt she appreciated my ever pragmatic and self-protectionist words of “Buck up we knew this would happen” and “he’s so young he won’t even remember it.”
Funnily enough she hasn’t forgotten these words of advice and I was soon tasting my own medicine.
This week, as I closed my eyes and pictured my daughter’s sad face peering over the shoulder of her key worker, when she was carried away. The words “buck up” and “she won’t even remember” are not the comfort I was searching for.
Damn you karma.
Dad’s first year
The truth is my wife and I had very different experiences of that first year with my son.
Perhaps I became a bit hardened. Not aloof or stand-offish with him, I loved/love him dearly, but I avoided dwelling on emotion about the separation. I knew it was part of my job, it always has been.
Yet now I sit at the end of 100 days of Shared Parental Leave with my infant daughter and all I can say is that I apologise. I apologise to my wife, to my son and to all those other parents that I silently scoffed at on Facebook. I can now completely empathise with the heart wrenching feeling of loss that occurs as you leave your child for their first settling in session.
Everyone said to me that taking Shared Parental Leave would “be so nice as you’ll get a chance to really bond with your kids.”
As I got on with the practicalities of day to day life with two kids I realised the bonding doesn’t come from extravagant events shared together.
One hundred days ago my daughter was only 8 months old and I struggled with a connection beyond the practical (nappy, feed, sleep, repeat). She was lovely, but she didn’t DO very much, especially in comparison with her whirlwind 4 year old brother. You can read about our non-adventures in a soft play ball pit here.
However now, almost 11 months old, she is incredible. She is crawling and almost walking, she reaches to be picked up and points at/demands what food she’d like. She smiles all the time and just follows her own notion as she crawls around the floor or climbs up the back of my legs.
Our most precious moments are when we are alone. Mummy at work, big brother at nursery, dog asleep on the sofa. When it is just my daughter and I, playing music and dancing around the kitchen. The joy she gets from being spun around or flipped upside down is dangerously infectious.
So I realise now, that, whereas my son and I truly bonded from about 18 months (when I was actually back home properly), I am lucky enough to have a strong emotional bond with my daughter right now.
You’ve established a deep loving bond with your daughter.
Now it is time to hand her over to those, admittedly very nice, strangers at nursery to mold the majority of her day.
I feel the curse of the working parent very acutely. I love my job and really enjoy doing it but I could easily spend every day of the next 5 years dancing around my kitchen with my two wee kids.
I’ve seen both sides of the coin and I can honestly say that, no matter how present and involved a father I was in the evenings and weekends previously, these past three months of full, uninterrupted, entirely focused parenthood have been the best thing I have ever done.
While my kids will very likely not remember any of it, I will never forget it.