There was never any plan for me to become a house husband. When Small was first picked up on the radar my wife and I both assumed, independently of each other, that she would leave work to bring him up. That is how our parents had done things and we both turned out all right [apart from using tired old phrases like that one].
For the first few months of the pregnancy it was easy to carry on with normal life, a veil of self-imposed ignorance shrouding the changes that were to befall us. It was easy to pretend that nothing was happening.
For obvious reasons, reality began to tell on my wife first. She was starting to be constantly reminded that change had already begun and that we would have to make a start on adjusting. Like it or not, our lives were about to be transformed.
The closer we drew to Small’s arrival the more frantic the efforts to get ready became. Pre-natal classes were leaving us in little doubt that if everything was not sorted out before delivery day, then it would not be sorted out at all. The third bedroom was converted from an office into a nursery and the second bedroom into an office/bedroom. Baby equipment was purchased ready for Small’s arrival, his drawers were stuffed with new born clothes and a stack of nappies was placed in the corner in the hopes that we would know what to do with them when the time came. Hospital bags were packed and repacked and the car was kept permanently topped up with fuel. We were ready!
Small wasn’t. He was far too comfortable where he was. Two weeks after his due date he had to be induced to step (splurge) into the light.
During the first few days, time warped. Everything was so different and alien that time stretched out, each day lasting a week. That was partly due to the mind working overtime, fuelled by a fear induced adrenaline rush; partly because there were so many things to be done and partly because we were awake for more hours than was healthy.
We made it through that initial panic and slid rapidly down the learning curve. Fortunately most of the tasks relating to Small, although new and alien, were repetitive and with each successfully completed task came greater confidence and competence.
But the thing we had shied away from, the elephant in the room, was that we would never cope financial if my wife gave up her job. With only two month of maternity leave left we began to realise that if we wanted to have a parent as a full time carer, that parent was going to have to be me. I had left my career as a solicitor to become a budding horticulturalist [sorry] 18 months earlier, taking a big salary hit at the time. We had absorbed that and the subsequent drop down to zero income could be managed, just.
So, my life of getting up at 7:00 am to be at the plant nursery by 8:00 am and then home by 5:00 pm five days a week was about to change to being at the home nursery 24/7. My life of taking little cuttings and putting them in a plastic bag was to change to one of taking little poopy nappies and putting them in a plastic bag. In short, my life of nurturing plants would become one of nurturing Smalls, only the consequences of not feeding or watering them properly were much higher. And plants, on the whole, were much quieter.
The role of the house husband is exactly the same as the role of the house wife. I found it to be a career that was stagnant from the outset. There were no opportunities for progression, defined by increased money and status. I could not excel because, whilst keeping Small physically and emotionally healthy and our home clean and tidy took an exceptional amount of work, it was the minimum that was expected of me. I was never going to be told by my boss or a member of my team that I was good at my job and nobody was going to come seeking my advice. As a job, it was never going to get better: looking after Smalls and a home is low-status, poorly rewarded and self-esteem sapping.
I can understand that from the position of being sat chained to a desk with an overbearing boss demanding to know why x, y and z have not been done, it is easy to think that being a house husband is an easy job; it is not.
True, the practical aspects of parenting – play, meals, baths and bedtimes – soon became routine, even if some of them were battle routines. Also, the basics of keeping house were not difficult, again, once routines had been established. What was incredibly demanding was dealing with the tedium: much of house husbanding was boring. Hours of boredom stretching from when it was still cold and dark through to when it was cold and dark again. And there was always a strong possibility that I would also be up in the middle of the cold and dark at least once.
In addition, there was little time to myself; no time for mulling over my emails (not that anyone was sending me them anymore), or surfing the web, or popping out for a run or a bike ride. There was no getting out of bed into a refreshing shower and a leisurely breakfast before work. I lived and slept in the workplace.
Then there were the hours. This was no 40 hour week. [I mistyped the last sentence when drafting and put ‘jour’ instead of ‘hour’, meaning ‘day’ in French. A 40 day week is probably about right.] Often up before the dawn, I moved from task to task whilst juggling the demands of Small for all the hours he was awake. When he slept I cracked on with the tasks I couldn’t manage with him awake. If I was very lucky I sometimes got to collapse in front of the television for an hour before dragging myself off to bed for a couple of hours sleep before Small politely asked for my attention again.
On top of that, the job never really ended. Even when my wife was home, I was still at the coalface, still changing half the nappies and cooking half the meals, and still very much with Small. Weekends were like weekdays, but with help and adult company. And holidays were like weekends but in an unfamiliar place where nothing was where it should have been and everything was harder as a result. The job was relentless.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that being a house husband is a huge privilege. There are not many men that get a chance to take on this emotionally extending opportunity. For instance, having worked in a plant nursery, standing all day for hours at a time taking cuttings from the same type of plant in the same greenhouse, on my own, I thought I knew a bit about patience and dealing with my own thoughts but I was wrong. Being a house husband has expanded my capacity enormously.
Nurturing Small has also given me a much greater insight into the power of looking at things from the other person’s perspective. It was something I had to learn otherwise I would have suffered a lot more battle damage. Once I was able to master seeing things from another hilltop I found that most conflicts could be resolved, not just with Small but generally.
And despite the drudgery and the sleep deprivation, being with Small was a joy. One moment of Small induced happiness and pride swings the balance. A Small giggle weighs as much as a dozen sleepless nights. Eating toast with Small in a fort built out of chairs and blankets, guarded by ranks of soft toys is infinitely more rewarding than being sat in front of a computer in an office doing something that means nothing to anyone much. Seeing a happy smiling Small is the greatest feedback you can get, far more meaningful than a quickly rattled off email thanking you for your work.
More than anything, I believe a strong bond has grown between my Smalls and me that would have been weaker if I had not been at home to help their little feet find their way. Above all, I know in every fibre of my being that I will never regret being a house husband: I will not lie on my deathbed lamenting that I spent too little time with my sons when they were Smalls.
Not so much a parenting guide full of advice, more the reality of parenting kids and being a house husband and father, written by a stay at home dad to three children.
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