Parents of babies born on or after April 5th, 2015 are entitled to share parental leave equally. But what’s it like to leave your newborn with Dad? M&B reader Tanya Day shares her story
BY RACHEL TOAL
MATT and I never sat down to discuss our parental roles, we’ve always just known. We met at school aged 15 and got married at 21. Career-wise, I’ve always been the ambitious one, pushing myself and qualifying as an accountant. After school, Matt joined the Forces as a mechanic, later working in sales and as a lorry driver. When it came to earning potential, I far exceeded him. In our mid-20s, when we were ready for children, we agreed there was no point me quitting, going part-time or even taking full maternity leave. Our priority was to have a constant parent in our children’s lives. We didn’t want them shoved from pillar to post, between nursery and grandparents.
When I got pregnant, aged 27, Matt handed in his notice so he could stay at home full-time. Financially and practically, it was an easy decision. However, on my first day back in the office after having Max, the reality was harder to swallow. Max was just 12 weeks old. His smile beamed down from the photo on my noticeboard as I sat at my desk. I can still remember blinking back tears. How could I even think about work when my little baby was at home? My guilt was immeasurable. I’d stare at my computer, imagining what Max and Matt were up to.
Spreadsheets and meetings seemed pointless compared to the precious moments I was missing with my baby. And the physical reminders were constant. Trust me—trying to appear professional when your nipples are leaking milk is torture. I still wanted to breastfeed, so every morning and afternoon I’d slope off to the communal kitchen, wait until it was empty and discreetly unhook my feeding bra to express with a pump. My saving grace was working a 10-minute drive from home. Every lunchtime I’d jump in the car, my spirits lifting. Flinging open the front door I’d scoop Max up for cuddles and a breastfeed, running through how his morning had gone with Matt.
A PUNISHING ROUTINE
Our routine was fail-safe. Naps, playtime and feeding were all scheduled, as it was the only way we could all manage. Matt fed Max bottles of my expressed milk while I worked, and I breastfed each morning, lunchtime and evening. It was draining, especially those bleary-eyed night feeds.
After a month or so, the nine-to-five treadmill took its toll. Exhausted and weepy, I arranged with my boss to work full-time with more flexible hours, so I could work in the evenings when Max was asleep. Once he started sleeping through, life became easier.I worried about missing Max’s milestones. But, happily, he seemed to save the big moments, like his first steps, for when I was around.
Amazingly, in all the upheaval, my relationship with Matt never suffered. It helped that we’ve always been open with each other, and that I trusted him to care for Max. We both admitted our guilt—mine for not being around, and his for not being the breadwinner. In a funny way, it brought us closer. When Max was 18 months old I got pregnant again. Scarlett was a whole different ball game—a beautiful but demanding and colicky baby. As she approached 12 weeks, I panicked. How was Matt going to be able to cope with a toddler and an unsettled baby?
Much to my relief, Scarlett took her first bottle of expressed milk on my first day back at work. Matt coped brilliantly with the extra demands. But it was tough. I was promoted to partner level, which meant more responsibilities. Although I enjoyed my job, I missed my children terribly.
AND BABY MAKES THREE…
I spent all my free time cooking meals for Max and breastfeeding Scarlett, determined to give my children the best at home, even if I did have to work. “Don’t you want to be at home?” clients regularly asked. Couldn’t they see I didn’t really have a choice? It was so upsetting. And it’s something that doesn’t get any easier.
Emerson was born 10 months ago, and this time it’s been harder. He was just 10 weeks old when I went back to work and the logistics of juggling work plus organising three children has been a struggle.
One morning last summer I woke up with an overwhelming sense of panic and dread. When I tried to speak, the words wouldn’t come and I couldn’t physically move from the bed. It was terrifying. Looking back, I can see I was exhausted, desperate and trapped by my responsibilities. Because I felt so guilty about not being at home, I had over-compensated by spending every waking moment with the children, or obsessively cooking for them.
I overcame that awful time by investing in myself. Exercising, solo shopping trips and a holiday helped me feel more positive. I’ve now learned to manage my feelings. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, which happens about once a week, I take a few minutes to switch off and get some fresh air.
Of course I’d love to spend more time with my family. And if I’m honest there are moments when I regret being so ambitious and landing myself in this financial trap. But then I remind myself that the reason I go to work, the reason I push myself so hard, is so the children can benefit from being at home with a parent who loves them— and it doesn’t matter if that parent is mum or dad. Matt does a fantastic job of looking after them, and they have always been my first priority. ♦
SO, WHAT DOES DAD THINK?
Matt SAYS: “My main struggle as a stay-at-home-dad has been with my masculinity. As men, we’re programmed to provide for our families. But Tanya was always going to out-earn me, so we had no choice. At first I worried about people judging me. Working dads are universally envious that I get to stay at home. But they have no idea how much of a double-edged sword that can be. I really enjoy spending time with the kids, but my role can be much, much harder than an office job. My relationship with the kids is good, but knowing I’ll never hear their excited cries of ‘Daddy’s home!’ at the end of the day is hard. The new law is great—dads can do a great job of looking after the children. I’m looking forward to meeting more dads in the same position as me.”