Parenting, Work

What if daddy goes part-time?

November 10, 2014

What if daddy goes part-time?When George was about eight months old, I decided to go back to work full-time. George’s dad is a teacher, so I returned to work during the school holidays while he looked after George full-time. Then, in September, George started with a childminder and Pete went back to work part-time.

It’s something I had thought about a lot before George was born. I suppose I resented the fact that society expected me to give up work for a year, then return part-time, and then take even more time off if we had another baby. I felt my career could quite easily grind to a halt while my partner’s carried on as normal. Just to be clear, I am hardly what you would call career-driven, but it just seemed so unfair. We were both having this baby, so why shouldn’t he make a sacrifice, too?

I think dads going part-time is an option that not many people contemplate – out of my peers, I’m the only mum who took this route. But I also think it’s something that’s worth considering. Society expects women to be the main caregiver long after maternity leave is over. As soon as George was born, most people assumed I would automatically return to work part-time and some people asked if I was going back to work at all.

Most of the mums I know work part-time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Nor is it impossible to have a successful career while working part-time. My problem is that sometimes these situations just sort of happen to us without us stopping to think about whether dad could take on some of the childcare.

Of course, it’s easier to have these discussions before baby comes along and you’re not weighed down by the all-powerful maternal guilt or totally in love with your new role. Because the truth is that maternity leave and working part-time are actually quite nice. Really, really hard work as well, but a great way to spend as much time as possible with your little one. On good days, it’s the ideal set-up (let’s not go into the bad days right now…) So why shouldn’t dads enjoy a taste of that work-life balance, too?

However, the real benefit of making caregiving a bit more equal is what it can do for your relationship with your partner. Once Pete started spending all that time alone with George, he finally understood how exhausting and boring entertaining a child all day can be. What’s more, we could finally bond over tales of George refusing to nap or generally being uncooperative. Obviously, Pete and George spending more time together strengthened their relationship, too. I can’t recommend it enough.

But what was it like for me working full-time? Well, I loved reclaiming the professional part of my identity and having a purpose outside of my maternal role. I loved the freedom of being able to pop to the shops at lunchtime on my own. And I loved being able to make – and savour – a cup of tea at any time during the day. Of course, I missed George terribly, too, but on balance, it was fine.

I admit that I was lucky – I could leave work at 5pm on the dot and arrive home by 6pm, which gave me enough time to catch up with George before bedtime. I also worked from home one day a week, which meant that I could collect him from the childminder on that day. I know that not everyone has a job that affords them the same flexibility, not everyone wants to return to the job they left, and that for some people, it’s economics that dictate who becomes the main breadwinner. I also know that full-time work for both parents is sometimes the only financial option. I’m not judging anyone’s choices.

My point is that, although I think most of us go into parenthood with the intention of sharing the responsibility equally, further down the line many of us take stock and realise that’s not actually how things turned out. Pete and I are by no means a perfect example of how to approach the problem – but having dad work part-time did help us to redress the parenting balance a bit in that first year.

I’d love to hear how you figure out childcare. Am I stating the obvious – are there loads of dads out there working part-time? Or am I making dads going part-time sound too easy?

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    Reply Sabrina November 10, 2014 at 11:49 am

    I loved this post! Nicky told me to look out for it a few weeks ago so I’ve been looking forward to reading how you made it work.

    My husband and I are both self employed and in theory pretty flexible, so when I got pregnant we just kept telling each other “don’t worry, we’ll figure it out” and “whoever gets the best work coming through the door at any point should just take it, and the other one will look after the baby”. It was all very well intentioned but vague. The reality of us both trying to keep a career going at the same time as looking after a baby has ended up being (rather disappointingly, though nobody’s fault really) much more traditional and gendered than either of us had anticipated. Exclusively breastfeeding a baby who refused any and all attempts to bottle feed him played a big part, and is one of my only real regrets about breastfeeding. It meant I couldn’t just leave him with his dad and go an do a day’s work out in a cafe if I needed to. I kept having to pop home every couple of hours for feeds which is just no way to concentrate. My other half loves looking after our boy – he does it once a week or so, and wants to do more of it…but when his clients say ‘jump’ he says ‘how high?’ so in the end, somehow he’s ended up working most days during normal office hours, and I’ve spent most days looking after the baby and then working mainly in the evenings and weekends and the odd extended nap time. I know the supposed flexibility will pay off eventually but not having had more of a ‘plan’ from the outset meant we’ve definitely ended up reaching slightly fraught compromises (whilst sleep-deprived and frazzled) during this first year. Thankfully the prospect of childcare and more help from extended family in the not-too-distant future is on the horizon, plus the little guy is becoming more and more funny and fun, so looking after him is less about ensuring his survival and more about enjoying his company. We are, somehow, “figuring it out”. But I wouldn’t recommend it as a strategy to anyone!

    • Reply Rachel November 10, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      Hi Sabrina, thanks for the lovely comment! Yes, I think it’s really hard to maintain balance when society expects mothers to have to make a compromise in their work life and frankly, for fathers to make no change at all.

    • Reply Nicky November 11, 2014 at 9:38 am

      Love your comment Sabrina, and I’m sure all your hard work and compromising will pay off in a couple of years! You’re doing a grand job as a working mummy x

    Reply Sabrina November 12, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Thanks ladies! Very inspired by Rachel’s story. Hats off! I only know of one other couple where the dad took on the primary carer role, but that was after baby no.2 came along. My friend found out she was unexpectedly pregnant with her second days after landing a new, brilliant job. So she decided she’d have the baby and then get straight back to work, it was too good an opportunity. Thankfully her husband was all up for it as he was in a bit of a dead end job and it gave him time to step back and think a bit. I think it’s really important to hear about real life couples who do this – it’s not a myth! Nice work trailblazing 😉

    Reply John Adams November 13, 2014 at 11:58 am

    It was fascinating to read this from a full time working mum’s perspective. I am a stay at home dad whiel my wife is the breadwinner. We’ve done it this way for four years (almost). At first I worked part time and we were able to muddle along just fine until our eldest started school last year.

    Fitting part time work around school hours was untenable and so I left the workforce altogether. The house has been considerably tidier and I’ve led a much less stressful life as a result! This approach ahs also been much better for the children who see more of me and see me unstressed and happy.

    I continue to do freelance work and my blog makes money (…yes, really) so it’s a bit of work from home dad scenario these days, but it’s one I easily fit around the kid’s needs.

    In summary, having dad work part time can work, but if you have more than one child and one is school age and the other too young, the pressures can be too much. #beilliantblogposts

    • Reply Rachel November 17, 2014 at 8:37 am

      Thanks for sharing this John, I always love hearing how other people make it work for them and congrats on making money from your blog!

    Reply ghostwritermummy November 14, 2014 at 11:50 am

    When I was younger my stepdad stayed home to take care of my little sister while my mum worked full time. It was slightly different in our case as he had been made redundant but it worked for us as a family none the less. And quite unheard of in the 80s!
    x x

    Reply Debs @ Super Busy Mum November 14, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    What a fabulous post and how cute is that photo of them overlooking the duckies!

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