Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Yes girls, your dad's on a learning curve

O.k. I have to admit it. Being home with two children is more difficult than I expected.

I had it all worked out in my head. I was going to be a new-age guy, a father who stays at home with his kids, knows the routines, shares the work, and maybe finds some time to blog on the side. I also hoped I'd be able to find the time to experiment with a dream of mine that I’ve been too busy (lazy?) to really act on before – write a story I could sell to a magazine. Sure,I'd be busy with the kids. I had no illusions about that. But surely with two of us home I would be able to find the time to work on a few individual aspirations.

And that’s the kicker. Somehow I thought that with both of us being off full time, at least for the first four or five months, the stay-at-home job would be kind of part-time. But it’s not, of course. If staying at home every day with a toddler and a newborn were only a one-person job, I wouldn’t be needed. I could have continued going into the office everyday (which, incidentally, is both less work and less rewarding than being at home).

Why am I trying to write for a magazine? Why am I writing this blog? Yes, it’s because I really want to. That’s part of it. But it’s also because I want to be able to tell anyone who asks that I’m doing something other than just looking after two children. And here I am frustrated that I've been so busy doing what I'm supposed to be doing to have the time to write. Yes, despite my best efforts, I can be one chauvinistic son-of-a-bitch. Never underestimate the importance of the male ego.

Is it possible to be male and not be chauvinistic? I'm not so sure. How many men would want to admit, for example, that the jobs they're doing every day at the office, with accompanying stature, salary (and inbox full of useless messages), might be less work than they would be doing were they to stay at home with their kids? It goes to show how much men really get the domestic side of family life or how much we want to, even when we think we do.

Until we can bring an alternative masculinity into clearer focus - one that doesn't rely on men having to justify their value based on their perceived importance in the public sphere, many stay-at-home dads are going to continue to feel as though they just stepped out of a cold swimming pool naked every time they're asked what they're doing Monday to Friday.

So here’s the long and short of it. Yes, my being home eases the burden on Julie, and that’s a major reason I stayed home in the first place. We both wanted to make sure that the lonely difficult road Julie was on with Chloe didn’t repeat itself. There were parts of Chloe’s infancy that Julie doesn’t remember. This time she'll remember. She’s having a wonderful experience with both of her little girls.

But while having both of us home lessens the burden, it doesn’t free up much time. That’s because two children are plenty of work for two parents. Often I’ll take Chloe while Julie takes Emily, or vice-verse. But both kids still need us most of the day. So we’re usually both busy looking after kids from 6 in the morning until 7 at night.

The difference with me being home is not the amount of time each of us spends looking after children, but our capacity to enjoy spending time with them.
Things are getting easier, and we’re starting to be able give each other time to pursue other interests. And that’s good, because I feel that this blog, this record of early parenthood, is important for me, for Julie, for the kids, and for whoever else takes an interest.

As for the magazine writing, well, I’d better make time in the evening if I want to do that, just like I would have had to were I still going in to the office.

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