There’s a line in The Shawshank Redemption that has always stuck with me, about life consisting of routines, followed by more routines. It was a line about prison life of course, but I’ve always felt it had a wider application than that, and now that I’m a parent it seems even more applicable. Just replace routine with phase. As in, it’s just a phase, she’ll grow out of it…
With two girls (Lois, 5 and Carrie, 2) we’re past many phases. The maximum-three-hours-in-one-go nights are, thankfully, passed. So too, hopefully, is Lois’s licking of everything that came near her face, whether it be my (thinning) hair when having a shoulder ride or the rail you put your tray on at a café (which is about mouth-height for little girls). We’re not yet past the louder-I-scream-the-more-likely-it-is-to-happen phase, or the requirement of snacks every twenty minutes.
On the flip side Carrie is in the production of full sentences made entirely of gobbledegook phase, and Lois is in the absolutely incredible phase of learning to read, and of spending hours in intricate make-believe worlds using her dolls’ house.
So, some context. I’m a freelance architectural photographer. My wife has the ‘steady’ job – a senior role at the EEF. That means 9 to 5.30, five days a week, as a minimum. In reality, there are early breakfast meetings and evening dinners on a weekly basis, and the occasional night away. As such, we have a role-reversal that to previous generations was very rare and quite alien, and even now – while much more common – is still a minority. I say role-reversal, but that’s going too far perhaps.
I’m not a house-husband, or a kept man. It’s just that working from home, for myself, means that it is much easier for me to balance my work with child care. So I get the kids to school and nursery pretty much every day, and pick them up every day. I have Fridays off to spend the day with our youngest. By default, I take time off if there are inset days or either child is poorly.
Let me be clear about this from the start. It is a magical time of life. We are incredibly lucky to have this flexibility when so many don’t. I love my kids more than anything and I will never regret the time spent looking after them, despite the impact on my business (and it has had one). But it is also FUCKING HARD! These days and months and years of our lives are the hardest I’ve ever been through, and my wife Liz would agree. I frequently envy her leaving for work as Lois is refusing to get dressed for school, and she likewise is envious of the Carrie and Daddy days each Friday. There is often an undercurrent of who-has-it-hardest that we (mostly) address light-heartedly.
Much of this isn’t a role-reversal issue – this time of life is hard for all parents. But I would say this, as a dad doing what is still more often done by the mum; there is less natural, built-in support and understanding in society for a man in this role than for a woman. And because men often pull back from seeking help, or admitting to struggling, it can, sometimes, be isolating. The novelty of being the only man in a Piccolos or Sing-and-Sign session does wear off.
But I wouldn’t change it. Not even when the kids have been screaming and crying for an hour at the end of the week because they are so wiped out. Because they always have the power to make you well up with love in an instant. Or to laugh out loud. It’s impossible not to when, after many genuine complaints that Carrie is ruining her game, Lois shouts out “Daaaadddy. Carrie bit my head off.”
Steve Mayes | Steve Mayes Photography