We’ve made a big decision and there’s been a big change in our house this week. Yes, you guessed it – we’ve bought a massive pig on the internet!
OK. That’s a lie. But I am going to be a stay at home dad for a while. So, you know, the pig thing might happen if I lose the plot and hit the gin at 4pm.
You will have no reason to remember but when Mrs B went back to work after her first mat leave I took a pay cut to look after our eldest on Fridays. At the time I thought that was a tough gig, looking after a one year old.
Now I realise I was having a laugh. Because now I have a nearly threenager AND a ten month old baby to look after. And that really is the learning curve from hell.
Why Am I Doing This?
When we were last searching for childcare it was a lot of stress and we struggled with finding anywhere that was convenient for drop offs and pick ups on the commute and had the right ‘feel’. We were being picky but I don’t make any apology for that. Especially with your first baby the idea of handing them over to a stranger can go against every instinct in your body.
Eventually we found a wonderful childminder round the corner who, while being a pricier option, has been like an extension of the family and has given Little B an amazing experience on and off for the past two years.
We didn’t expect to have our second baby so quickly, but at our advancing ages you can’t hang around so we were very relieved and happy that he came along at all. The result was that exactly a year after returning to work Mrs B was off on mat leave again and I went back full-time.
The last year has been very tricky for her; my heart goes out to anyone who has been at home with a new-born baby and a VERY jealous two year old. After a few months of being miserable, barely surviving, and no one getting any quality of life we put all our spare money into putting our demanding toddler back with his childminder two days a week. This meant that at last Mrs B could actually spend time with his little brother, who had struggled with reflux and was fed up with being attacked by his sibling every five minutes.
So here we are. The second baby year went much faster than the first (a cliché I know) and we were in a bit of a pickle. The option of putting both boys to our childminder was too much of a financial stretch; the spreadsheet told us we’d be in the red after mortgage and bills (so no money for anything else). Even nurseries were leaving us very little leftover.
Overall, 60 per cent of families pay for some form of childcare and I don’t need to tell you that the cost of childcare is always increasing. Yet despite the financial burden on parents the nurseries themselves are often barely covering their costs; state nurseries
The Government’s proposal for all three year olds to get 30 hours of free childcare a week sounds amazing but there is of course a catch. According to a new report from the Family and Childcare Trust:
Only a third of local authorities thought that there would be enough childcare available for three and four year olds using the 30 hour offer. In the longer term, we could also see childcare providers going out of business with 44 per cent of local authorities saying that the 30 hour offer would reduce the financial sustainability of some settings.
When I was a pre-schooler I went to a brilliant (well it was in my head) state-maintained nursery, but these are becoming harder to find, with the Government’s own all-party parliamentary group on nursery schools warning that only 400 left in England and one in ten facing closure this year.
So, until Little B turns three and starts to get his 15 hours of free childcare I’ve decided to take some time away from work and be their full-time dad. Aside from the money issue I know how briefly our boys will be this young and I doubt I am going to regret spending a bit more time with them.
(The politics of, and possible solutions to, the childcare conundrum would take up several posts and a lot of other bloggers have written about this issue, so I’ve linked to some of them at the end.)
How Am I Doing This?
I am fortunate that my employer allows people to take unpaid Parental Leave in extended chunks. This is NOT the same as Shared Parental Leave where you split the standard Maternity Leave between you and your partner.
Parental Leave is normally taken a week at a time and you get a maximum of 18 weeks per child up to their 18th birthday. The maximum you can take in a year is 4 weeks unless you have a very nice employer like mine who allows you to take it all in one go.
So, not everyone would be able to do what i’m doing and I feel very lucky. I can see why the costs and stresses of childcare drives some parents to give up their jobs. If you do that of course you will need a partner whose income can support the whole family and that is going to be quite rare, especially with today’s high housing costs.
How Am I Coping?
It’s only been a week but on balance I am going to say I’m feeling proud, as should all parents who spend all day with two young children. It is, as I knew it would be, bloody hard work. (I don’t know if older ones are less demanding but my friends who’ve done it tell me this is true.)
It’s such a massive shift for the boys, as well as us. Little B is older and more used to being looked after by different people, but all Baby F has known is his mum for the past 10 months. Predictably he was very out of sorts and refused to nap morning or afternoon. This nearly pushed me to run out of the house screaming.
Aside from that my little posse held it together with no injuries and only one missed meal!
- Schedule: We all know how important a timetable is and I was grateful to have a quick reference guide on the dining table with meals, snacks, naps, and suggestions. It would be great if our two boys’ needs overlapped a bit more but for now there is a lot of plate spinning and I don’t feel either of them are getting the best of me.
- Food: Mrs B had left excellent lists of things to pack in the day bag and what time the various bottles of milk and meals needed to be served. I am not a great cook, and even though I’d like to try cooking during my time with the boys we both agreed that week one was not the time to start. So I was incredibly grateful for the home-cooked shepherds pie, macaroni cheese and so on that Mrs B had frozen in child/man sized portions. We are still spending a lot of time preparing food, having it rejected, and clearing up as Baby F is still weaning and can’t yet eat the same food as his brother. One good thing is that his teeth are coming in and he is now able to chew a little mashed up pasta and veg so i can at least mash up what we’re eating and try him on it. And if all else fails Little B thankfully loves cheese sandwiches or pasta with pesto (he asks for pasta for breakfast ffs!)
- Activities: a nearly three year old and a ten month old baby will not play together nicely and have very different needs and abilities so this was challenging to say the least. Baby F has also just started crawling. At ten months he was a lot later than his brother but is also cruising around so it looks like he was just having a really long think about it all and is now making up for lost time! Subsequently I spent a lot of time moving him back onto the play mat or giving him toys while he headed determinedly for the door. Meanwhile poor Little B had to wait while his game of cars, trains, jigsaw or shops was interrupted again. In the afternoons I confess to a lot of falling back on Cbeebies or ipad games but in short bursts this allowed me to actually prepare the next meal or get a washing load on. I hope to get better at activities so any ideas are welcome!
- Going out: I soon realised that getting out of the house takes up to an hour. I’d sensibly packed the boys’ bags the night before but getting the wrigglers dressed still took forever. On Monday we made it to a singing group but Little B didn’t do any singing. Thankfully we met a local friend there and she took pity on me and took me back for a playdate and lunch. Tuesday was a cold, wet, windy day and we didn’t make it out of the house. We built train tracks, made playdoh cakes and watched lots and lots of Thomas the Tank Engine. And on Wednesday I braved the local soft play in Crystal Palace and actually managed to have a coffee and speak to other parents in between stopping my toddler throwing toys from the top of the jungle gym. This was all complicated by the ongoing potty training of Little B. On Wednesday I had just got everyone into the car when Little B announced he needed a wee. Cue everyone back into the house in rapid formation before it jumped out all over the car seat.
- Housework: didn’t really get anything done.
My final score, which can be verified by Mrs B if you want to ask her, was 7/10. I aim to do better. Only 17 weeks to go!
Posts you might like about childcare and flexible working:
Feel free to add your own to the comments. 🙂