Sunday, 11 September 2016

Becoming a stay-at-home dad

I’ve never been one to remember key dates like birthdays or whatever, but I realised when I first started writing this blog (a few weeks ago, shamefully) that a little anniversary had just passed.

It is now just over 12 months since I handed in my notice to leave my full-time job and become a stay-at-home dad – the moment that shit well and truly got real.

Of course, discussions about what we would do in terms of caring for the twins when Ana’s maternity leave ended had gone on for a few months prior to that. However, starting the process of leaving my job made everything official – this is it now, no turning back.

I can say fairly definitively that becoming a stay-at-home dad wasn’t something I’d ever considered in my life prior to us having children. It was never a specific ambition of mine or on any bucket list – the opportunity just came up and after a lot of thought we decided to go for it. And, as with any life-changing, hugely important decisions, the seed of the idea emerged in a half-jokey, half-serious comment.

Me and the kids enjoying a park bench just a couple of weeks ago.

The conundrum

It quickly became apparent – amidst the caring for bouncing babies and general exhaustion – that we faced a puzzle in terms of childcare when Ana returned to work.

As mentioned in previous posts, we don’t live particularly close to family and those who are closest are in jobs too. So the option of family looking after the twins for a couple of days a week was an absolute non-starter.

The next option was of course nurseries, but a little research highlighted what we already knew – the cost of paying for care for two little blighters would be ginormous (admittedly not a word). So large in fact that it would essentially absorb my entire monthly take-home pay. Christ almighty.

One of the other approaches we considered was whether we could both go down the part-time route. However, with Ana committed to going back to her teaching job full-time for a few months at least and such changes not really being open to me in my role, it also felt like something that wasn’t going to fit the bill.

We talked and talked and talked through the options. When we were younger, lengthy car journeys tended to involve a CD-R featuring a carefully selected playlist to cater for both or our musical tastes. In Ana’s case it would be Girls Aloud, Usher (‘8701 baby…’) and Katy B, while it would probably be Manic Street Preachers, Jeff Buckley and My Chemical Romance (RIP, don’t judge) for me. However, post-babies, such journeys became our opportunity to sit for a length of time and have a conversation, with the twins snoozing in the back.

It was during such a journey – heading back home after seeing family in Darlington I think, since you ask – that we weighed up this conundrum.

Reaching a mental block in proceedings, an exasperated Ana said: “…maybe you should look after them.”

I sniggered. “Ha, yeah, right.”

After a pause, she said: “Seriously, you should think about it. It would be amazing time to have with the babies and you might not get it again. Genuinely, have a think.”

The backdrop

This is probably the juncture where it is worth pausing and explaining the environment in which we made this decision.

As an avid reader of this blog (seriously, we can just say ‘fan’ if you like), you’ll know from the last one that I’d had a couple of enforced days at home looking after Oscar and Isabel while Ana was ill. You’ll also remember that I absolutely smashed it out of the park, so this experience was obviously on my mind when it came to considering if me staying at home would even work.

In addition, my role at work had just changed slightly and – if I’m honest – it had moved away from what I truly enjoyed getting my teeth into. So this was on my mind too, although I stress that it was far from a primary driving force behind the eventual decision.

My excitement at the potential opportunity of being at home with the kids far outweighed any desire I might have had to jump ship from my job. However, it would obviously be wrong not to recognise that, yes, things had changed at work and, yes, I obviously had to think about that when considering my plans.

The decision

So, when everything got considered I came up with a conclusion. Two in fact.

The first was ‘yes, I think I can do it’. The second was ‘have I gone completely barmy?’

Ana and I did everything we possibly could to look at all aspects and confirm this was the best plan. We constantly asked each other questions in an effort to pick holes in everything – does everything add up? Would I be OK not earning a wage and having my own money? Would I take them to groups and stuff? All in all, I committed myself to doing what needed to be done. After all, the kids and their needs would of course be the absolute priority.

Our next step on the issue was to speak to our parents to tell them the plan and ask them to also think about alternatives or pick holes in it. They came back with questions and thankfully everything they raised we had already considered. At this point it was clearly a goer; I was going to be a stay-at-home dad.

So that was it and when the time was right my notice went in. Done. Amazingly, after I’d done it and started telling people about my plan no one actually laughed at me. At least not to my face.

Wistful epilogue

Oddly, while writing this my mind is drawn to a couple of lines from a Frank Turner song: “It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you go/And no one gets remembered for the things they didn’t do.”

Ever since I first heard the song – Peggy Sang The Blues – those words tend to wander through my head when I face a major decision. It is almost a certainty that they wandered through my head during this time and while I’m not usually down with anything vaguely motivational, these lines always ring true for me.

Even if you’re an overly cautious type like me (mentioned before – good spot fans) sometimes you’ve just got to take the leap and see what happens, no matter how utterly mental it might seem. No one gets remembered for the things they didn’t do.

Ultimately I reasoned that, if I had the choice, I would rather be able to say to the kids when they’re older that I at least tried to look after them when they were younger than that I backed out of it.

So I did it and – now at 10 months in – I still love it.

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