Trying to fit work commitments around the demands of supporting a new family is probably the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my life, but I’m still loving every second.
I’ve never enjoyed two weeks of my life more than the fortnight of my paternity leave. The immediate love I had for Sonny, the closeness we felt as a family and the sheer joy of watching that tiny baby turn into a little boy full of personality was the greatest feeling I could ever imagine.
We had a few sleepless nights, a few fretful moments and an exhausting amount of visitors, but none of it seemed to matter. If we woke a lot during the night, we just slept in later. If Gemma (Sonny’s mum) was struggling, I took him off her and gave her some space. We went out for lunch as a family, out for dinner as a family, watched movies during the day as a family and strolled in the park in the afternoons as a family. It was absolute bliss. And then I went back to work…
Beating the office blues
At first I felt absolutely fine. I didn’t enjoy that 7am alarm, but then I never have done, and I was a semi-celebrity back in the office with people cooing over pictures of our new arrival. But it didn’t take long until I started to flag. I was tired and distracted, and constantly on the phone to Gemma. She has a great network of new mum friends thanks to the excellent NCT course we attended, and quickly busied herself with coffee afternoons and baby classes, and it didn’t take long before I felt left out. I’ve always been extremely committed to my job, but I started to lose interest in the mundaneness of the office, and people coming to me with the same old problems and gripes. I found myself clock-watching, desperate to get home because I thought I was missing out, and eager to pack everything I could into every family evening. But eventually I realised the only way to start enjoying myself back at work (and I’m one of those people who’s always loved work) was to really throw myself back into my job properly, treating it as an entirely separate part of my life. As soon as I started completely dividing my life into the work hours and home hours, giving 100% commitment to both, I started to find the situation much easier to manage and far more enjoyable.
Maximising the evenings
As well as a highly demanding baby, we also have a highly demanding little jack russell terrier that I’ve walked before and after work every day for the last nine years. That obviously still needs to happen, because the last thing we want is for him to resent the new arrival in our family, so I immediately started roping Sonny into our dog walks. Either in his pram, sling or baby carrier, the baby has accompanied me on almost every evening walk I’ve done since he was born. It’s great for me, great for the dog, great for Gemma because she gets some time to herself, and great for Sonny because he loves the cool temperatures, sights and smells of being outdoors. He’s a proper little explorer!
Taking the pressure off mum
The biggest mistake I made early on was thinking Gemma had the best end of the deal. After all, I was out at work all day while she was chilling out with the baby at home, right? Obviously this isn’t true, because he demands her attention 24 hours a day and in the early days she barely had time to get dressed and have breakfast before I was walking back through the door at 6pm. Being back at work, surrounded by adults and getting back into the swing of everyday life, can actually be a nice distraction from the chaos at home – and it’s easy to forget who’s doing the really important job. I make a point of doing everything I can as soon as I’m home. Bathing Sonny, cleaning the house, washing up, walking the dog, cutting the grass – basically whatever needs doing. It’s hard work, but it has to be done.
Making time for yourself
This has probably been the hardest thing, but it isn’t impossible. I love exercising, so I’ve been trying to fit it around work. I’ve been cycling to the office instead of driving, playing 5-a-side football or going to the gym at lunchtime, going for a stroll with colleagues – even sneaking in a crafty lunchtime pint every now and again with mates. I’d still rather be at home, but I’ve been doing a good job recently of turning my day at work into something more productive than slumping in front of a computer screen before punching out at the end of the day.
Working from 9am-5pm with a newborn at home keeping you awake all night is tough. In fact it’s horrible, but you’ve just got to fight through it. I saved up all my holiday for the year to use after Sonny was born, and I’m glad I did. Whenever I feel absolutely wasted, I take a day off to spend with the family and it puts everything back in perspective. I go to work for them, to provide for them, and that’s what gets me through every day when I’m starting to flag. It’s also worth asking your boss if there’s anything you can do in terms of flexible working. I’ve worked the odd day from home, which is so much more relaxing, and gone in slightly later a few times when we’ve had a particularly tough night. It’s all about staying positive and finding a routine that suits you.
The most tired I’ve felt during Sonny’s first 2 months has been when I’ve gone through sudden periods of inactivity, and have spent a couple of days or evenings slumped on the sofa feeling sorry for myself. I’m never happier or more full of energy that when I’m exercising regularly. Getting out of bed and cycling the 10 miles to work energises and invigorates me immediately, and making sure we still fit in family walks every evening has kept us all feeling fit and fresh. I’ve always believed lethargy breeds lethargy, and I’m absolutely committed to making sure we remain an active and healthy family. Eight weeks in, I think we’re doing a decent job so far.